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And for a fistful of musical scores

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  • And for a fistful of musical scores

    2009 was a turning point in my life, among many adventures I chanced upon of Leaves (I chanced upon it in my library, some books offered wait silently for their turn, there is no better time bomb). HoL took me through winter. I had the nightmares, I looked up the words, I had my maze. The forum was part of the experience, like a parallel universe of theories and thoughts. The book summoned my interest, excitation and awe at each page. Pour faire bref, en français : je kiffais ma race.

    And then Only Revolutions came along, this I had bought for myself, and I knew instinctively this would not be a second hit of the same addiction. It felt, looked, weighed different.

    But I was on. Unto it way before being into it. I liked the title, and played with the cover. And now that the book is entirely scribbled and marked with my various inks, lines and spots, I can use all the once blank spaces of the book to reconsider my journey across it.

    Marseilles, as Spring was kicking in. In a car, which was relevant, I tried to read the first page by the flashing lights of street-lamps. I grasped words. Nouns. Shadows.

    Learning a foreign language, there comes times when you're happy to grasp four words out of ten and try to work your way up to the meaning. I went through the first 30 pages of OR as if I was learning english all over again. From the Silly Melodies and the Old cartoons full of talking frogs, bouncing trees and all sorts of beings always ready to jam and jazz, from the image-stock of all the cars I had ever seen in movies, I pictured the book, mouthed the words, dreamt the dream.

    I remember being bewildered by the thirty first pages of Sam before turning to Hailey.

    It was like jumping on a moving train while trying to solve up a puzzle. It was good.

    There was my excitement : Bach is widely known for his "Art of the Fugue", in french "Fugue" means to runaway (as a child often), in english "fugitives" are on the run.

    Runaway, eloping : the more the teenagers went, the more I connected symbols like constellations, the more I felt the upcoming storm.

    I had my fugue and I had it good. I threw the book at my headteacher to redirect the final project of my Master. In answer he threw Michel Butor at me, and I discovered a man whom I had heard of, but did not suspect his incredible experimentations. The very titles of his books gave me a grammar and a syntax to be able to talk about Only Revolutions, define and refine my raw experience : boomerang, mobile, gyroscope.

    This memoire in itself was another great adventure. Only Revolutions reacted analysis by changing colors, twisting styles, opening doors.

    My friend L., who was beside me when this fantastic ride of a reading began, helped me a huge deal translating one of the part I posted on the french forum,
    and here's one proposition of a section, about text and musical scores.

    My contribution to this whispering forum. If it interests you, I'll translate some more about symetry, poetry and the art of time travel.


    Let us explore the metaphor of the written page as a musical score in Only Revolutions. When so much attention is given to composition, sonority, dispositions & relations, the writer's work is akin to the composer's. Michel Butor's own work can be put under the sign of this declaration of principle, a love letter to musicality :

    « *C'est, d'emblée, comme cas particulier de structures musicales, que le langage articulé peut apparaître. Ainsi la musique creuse le lit du texte, prépare, forme cet espace dans lequel il peut se produire, se préciser de plus en plus.*»

    « It is, first and foremost, as a specific case of musical structures, that articulated language was able to appear. Thus music visits the text’s bed, prepares, forms this space within which text can happen, grow to more and more precision »

    Butor explores this relation between music and writing in such works as "Dialogue avec 33 variations de Ludwig van Beethoven sur une valse de Diabelli", where he mixes the history of all the variations, and Beethoven’s lifeline, along all the things tha came up during his researches. This dialogue was translated to stage during a series of concert in which speech plays with instruments, cuts them short, mingles with them. This aspiration towards a symbiosis of two arts led Florence Rigal to state in her critical work on Butor and music that to « Saussure’s notion of sound-thougth, Butor answers with his a music-writing of his own ». This musical inspiration manifests itself through the sound aspect of words, but also through structures ; with its waltzes, fuguesand symphonies, musical composition offers two concepts which fascinate writers : polyphony, and counterpoint.

    It is not merely chance if Aldous Huxley has name one of his novels "Point Counterpoint", hinting at the evolution of novel towards a musical form, simultaneously conceived and unfulfillable, as the reader can only process one word at a time, when a musical composer writes for several fingers, several hands, several instruments, which are able to meet in a single chord and mingle in wide opened ears. Butor and Danielewski, in the way they fill their page, draw upon the encompassing eye of the reader, who can, before he starts actually reading, see, both simultaneity and singularity.

    The space of a musical score allows the composer to engage in complex mathematical games, shifting, symmetry, inversion, gradation through several scores played at the same time. Within those possible structural games, some scores mirror each other, some are self-contained, some invert themselves at a given point.

    One such type of virtuose musical writing fascinated Hofstadter in his famous work "Godel, Escher, Bach" : the inverted canon, or crab canon, Krebaskanon in german. In french, we talk of *« canon à cancrizan », or of « canon en écrevisse » ; it is defined by the tuning of two complementary and inverted objects. For example, a musical score in which one voice is the temporal opposite of the other.

    The first canon of Bach’s musical offering, of which we provide here a reproduction, is one such example :">
    De">Only Revolutions

    The second voice is indeed a retrogradation of the first, but, in Bach’s original score, there is only one voice written down, with an added key drawn backwards (or rather "mirrored", and in Only Revolutions, mirrors are handy to decypher the back of the cover : on whose side of the mirror are we ?) on the last line. The crab canon was therefore encrypted within the score, since it was expected that the second musician would play the score from right to left, starting from the last line. However, as David Yearsley notes, the formatting involved by today’s (that was in the nineties) informatic standards prevent us from using such notations.

    There is another form of virtuosity explored by both Bach and Mozart, the « table canon », which is both a symmetrical canon and an crab canon, and can be laid between two musicians, each one playing it in his own direction. As a ambigram of sorts, mozart’s piece for two violins Der Spiegel can be rotated 180° and still remain legible. When it comes to the crab canon, the composer’s method invites the player to shake his reading habits, from left to right, reversing the traditional mode of reading in the Western World. In each musician’s system of reference, the other one is playing one’s own score in reverse, in inverted time. The reading direction has therefore something to do with the construction of the temporality specific to reading.

    This is pretty much the case in Only Revolutions. BOth narrations complement each other, but are laid out in opposite ways.Obviously, OR’s specific layout reproduces the situation of a crab canon in a literary environment. While leaving through OR’s pages, one « plays », in a visual way at least, both voices engraved in the book’s « score ». When progressing through one story, one is at the same time diminishing the opposite story. However, if it is not absurd in music to play a musical line from right to left, the english language necessitates its order, from left to right. Or for that matter the other way in arabic, hebrew, or japanese. Therefore, one cannot « play » the same score backwards, but go through two separate readings, two stories in opposite directions. The reader is left alone, and even if we can imagine two people exploring each double page from each side of the book, one is always only exploring one of the two « scores » at a given time.

    Whoever listens to the first note of the canon is also listening to the last, and whoever opens OR on its first page (if one chooses to do so, at least), sees *both the alpha and the omega of the story unfolding before him if, touched by curiosity, he tries to read the part of the first page printed in reverse. Each measure is supported by its own past (or future), depending on the point of view chosen. While playing a crab canon, it can happen that each musician *plays the score one way then the other. This cyclical space opens the possibility of an infinite number of « round trips » . There is also a central symmetry that is there *constructed : to play one line then play it backwards, is the equivalent of playing this same line, and its continuing reflection in a mirror. There's the loop, and through troughs and acme, there's the harmony.

    Picking up Only Revolutions is like picking up a record, or rather plugging into a looping broadcast : it carries that sense of "many times", each word is like a stone keeping witness to the following waves. Once, twice, thrice and upon an infinite time.

    Each Story is separate, though, as if the two parts of the canon belonged to different time-lines while still playing the same tune, each one in its peculiar scale (and in its key : feminine, masculine). In the Musical Offering’s ninth piece, there is a mirror canon in which the second voice reverses the first’s musical tones ; Bach does not bother to note the correct interval that is supposed to separate the two voices, but instead writes, in a margin, this latin puzzle : « quaerendo invenietis », « look, and ye shall find ». This is a challenge proposed to the player’s imagination and talent, as he is put in a position where he has to make his own (hopefully) harmonious reading of the score, inside a myriad of possibilities.
    In a same manner, there is not one but an infinite number of ways in which one can access and travel through OR ; trhough his own attempts the audacious reader will create rather than find the one that fits his taste, both in rhythm and in depth.

    The Musical offering’s title is akin to Mallarmé’s « Don du poème » (Poem’s offering), which starts with the following line : « I bring to you the child of an Idumean night ». Please allow us to put together those two works : the artworks is laid out and offered to the reader, while at the same time daunting him by its complexity. Mallarmé his famous for his final work "Un Coup de dé" (A roll of the die), where typographic aspects enters the visual symphony of a complex poem splintered across the various pages, in bold, italics and many sizes.
    Chance, we are told, will not be abolished by that roll of a die. Yet each roll sends forth a human thought. Chance, multiplicity, surprises, spins, bounces and yahtzee : this must be the shape of the human mind in the act.

    There, we are offered much to see and hear, but asked in return for some active curiosity : an interpret is both a reader and a muscian. So demanding a link, so rewarding a journey.

    Plato once wrote, on the front of his academia « Let none but geometers enter here »; one can easily picture Danielwski or Butor going for a different rallying cry : « Lovers of sounds and curious of forms : choose where to enter ».

    Of course, I'm only acknowledging here the fact that the poetic is as much "reached" than it is "found".
    Because to me, OR has nothing of the novel, and everything of the Epic. That is the long adventurous poem.

    If my reference to Bach means anything, it is through the points and the counterpoints (remember that gimmick of old sci-fic movie, where to explain faster-than-light travel they pierce a sheet of a paper with a pencil) from on face of the page/book/whole to the other, we may experience something like amplitude, magnitude. Measuring the space, so trivial and so infinite that parts the story of Sam and the story of Hailey is to get a feeling of what those asymptotic lines dream of. So perhaps there is a little of the geometer :. The love song of the Tangency Line.

    Reading OR is to clinge from the bow of the ship, breaking the ice in a perpetual now.
    And then jump into the reflection and see the world set in another tone.

    I will agree that this requires adredaline. And I know that many just didn't get into it.
    But if the motor doesn't start or the chainsaw doesn't rumble, let's give it another try.
    Last edited by Norkhat; 03-12-2010, 06:15 AM.

  • #2
    I really like this idea. More please!

    While I take your point that OR can be seen as two complementary yet divergent melody lines that, because of the nature of their composition, contain so many potentialities (is this right? am I anywhere close?), could we not be more basic? I mean, any note contains the potentials of the note that follows it, and the easiest way to tease that out is to play two at once. If you have a musical instrument, get it and play C and G together. Nice isn't it? Try C and F#. Terrible. Couldn't the rules of consonance and dissonance be applied to OR in the same way as your idea? The chapters at the centre of the book are obviously in unison. They are exactly the same "note." Perhaps there are a number of harmonic relations going on, and each chapter is a note, or each word (considering they are in four places at once)?


    • #3
      Damn computer shutting off before the end of a post :

      answers become haiku :

      I very much played OR like a musical instrument.

      I feel a powerful gush when the Crab-Canon by Bach reaches its center.
      This invisible moment when the two musicians crosses each other along the musical score :

      on the highway of music two cars just crossed in opposite direction, and each driver wonders silently if he did not pass the exact same car, with his exact reflection...

      In that split second, in the split that opens the book at the middle, where books are sewn, something incredible lies, waits, opens, relies. It's the rift. The bond, it's whitest and yet black as a shadowline. It's really weird.

      p. H&S/179 :
      But who all chases US ? / - Only US - And outlaws US ? / - US. -How ? / -By
      something wide which feels close. / Open but feels closed. / Lying weirdly / across US.

      I have to go ! More on music soon !


      • #4
        Norkhat, if you're still around, I wonder what else you've developed about this idea.

        I've been thinking that a lot of the "cool tricks" in MZD's books, that at first feel like secrets, may actually be subsurface clues intended to point toward even deeper riddles. So the offset chords that suggest the tone of the book are easy; they're obviously higher or lower than the surrounding text, they're obviously the letters of the scale, etc. And that's great!

        But that can't be the only music in the book; those chords are just the most obvious indicators that, if you didn't know already, music is suffusing the text. The lyrical lilts and swirls become apparent when spoken aloud, but... it certainly seems possible that there is more. Could the overlapping, echoing, slightly shifted but obviously entwined paths be converted to notation in a way that might prove fruitful? Or is all of that true, but the music is just what happens in your reading, over time, as you incorporate all elements of the text and it achieves its harmonies and parallells in an interior form unlike any instrument?

        We play the book, but the book also plays us, uses us to produce the music that no other instrument can. To translate it into staff notation might be to completely miss the point.

        Also completely agree that participation — sometimes grueling involvement — is necessary for these books. Excellent!


        • #5
          Here I am, one cannot be very far on the web.
          But the mood changes : this forum and its special color codes
          it's idea-nodes...

          Tonight my english will be blurry, my head hurts and words are not friendly.
          Parisian metro, Proust on ipod touch. But still is not out of reach.

          I try to recall : despite the musical score I produce above, at no point did I try to "literally" translate words into notes.

          I'm no musician, I was told long ago how to "read" musical notes.
          But reading OR, how could music have been any closer ?

          sometimes I open it and fling my eyes on words, then jump to the 3 opposites that flow from them.
          I feel like a pin-ball then, everying echoes & ricochets.

          Then I get just a brief direction in mood : euphoric, sardonic, depressed. Is the moon waning or waxing. Is the tide rising ?

          But I close the book : Splendorr, you write about the book playing US as well as we play with it, or on it.

          But truly now, I feel "like" a note in a symphony, I feel very close to a note being played in piano : what is it like to feel from inside something like an harmony.

          To be synchronized
          or unsynchronized.

          To be in b-minor.

          To be caught within a skat, that sounds like an impro but really is a perfect symmetrical structure.

          I open OR, take it for a short ride.
          It feels like a true REMIX.

          The way my reading re-ordains
          it symmetrical, regular like a road, like a the 5 parallels of a musical score.

          But our reading is completely hectic, we introduce shortcuts, cut-through, slow-mo, flash forwards and time-warps.

          We're not readers, we're tempo.


          • #6
            Agreed; in fact, some of my most fruitful readings of OR have been where I dove in anywhere, then flung myself to another, distant portion of the book, and found (of course) the surprise of roses;

            Which is to say, connectedness and intent that was, despite everything, still unexpected.

            And not just intratextual connectedness; OR spreads its roads out into the rest of my living, also, just as relevant as I care for it to be. Not Biblically, but whimsically; not as a guide, but as a fellow traveller on the Ride; this book knows that we are running and unafraid, and that we are just as chaotic as we are orderlies, tending the wounded and dying even as they tend toward 0.

            When I lose breath, and stagger, I hypothetically turn to a page
            (And, weirdly, here's what I see):

            "How tenderly now
            he holds me. His careful breath
            warmly caressing my ear.
            And I'm confident again:
            We mustn't waste a minute."


            Okay, okay, so guidance aside, reminders aside;
            The book does, as you say, tempo rally behind us, with us, respond to the readers' speed.
            No surprise that youthful minds fit its rigors more easily.

            In my own experience, also, when reading flip flip flip 8x8x8, the whole thing moves more fluidly than when I try to read just one side in its entire. Hearing just one side's performance is fine, but it's that secret & difficult symphonious asynchrony that lights the book's fire. That kindles its kittens, as it weren't.

            It's only when you're subconsciously or overtconsciously recognizing the play between the melodies that everything really clicks. That, even though you don't know weal comes from wheal by way of wale, that a past-tense weal's a welt, and that Welt is German for World, and that all of these things are just temporary ephemeral raised-up roundnesses... even unconsciously, that stuff's having an effect on you. The play between all(possible)ways to entirely interpret everything, to hear all notes at once, even though you're only reading one at a time.

            And while all that's fun, there's no time to stop and contemplate. Or, if we do, it only increases the desire to proceed. They're the notes, not the rest:

            "We are not the rest.
            We are unrequested, unneglected.
            But Sam kisses me back. Patient.
            Turning slowly then to renegotiate the stall.
            Improving, he nods,
            Letting go of my hand to return to the counter.
            Can we speed this up?
            But even Sam's dismissed with a sneer.
            He scratches his head. Taps his foot.
            I stay back.
            This hold up, oddly, starts racing
            my heart."


            Which of course we must note that, in addition to music, these two are dancers; see H247, and both their 349s, "Tomorrow's/Sorrow's Five Horizons goes too with a tap/swing."


            • #7
              up to date

              Thanks to Splendorr's help I've done a much needed update of my translation french to english of this Reverse Canon interpretation of OR — I hope it'll inspire you... any musician in the room ?


              • #8
                and then I realized the only other moment in my life I had hold so many pages at the same times with my ten fingers to look back and forth around a centerfold

                was when I discovered Alan Moore's Watchmen so many years ago, first in french, then in english
                with that fateful chapter, Fearful Symmetry
                and its grand mastery of graphical design.

                You know what I'm talking about ?