sept 06, 2003.

I mentioned Dusted Magazine in an SB-entry before, didn't I?
Based in Montpelier, Vermont, and updated daily, Dusted Magazine is an on-line music magazine that I find a pleasure to read.

I discovered Dusted Magazine through the rambl- & writ-ings of Tobias C. van Veen, whose five part journal of the Mutek-festival, this spring in Montréal, appeared as part of Dusted. I didn't know what Mutek is, and to be honest, I didn't learn a lot more about the factuals concerning this recurring event from van Veen's reporting. But I do appreciate the passion emanating from his writings.

Tobias's most recent contribution to Dusted is a review of a Kim Cascone CD, entitled 'blackCube()'. And to continue being honest: I do have difficulties following Tobias's train of thoughts in most of this review, and I can't really tell you much of the factuals concerning the release in question. But, hey!, interesting lines abound.

The piece centers on a quote posted by Kim Cascone - so Tobias tells us - on the mailing list (Cascone is the founder of

"The quantity of intelligence carried by the sounds must be the true criterion of the validity of a particular music."

An "apparent quote from Xenakis", Tobias wrote.

It is a quote from Xenakis. It appears in the introduction to Xenakis' Musiques Formelles from 1961, translated some years later as part of Formalized Music. In my copy it is on page ix. At the time of reading I underlined 'quantity of intelligence' and wrote 'dangerous' followed by an exclamation mark in the margin.
The phrase is a slogan; it sounds good. It probably was meant to be sort of a provocation and a firm stand, jotted down at a time and period when some considered it an imminent necessity that all art be modeled in the image of science. Which may account for the 'intelligence', the 'quantity', and for the implied claim that one music might be deemed more valid than another, because there is a 'true' criterion, that is: a way of comparing and judging that is superior to others, which thus are 'false'. Among the 'false criteria' Xenakis counts the likes of 'beauty' and 'ugliness'.

Van Veen starts his review in Dusted Magazine by asking some of the questions that unavoidably come bubbling up when one tastes the bitter sweet of the quote's words: as soons one starts thinking about what actually is being said, its meaning seems to vanish ever so swiftly.

Or does it?

The 'thinking about' opens up an abyss that nothing short of an entire philosophy could fill.
Put in the context of the proper theoretical framework - a philosophy - I think it actually does say something sensible.
But I doubt I would agree. In the end.
Actually it seems to express a sole man's wish ('must').
It will not come true.

... fill in all the necessary details for a coherent philosophy of sound, music & culture ...

I find the 'carried by the sounds' the most intriguing part of Xenakis's quote.
Something happens when you hear 'the sounds' consciously (musically) ... when you listen they seem to, indeed: carry along something other than their mere wavy selves, their factualities, The 'wavy self' we know very well how to describe exhaustively, physi- & mathemati-cally using a certain small number of m-e-a-s-u-r-a-b-l-e quantities; that other we would not know how to measure. (Some still try, though.)
-- Musically -- notice the 'musically' -- .... Here already we're hitting upon a first issue (though it plunges us right into heart of the muddy matter) ... about 'the sounds' ...

(allow me to use color and an underscore to fix this as 'a group' : the_sounds) ... When I hear the sounds musically (when I listen to them, there's a conscious 'action' involved here, listening presumes attention), I hear the_sounds. Which is different from hearing them non-musically (just plain 'hearing them' - or hearing them factually). In the latter case I will hear but 'the sounds'.

It is actually very well possible to switch between these different 'modes of hearing': to stop hearing the_sounds, and be left with merely 'the sounds', or to find oneself suddenly aware of the_sounds where just before there were only 'the sounds' ... Pierre Schaeffer in the Traité des objets musicaux spends many pages discussing different French words for 'hearing/listening': ouïr, écouter, entendre ...
the_sounds convey something that is different from the eventual factual meaning (which it possibly but not necessarily includes) that is conveyed by 'the sounds' ("oh, that is a word [a sentence,] [a phrase]", "short-short-short: stands for s", "a stick hitting a cettle", "a hammer hitting a wall", "wind blown into a horn", "a siren, hence possible danger").
The above is supposed to suggest a name for the difference: we call it music. (This is not a definition, it is a description of 'how we perceive', of our experience).

If anything besides factual meaning, it is music that is carried by 'the sounds'.

Next one may wonder whether this music was put there by something, or someone?
And if it was, did that happen at the emitting (the composer-performer's) side, or did it merely enter at the receiver's (the listener's) end?
It'll rather be a mix of some (case depending) sort, but in no case can we possibly eliminate the listener. There may be very well be music without composer or performer (in the 'usual' sense). There will never be no music when there's no listener.
Thus music becomes the world that we listen to. We can agree on music, lest we share a similar world.
But it is without sense to speak of a music as more or less valid.
Some of the_sounds might be of more or less interest to a given someone, by which I mean: applicable to his of her particular 'case'. Relevant to his or her particular world. That will depend. On the listener. (He makes - is - a part of it. "You make a difference!")

[ 09.07 - Oh, how inadequate all of this is, really ... but it might serve as a start. (Added in proof: if one 'hears musically', one hears music; but of course one can hear music -- sound produced by instruments -- without 'hearing musically') ]

Googling the Xenakis quote I found several other web documents citing it. Popular in its own peculiar way, or so it seems.
It made me come across and read an article (pdf) by Michael Hamman: On technology and art: Xenakis at Work, to appear in the Journal of New Music Research. (A somewhat different, though not less fascinating, subject ... ever wondered why our - instrumental, be it analog or digital - music sounds the way it sounds? The 'sound of music' is largely technology driven, and it is but rarely that the artists demand and the technology delivers ... ) The article contained the following quote from a book (edited) by Pelle-Ehn (Stockholm 1988, Work-Oriented Design of Computer Artifacts)

"By actively treating well-known situations as if they were something else, or by actively approaching them from a different point of view than the normal, we may produce new knowledge about them. To obtain insight you have to know the practice you are reflecting about. To produce insight requires the competence to reframe something well known in the light of something else."


[ Next related SB-entry: Face the music (the great vibrator) :: Earlier related SB-entry: Polytopes ]

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