Saturday, April 08, 2006

In the Beginning was Sound & Other Trivia

T he BBC's Radio 4 has posted up the 2006 Reith Lectures. They are available as direct download in mp3, video, and print ready copy. There are forums open on the lecture series website to provide ample room for hearty debate and conversation. Good job, BBC!! This year's lecture series is deliverd by Maestro Daniel Barenboim, and the series, titled "In the Beginning was Sound", has lots of food for thought.

For example, here's something striking that Barenboim said that caught my attention:

"You know, when you play music, you get this peaceful quality I believe also because you are in control of something, or at least you are attempting to control something that you cannot do in the real world. You can control life and death of the sound, and if you imbue every note with a human quality, when that note dies it is exactly that, it is a feeling of death. And therefore through that experience you transcend any emotions that you can have in their life, and in a way you control time.."

The more I think about that, the more I disagree and feel even a bit irked by it. It seems to trivialize both the work of an artist and the work of art itself. The artist is simply a neurotic in this account. In fact, it seems like a simple paraphrase of Freud's view: the artist sublimates his frustrations and fantasies, unrealizable in the "real" world, into a realm of phantasy that he or she controls. Art is simply a symptom, a brilliant disappointment, a substitution for something more. But I doubt it.

The boundary between the "real world" and this other world, of creativity, isn't so strict and clean. This isn't to say that there aren't boundaries or distinctions. But another account, one more perceptive, might reckon those boundaries as intersections and pivot points. That art is not about control, but about drifting, becoming, feeding and being fed by the "real world", that the work of art is not about a transcendental unity, but a transcendence, since Barenboim invokes that idea, that is a loss, a something more, more like religious experience than neurosis. More akin to the Buddha's smile than the neurotic's self-deceptions.

2006 Reith Lecture Series

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