Thursday, May 10, 2012
Marcus Boon on our appropriation by music.
Without the endowments of metaphysics that appear to ground beings in essences, the universe appears as a flux of mutually co-constituting and interdependent appropriations, not dissimilar to that described by Tutuola. “Properness” is given in the moment or event of the coming together of these vibrations. But what does Heidegger refer to when he writes of this “self-vibrating realm”? Of course, it’s not clear. The realms of light or sound? The realm of pattern, tantra, interdependence, sunyatta of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism? Following the rumor that Heidegger took LSD with Ernst Junger in the early 1950s, the realm of psychedelic experience? Although Heidegger in fact pursued this thought in the direction of language, the vocabulary he uses is more specific to sound. Thus in Identity and Difference, he writes that “in the event of appropriation vibrates the active nature of what speaks as language” (39, my italics). Avital Ronell has already investigated the importance of the “call” to Heidegger, and one might also examine “attunement” in Being and Time as a specifically sonic mode of apprehending being. For now, let us observe that the sound world is indeed a “self-vibrating realm” and one in which appropriation is already quite familiar to most of us.

Music moves us, in doing so, it appropriates us. It does this affectively – through “affection”. What is called in our world today “appropriation” – the taking of something and making it ours, making it belong to us – operates in a fluid way in the realm of sound where the interaction of different sounds, which is called “harmony” or “rhythm” is manifestly a mutual appropriation. The sound world requires us to think through the possibility of “appropriation” precisely in the Heideggerian sense of a “belonging together” which is not a unity. The sound world “takes us out of ourselves” (ecstasis) and yet we experience that which takes us out of ourselves as part of ourselves, because we are emotionally affected, and we identify ourselves with our ability to “have” emotions. David Byrne struggles with this in his essay accompanying the reissue of Bush of Ghosts when he writes about an emotionally affective music that is composed through montage, that “tricks the emotions” because it is not a representation of an authentic performance. But in the realm of sound, the affective power of sound is not the product of authentic expressions of particular subjectivities, despite the tradition of writing about music in the west that takes this point of view. This tradition would be the Platonic tradition that Heidegger is criticizing, in which identity is an essence that is revealed by an expression or representation. A variety of non-western musical traditions around the world have developed rituals, practices and cultures built around this appropriative potential of sound. Possession by deities and spirits is initiated through drums and percussion throughout the African-Atlantic diaspora, and the Islamic world from Morocco to Indonesia. In Hindustani classical music, singers and musicians evoke the spirit of a raga by performing it, and a successful performance is measured by the appearance of the spirit, which is simultaneously a sound form, a picture, a color, a mood and a deity. In all of these situations, no claim is made by the performers that the power of the music is the result of a particular personal subjectivity revealing itself.
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