in Lexigraphies, Sound

“Music” – between “All” and “Vienna”

After dinner, they went upstairs to their room and made love, and as Franz fell asleep, his thoughts began to lose coherence. He recalled the noisy music at dinner and said to himself, ‘noise has one advantage. It drowns out words.’ And suddenly he realized that all his life he had done nothing but talk, write, lecture, concoct sentences, search for formulations and amend them so that in the end, no words were precise, their meanings were obliterated, their content lost. They turned to trash, chaff, dust, sand, prowling through his brain, tearing at his head. They were his insomnia, his illness. And what he yearned for at that moment, vaguely, but with all his might, was unbounded music, absolute sound, a pleasant and happy, all encompassing overpowering window-rattling din to engulf, once and for all, the pain, the futility, the vanity of words. Music was the negation of sentences, music was the anti-word! He yearned for one long embrace with Sabina, yearned never to say another sentence, another word, to let his orgasm fuse with that orgiastic thunder of music. And lulled by that blissful imaginary uproar, he fell asleep.

– Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

“Music” has been equated to beautiful sound or even to sound itself, as in “everything that enters our ears is music,” an attitude which I call All for short; and at other times to the works of the Western art-music tradition, an attitude which I call Vienna for short. In any case, from All to Vienna, the term encloses, keeps in, keeps out: unbounded music does not exist, for music, even All, is an inherited set of necessary exclusions. Sounds by their very nature defy exclusion, vibrating gases and solids, entering not only our open ears but touching our soft organs and hard bones, moving in ever widening circles, losing coherence with distance but ultimately only stopped by absorption or the absence of their medium. Following their lead, we must make our way over and under and through the barriers of this word, music. Breaking and entering is much easier with tools – a lockpick, a crowbar, a shovel – and new terms, found or invented seem quite useful for the task.


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