Saturday, 29 April 2006

The Minor Sixth

A speculative question: Is it possible to think of musical intervals independently of spatial extensions? Approaching that question, substantiality in time comes to act as the determining factor. In classical terms, we say that the arch and column fulfil an archetypal function. By indenting themselves in time, the bond between symbol and form is established. At the same time, the same bond can undergo disassociation as history alters the symbol. What was once triumphant can emerge as trite, or as divested of meaning. The fall of a monument’s historical placement is confirmation of this. Similarly, the temporality of musical intervals and their spatial counterpart is exposed to contingency. For this reason, together with Adorno, Ernst Bloch was able to reproach the diminished seventh in terms of its loss of aura:

[Even] the brilliant and harsh diminished seventh was once new; it gave the impression of novelty and so could represent anything—pain, anger, excitement and all violent emotion—in the music of the classical masters. Now that the radicalism has worn off, it has sunk irretrievably into mere ‘light music’ as a sentimental expression of sentimental ideas (Bloch, 1985, pp. 96-98).

The dwindling of radicalism exposes the interval to its plight in time. If the relationship between intervals and space is logical, then it is also dialectical. Tellingly, the suppression of the diminished fifth during the Middle Ages testifies to the suppression of space also. As a result, the perfect fifth comes to articulate the vastness of space; the clear expanse delivered of the demonic aspect associated with the diminished fifth. For Schopenhauer, “the deep bass [represents] the crudest mass; its rising and falling occur only in the large intervals, in thirds, fourths, fifths, never by one tone…” (p. 259). Schopenhauer is right to align the bass timbre with mass. With the intervals of the fifth and forth, musical space is acquired.

Now the question occurs: how is it with the intervals which evade the clear and distinct relationship between musical form and spatiality? To think here of Kancheli’s Fifth Symphony and the use of the minor sixth. The interval occupies a point in-between space, mediating the arrival of violence, but itself becoming a presence of silence simultaneously. The tension inherent in the minor sixth, compelling it toward the dominant, appears suspended. Is it not this ambiguity involved in the minor sixth which implicates the presence of warped space? We are at a half-way house, not yet formed. The unpunctuated and unmodulating passage forces musical space to retire from vastness. Yet the retreat does not end in the logic of resolution. Instead, the spatiality of order overlaps into the area of the minor sixth, disturbing any claim to homeliness (a temporal interval I pursue in my exploration of the modern ruin as an uncanny place).

I invite readers to download this fragment of meta-nostalgia (an extract from Kancheli’s Fifth Symphony) which captures this ambiguous spacing of the (un)home perfectly. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Something in the Night

Place; is this what you called upon? There are hours in which the enclosure of rooms affords us a glimpse of continuity. I remember. The unbroken resurgence of moments, now risen from their convalescence. Are we not drawn to think of this rising in terms of discovered memory? Return to the original memory, you say, return to the place in which that memory was articulated. Yet something is missing in that return. The time of memory, then: governed by the absence of a particular presence. There is a thing which fails to gain clarity. Instead, the hum of memory is forced to communicate under the eye of allusion.

There is a memory that when recalled positions the remembering consciousness in two realms simultaneously. This is how memory gains its identity: by sifting through theremains of the past and present concurrently. In their disjunction, remembered memory and lived experience prove to be dependent on one another for their temporal identity. In the space between the not now and the remembered now, both stretch into each others domain, defining the other by producing a borderline consciousness which remembers the past and recognizes the estrangement of that past simultaneously. In this way, both loss and presence fuse, creating a warped temporality whereby the memory object becomes stranded. Yet because the remembering consciousness is able to identify the existence of some past, the image of stranded memory retains lucidity in spite of the failure to achieve total recall.

The untime of memory: this is what I call upon. In the return – there is a place – memory persists. Only now, in terms of shadows: a presence defined by what is lacking. Dead stars appear, not only in memory, but in perception, because the time has yet to catch up with the present, so destroy that present. The false light of the extinct star belies a void which lurks temporally behind the light. In the aftermath of the star’s death, all we encounter is discards and echoes of the supernova explosion: “For days after a supernova is touched off, the residual explosion shines as brightly as the entire galaxy that the dying star called home” (Adams & Laughlin, 1999, p. 58). The hum of memory.


Down below, time is measured and drawn: memory becomes tainted by the fixed image of the past. As a result of this temporal delay, the star loses its distinct identity, morphs into the homogenous landscape of lunar space. Non-extinction creates its own matrix of spatial protrusions and ambiguities. Is memory able to be contained in interstellar space? In time, the memory of the remains comes to approximate the place of the memory object itself. Artifice and remnants mingle: the photographs of the past annihilate memory by replacing it.

The untime of memory: neither negated, destroyed, nor imagined: but stranded. Something intimate is perceived, but at the same time remote and destroyed. Memory does not belong to the past, or to the present. In the elsewhere, memory surges into both zones, unbinding the place in which memory was originally experienced.