Musical ideology as a possible application of Zizek's concept of ideology.
THE IDEOLOGY OF TODAY'S MUSICAL SOCIETY
THE MYTH ABOUT THE COMPOSER'S DESIRE
The goal of this text is to discuss musical ideology as a possible application of Zizek's concept of ideology for which there are lots of examples and references in his works.
Topics that are covered include:
I. Music and Ideology
II. The myth about the composer's desire (including the short literary text "Source of desire")
III. Examples of ideology in musical society
IV. Quintessence (including the short play "Critique of the blank sheet")
This analytical text makes frequent references to Lacanian psychoanalysis as used by Zizek in his analysis of desire, the missing or lost object cause of desire (Lacan's object "a"), the triad of Lacanian registers: the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary, the contemporary manifestations of the superego as the father of obscene enjoyment ("jouissance"),etc.
This text uses a Zizek-like approach to theory by using as its illustrations a number of "real life stories" taken from the musical life of the author, as well as, a short story and a short play written by the author which are integrated in the text as manifestations of musical ideology in imaginary situations between a composer, his performers, his producers, his public, and his critics.
THE IDEOLOGY OF TODAY'S MUSICAL SOCIETY
THE MYTH ABOUT THE COMPOSER'S DESIRE
I - Music and Ideology
As is known from Slavoj Zizek's lectures, the idea of an introduction is not just a starting point which opens and prepares the mind of the people (like an overture in classical opera does, while we are waiting for the rest of the public who came late to find their seats.)There is something more. When the flow of the introduction chains with its opposite, hidden sides appear. This can be the content of the lecture itself in Zizek's case. The opera, after the overture, is not the goal. So, what is the goal?
The goal of this text is to discuss musical ideology as a possible application of Zizek's concept of ideology for which there are lots of examples and references in his works.
Why is the opera not the goal? It is not a secret that many people go to opera theater as "tourists" (it doesn't matter which opera or ballet they go to) or as something "good" to do culturally and educationally speaking. Besides, there are any number of operas which professional musicians themselves consider to be boring, but they may go anyway out of habit. As has been long the case, people also go to opera to show off their fashionable clothes, to see and be seen. We can add to those extra-musical reasons the taking of photos of themselves and their friends while at the opera for Facebook and other social networks. Looking at colorful opera posters, buying expensive opera tickets, preparing which clothes to wear and with who to go to opera theater, becomes equivalent to buying an opera "product" whose content is indifferent. This can be more interesting and exciting in today's promotional world of kinder/adult surprises than a "stupid toy", as Slavoj Zizek says, which is not nearly so "chic".
So, the music of the opera itself as an object of desire for the spectator may well be missing in this case. Of course, musical ideology requires not just saying all kinds of formalities about the great success of the opera, its large public, and its long applause, and how good all of this is, but also musical ideology touches on the acceptance of the object of desire (the music) as missing and the sharing of this knowledge, that the object is missing, with others "in the know". If you are sophisticated, you don't really believe that all these people came just for the music, especially when the quantity of people who attend is primarily based on the art of promotion, that is, a great quantity of attractive publicity featuring famous performers which then attracts other "famous names", their friends and the "friends of friends" to attend / approve of the performance, etc. To come only for the music itself seems almost naive; the music is "not enough". Zizek points out an example of coffee being "not enough" without cream or milk and also without one cent going to poor people who you can save by buying this cup of coffee. Opera as "unexisting coffee" can also be based on creating a scandal that is unrelated to the music or by highlighting that the reason to attend is that it is some special occasion due to an important anniversary date (50 years, 100 years of composer birth / death / opera premiere). All of this represents techniques for creating exciting news to motivate people to attend the opera. It can also help to announce that all money from the opera ticket sales for that date will go to help somebody. So, is there a big difference between selling coffee and an opera? In both cases, neither the coffee itself, nor the opera strictly as music are enough.
Private life is also a part of musical ideology, and it is quite normal to come to watch opera, because somebody asked you to do it, or needed you to, or that you needed to see a certain person who also will attend the opera and for many other reasons which don't have any direct connection to the music. In the end, maybe it is just because you got a free ticket, and this became "the" reason to go.
It seems that all of this is quite obvious . Nonetheless, it may come as a shock for those who naively believe that all musical choices to attend performances are based strictly on musical merit or the talent of the composer/performers. Such naive individuals may need to have an "insight" to see the "reality" of the musical situation. We must recall that reality is in the register of the Imaginary in the Lacanian triad of Imaginary / Symbolic / Real.
A hundred years ago, the idea of avant-gardists, futurists, scientists and other people was that it was possible to change the world radically, and there was a strong belief in crossing new borders and creating a new life. The most extreme and new in music also was based on this idea. Now this sounds like an old fashioned song which doesn't fit anymore with contemporary music ideology at the beginning of the 21st century. Today all styles and types of music exist side by side and are mixed with each other. It is only a question of placing them on the correct shelf in the musical supermarket, correctly categorized, so that each musical style should appear in its expected place, in the right concert hall, or on the right internet website. The listener just makes his choice from many variants and possibilities to like / believe in. The conditions are very comfortable because opinions about music are also no different than supermarket shelves - there are lots of them, and you just choose which one you prefer. This convenient position of the listener is an emotionally distant one because he doesn't risk his life anymore by listening to this or that music ; it is not a question of life or death anymore.
We, contemporary individuals, are not going to repeat the scandal of the famous ballet "The Rite of Spring" of composer Igor Stravinsky. When we imagine the events surrounding such scandals, we are amazed, considering that ,in today's world, such a scandal as a spontaneous social phenomenon doesn't seem to be possible. Who among us in the next days will go to a concert of new music, scream his head off, beat the people next to him, and break furniture as a protest based on his own aesthetical musical ideals? Who is willing to put themselves in danger of being arrested only for the sake of defending their musical taste ? If before the public would fight like soldiers who are preserving the boundaries of a commonly held musical taste, now there is actually nothing and nobody who deserves such a protection. "All is allowed" (as Ivan said in "Brothers Karamazov" of Fedor Dostoevskij) and so there is only silence on the part of most listeners. People who are making a dissatisfied booing noise are seen as just not smart enough to understand the music they are listening to. People who are expressing enthusiasm shouting "Bravo!" are, probably, friends, relatives, sponsors, etc. It means that the "Bravo" in this case is not a spontaneous act, but a pre-planned support which is independent of the quality of the music. We can only be surprised by the incredible "naivety" of the public in 1913 who attended the premier of "The Rite of Spring". They didn't realize that to express their protestation of the music in such a scandalous way is one of the best methods to help this composition become famous, despite all their efforts to destroy it. Fabricated media scandals today are a typical cliche method for raising audience popularity. We don't take as necessarily spontaneous and sincere either positive or negative public expressions, knowing that all of this may be being "staged" so as to make publicity for the "product", as a kind of artificial manipulation of the public's opinion.
So, listeners of music have changed considerably. Why are they not protesting anymore? What exactly is their position?
In his lecture "Freedom in the Clouds: What is Possible and What is Impossible Today", Slavoj Zizek answers one of the public's questions and says "isn't it clear that what happened was the privatization of listening to music where listening to music is no longer a public experience but that more often you are listening alone... Isn't it also a clear case of technology?.."
It seems that Zizek gives one possible answer, not just to the person who attended the lecture, but also as to the question why there is little or no public protest in music concerts nowadays. No great scandal can happen if you are listening to music at home by yourself. Moreover, the solution of pushing the "stop" button at home is what ,technologically speaking, has replaced protesting at concerts.
Somebody may say that there is not too much positive in what I have written so far. Does it mean that I am just following the contemporary meta-narrative where the topic of progress has changed to the topic of crisis ?
Slavoj Zizek wrote and spoke a lot about crisis in all fields (financial crisis, political crisis, crisis of imagination in his book "Living In The End Times", etc.)
If we concentrate our attention on the crisis in music today, I would claim that ,today, the so called musical crisis can be seen as not more than the normal negativity which one experiences by being an active "player" in the musical field. Practically all people who speak about music mention this crisis, adding any number of details about the musical level going down, about cultural decay, about the disappearance of culture, that there is no money for culture, etc. It is almost impossible to speak about the contemporary musical situation without this negativity which is attached to our time. I will give just a few examples. The famous opera singer, Elena Obraztsova, said that before people were making music, but now they are making a career. The famous ballet danser, Nikolay Tsiskaridze, thinks that the internet killed contemporary art by making it too easy for artists to steal from other artists. This atmosphere where there is nothing new and nothing good, goes together with festivals of "new music" which are seen as having been newer and better many decades ago. Lots of contemporary music productions are surrounded by negative criticism and sharply worded internet comments. At the same time, poor musicians, who are so annoying in the metro, demonstrate a difficult and miserable side of the profession. In essence, the only way to avoid this normal negativity of contemporary musical life is to create a home video with your cat, to upload it on Youtube, and by doing this to get lots and lots of very positive comments.
II The myth about the composer's desire
What is the place of the composer in today's musical ideology? Can the composer really say anything new or has all already been said and decided about who he is and what he wants? Can the composer really believe that there is an interest to writing his music? What is the composer's desire?
It is interesting that the myth about the importance of the composer's desire is very actively supported nowadays in musical society. This myth was cultivated and transformed into having a kind of important status, a situation created by speech rather than by experience. Experience usually shows the composer the opposite.
How in this case does speech work? Today the proposing and promotion of "composer being" almost automatically means the desire of the composer should be to be performed, to be mentioned in conversations, to get a certain recognition, to be satisfied by commissions, prizes, success, fans, stable finances, etc... This is because the inflated bubble around the word "composer" can reach titanic proportions.
So, speech puts into the signifier "composer" all the above-mentioned goals, which fires the flame of imaginary composer desire even more so. It speaks constantly about the incredible competition between large numbers of composers (pointing out the TOO big number of composers), about the necessity of making a career, about post-heroic survival as a name for the composer's desire, and many other things. A "situation" like this supposes that each chance for the composer to show himself provokes a strong desire, that it is absolutely normal to expect the demonstration of political correctness, politeness, to exchange courtesies, and to participate in each other's festivals in order that the next chance to be seen would not be taken away from the composer.
If you start to open your mouth about feeling dissatisfied, that there were performers who played badly, that there was too little rehearsal time, that there was just one performance, that the sounds played were not what was written in the score, that there was no public, etc.., you will see that such a complaining composer will be immediately boycotted, because he does not sing the right song. As Slavoj Zizek would say about this kind of ideology, it is not just forbidden to complain, but even more - it is even prohibited to mention that complaining is forbidden, because all your praise to performers and to other musicians is supposed to be an expression of your free choice. Zizek calls it "The Freedom of a Forced Choice".
The wrong song to sing was the song of experience which speaks the truth about difficult things. It says that the music still can't appear, and that the composer's desire as represented by presenters is a self-fulfilling manipulative myth. Manipulation is used to make the composer think that he needs to pay for his so called "big desire" by sacrificing, compromising and, in general, by accepting to play the game of being a "successful composer".
I don't claim that this widespread version about the composer's "situation" in music is completely false, but I consider it to be close to a description of Zizek's concept of ideology where ideology is presented not as something that we "should" believe in, but as a "situation" that is completely evident or obvious as to how we should act that we are well informed about as "realistic" individuals.
Slavoj Zizek likes to quote the Lacanian phrase "Man's desire is the desire of the other". I want to illustrate that the "myth about the composer's desire" that has been created also has its opposite side.
Source of desire
Composer wants to write some music, but at the same he can't force himself. He wishes to continue to be a composer, but he is in no state of mind to do the great violence to himself that would be necessary for him to produce even one single note. At the same time, he still thinks that composing music is his desire.
Composer, being at home, meets with Performer who speaks with great enthusiasm about how important Composer's desire is to him. He is ready to perform whatever Composer writes. He will learn it and play it on stage to the best of his ability. At the same time, Performer thinks to himself the opposite of what he says, that it is Composer who should be the servant of Performer ! It is Composer who should help realize the desire of Performer by writing virtuosic music especially for his very great and unique performing talent !! After feeling quite satisfied with himself, Performer warmly says goodbye to his dear friend and leaves.
No sooner does Performer leave than a new guest arrives. Conductor, gesticulating excitedly, hammers home how crucial the role of the conductor is for Composer's music, even for a small chamber ensemble. Only Conductor can really penetrate into the very heart and soul of this music. Only Conductor can make a real interpretation of Composer's desire! Such negligent musicians as Performer can't count even the simplest measures without Conductor's help. Continuing to gesticulate,Conductor smiles, keeping his unsaid thoughts to himself. He thinks that Composer is not so important finally. He only manipulates tone row material, but it is Conductor who creates the music in the here and now. Conductor's desire is so great and powerful that he can make miracles even in such sad cases as those of poor Composer whose recent uninspired and insipid use of tone row materials is of no musical interest whatsoever.
When this last great friend of Composer has left and the door closed, the telephone rings. Who can it be but the great and powerful Mr. Festival Director !! FD says to Composer with humble fervor that he is so very grateful that Composer has found a few minutes for them to speak. FD expresses how honored he is and that, even if he doesn't deserve such a great opportunity, that he will support and sustain with all his heart and soul great Composer's desires, whatever they may be. FD will be glad to promote Composer's music with all the power of his, alas, all too modest festival ! Continuing to speak with great humility and effusively praising Composer, FD thinks to himself that, if it wasn't for him, such mediocrities as Composer wouldn't stand a chance!
Only men like FD create and define what are the priorities in music today ! Composer,Performer and Conductor are all mere "assistants". They help FD realize his desire, but FD, and others like him, are the real heros of new music today. Without their great vision, there would be no new music at all !
Composer hangs up the telephone receiver and only in this moment he discovers that a letter has arrived. The letter is signed "Grateful Public" Mrs.GP expresses the warm wishes of the very many people who came to Composer's recent concert. They were ever so glad to support Composer's desire by their great number because they understand very well what a frustration it would have been to have one's new work performed to an empty concert hall. Of course, what Mrs. P's letter doesn't say is that, in truth, what this "grateful public" actually thinks is that it is them who decides what is good music, or not, according to their listener desire, What Mrs GP believes, but doesn't say to Composer, is that it is people, like her, the ones who pay for their tickets, who count the most for music today. This "grateful public" demonstrate their good taste each time they pay for the music they desire to listen to by the very act of purchasing their ticket with their hard earned cash !!
Other pieces of information with regard to Composer and his work are to be found outside of Composer's house.
Critic confirms by his excellent review of Composer's latest music in the newspaper that this music is,in fact, a realization of Critic's own desire. Critic, who previously furiously attacked Composer's music, is now happy to see that Composer has changed style in a way that Critic approves, a change that Critic predicted in his bad review. Critic feels a great satisfaction that he knows best, even better and even before Composer himself !
On Internet Forums, people discuss Composer as if his music was as a consequence of a political decision that was not his own- in other words that this music reflects another desire, that of somebody very powerful controlling from above.
The woman who is sitting on the steps of the entrance of the concert hall asks for alms. Since people were in a good mood after the concert, she got more money than usual. She said that the happy event of Composer's concert reflects Destiny's desire !
Those who for one reason or another feel discontented with Composer and his music, are going to go to church next Sunday. There the priest never tires to remind all sinners over and over again that all is God's Will and ,if something happened, it was due to God's desire.
III Examples of ideology in musical society
In describing his ideas, Slavoj Zizek frequently uses real life stories and jokes which makes his speech to have a liveliness to it, besides proving some of his points.
I want also to present some real life stories from my own experience as a performer and composer which would illustrate the influence of ideology in music today on what is considered as "normal" behavior between musicians.
The first story is very simple. The influence of "selfie" photo promotion on social networks has completely distorted the idea of meeting someone in "real time", where any person can become just a touristic object and nothing more. One composer who I know came to Paris as a tourist, and we were supposed to have a meeting near the Pompidou Center at a certain time. I went to the meeting thinking about having a cup of tea with her and a good conversation. Fortunately, I was on time. Soon I saw this composer arrive. I don't remember exactly if she made a photo with me, her, and the Pompidou Center, but I do know that all she said to me was "How cool, how great, to meet in Paris". This was all she said. After two minutes of touristic pleasure with me as one of her touristic objects, she left already with somebody else. I was no better than the Eiffel Tower for a very short touristic moment, just enough to say
"I saw the Eiffel Tower", which in this case was me!
In the past the following story would never pass even an elementary musicological test in order to be published among great stories about meetings between important artists.
The second story I would call "the appearance of a musician who is not a real musician ". Zizek repeats many times the idea of taking away the dangerous component - coffee without caffeine, love without falling, etc. The real musician is also a kind of dangerous component, because he can be crazy, unpredictable, and uncontrollable, not pragmatic, perfectionistic, not polite, too difficult, having his sacred beliefs, etc... So, today's musical society replaces this difficult musician with a kind of "musical businessman" who fits very well into the system. With this kind of non-musician, one can "do business".
When I met one particular "music businessman", I was very amazed about his almost sick need to use internet every two hours, very very often. He was saying that it is his job and his money at stake. I started to wonder what in this case the meaning of our rehearsals and music were for him ( other than that that he is paid for this), if his "job" is somewhere else, "online"... When he had no internet for technical reasons, it sounded from his speech as if he was feverish. He would go out of his way to force others (me included) to waste lots of time in order to try to find an "internet cure". He wasn't going to agree to go to a cafe with wifi, or to look at internet only in the morning and in the evening. This was not acceptable. When I started to be annoyed, I tried to explain that, for this week, I have no internet at all and I don't care, because I'm concentrated on the music. He was annoyed by this and just repeated that I don't understand, that it is his job and his money at stake. During rehearsals he made sure that they were not too long, and one time he openly announced that the rehearsal should be stopped because he needed to go to the toilet. The toilet in this case wasn't a physical one because this would take just a few minutes, and, afterwards, the rehearsal could continue. The "toilet" symbolized his "internet need" as "online urine incontinence". In English, there is an expression said to the dog who should do his defecation on the street and not in the house: "Do your business". So, this musical businessman also needs frequently to go online "to do his business". We know that Zizek isn't afraid to bring toilet themes into his theories, and this encouraged me to show this example with all its uncomfortable details. I understood that all risks, adventures, passions, love of being a musician were erased from this man and replaced with an online business mentality, using common repetitive words which don't even allow him to know who he is playing with. The musicians in our ensemble and myself were just one of a thousand other musicians, without individuality, but with the possibility to count only for our contribution to his numbers, his statistics, his career, and his "business", in general.
The tendency is that more and more time in between musical rehearsals is becoming used not for speaking about music and musical experiences, but for internet and for being alone. If you have a guest musician staying at your house and you expect some kind of first questions like "how are you?" and "how is your music?", you would be disappointed. The more frequent first question (or one of the first questions) would be "what is your wifi code?".
Of course, it is nothing but a "normal" question. If you don't show your modem and your desire to remain connected, this would be "abnormal". One time I came to an embassy and I had no electronic device with me, not even a mobile phone. The security guard was really shocked by this fact, almost couldn't believe it. So, if I need to demonstrate any sign of normality, I should put as a minimum one electronic device in my bag in order not to be seen as suspicious or strange on that day.
The third story will be about what I call the "No time" ideology in music and how it effects the process of the preparation of different concerts. The "No time" ideology doesn't happen just as a consequence of being a musical businessman, instead of being a musician. It is more than this. The propaganda of technology has made lots of people think that, in the old days, all was very slow, insufficient, took too long a time, etc... Now, time has been accelerated so much that lots of people have "no time" for their principal activity and it is "normal", even good. Somehow, people have forgotten that to compose as much as Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did, it couldn't be done by going at a slow speed and by taking a very long time... Moreover, Schubert and Mozart had short lives (31 years and 35 years), but left for us huge numbers of musical works. So, how is it possible to think that all was very slow? Nevertheless, nowadays, the "No time" ideology has been established and gives many possibilities for musicians and businessmen to reduce considerably their rehearsal time, because their great sight reading skills are part of their "high speed" technology and this allows them to act as ever more efficient musical machines. I know different examples. Imagine that for a difficult new orchestra piece a composer is given two and a half hours of total rehearsal time, including the general rehearsal. This "fast food" preparation is now quite common. I come back now to telling another story.
9 days of rehearsals is not much time to prepare a new opera. One "businessman" (as you can understand, I can't call him a musician) decided to put one more "business project" at the beginning of one of our rehearsal days, and so came several days late. When he came, he showed up at the rehearsal room in front of the others, including the composer and the conductor. The conductor wanted to start the rehearsal which had been going on already for several days, but this "businessman" suddenly said that he didn't have his musical part of the score, and so, he demanded it. No, he didn't lose his musical part in the train or forget it. He just never printed it and never learned it. He was totally unprepared. All was said by him like all was normal. I couldn't tolerate such a demand and said to him that there is no "printing company" in this rehearsal room and that he was supposed to have learned his part already a long time ago and that he should have his part already filled with rehearsal marks. Afterwards, when he got his part, the rehearsal with others was practically impossible due to the "businessman's" many questions about his part's details which he hadn't learned or asked about before. The same day, in the evening, he was supposed to practice this part, but, instead, the "businessman" decided to practice music for an other "project", not the current music. When I said to him that I wished to hear in the composer's house where he was rehearsing the musical part from the composer's current project, the "businessman" got angry at me and said that he has twenty other musical projects to prepare, not just this one!
Of course, I was wrong, being an old style idealist, even to mention at all that something was wrong. We know that psychoanalysis today is out of style, that behaviorism, more and more, takes the lead. From behaviorism's point of view, there was nothing wrong with this "businessman" behavior; he was absolutely normal in his actions, but I was not a well-conditioned "rat" at all. I was seen as aggressive, not polite, disrespectful. I didn't know my place. I didn't fit in well with society, etc. The people afterwards criticized my behavior, but nobody was convinced that there was anything wrong with that "normal businessman".
So, contemporary musical ideology forbids us to say that there is anything wrong with the very short rehearsal process, and even more, I'm not allowed to speak about this limitation. We come back again to Zizek's "Freedom of a Forced Choice". Since a premier is just a premier, it is normal not to expect too much from a first performance. The musical society likes all talk about crisis in music, but you will not get an extra day or hour of rehearsal time.
The fourth story will be about the influence of political correctness taken right to its ridiculous end. Slavoj Zizek gives all kinds of examples of this sort (the opera "Carmen" which was banned because it takes place near a tobacco shop and many others), so I'll just add one more.
I know a case in a music conservatory where one composer was a stutterer and almost couldn't speak at all. This fact meant that everybody needed to treat him well, and even other people wrote some music for him in order to help him. This "spectacle" was necessary up to his postgraduate dissertation because his crazy mother was telling everybody about the huge talent of her son and that she wouldn't survive any injustice of the world shown towards her poor stutterer son. The son signs compositions with his name because of the desire of his mother.
So, nobody should say that this composer is not like all the others. He has the same education and his problem of being a stutterer just makes him to be even more special. The only question is what he will do when his mother will be no longer there...
All examples I have given clearly demonstrate that the composer's position and his authority have changed considerably. Probably, Karlheinz Stockhausen was the last great figure in music who tried to keep the old idea of paternal authority and who had lots of troubles doing so because of this (musicians thought that he required too much, that he demanded unrealistic rehearsal time and other conditions, had too big an ego, was crazy, etc.). Zizek speaks about today's new form of super-ego as the Primal Father of obscene enjoyment. The performer "killed" the Oedipal Father and he decided that he also can compose music from time to time as well. It is why most of performers nowadays also consider themselves to be composers. They think that they know their instruments much better than the composer and ,therefore, they can compose better. The musical ideology says to enjoy by having lots of concerts, a good career, lots of success, etc... so, forget about spending months and months trying to learn just one piece - it is not how you should function today, it is no fun. Afterwards the personal experience of each musician / businessman shows who is resisting this influence of musical ideology and who is completely influenced by it.
The quintessence of Slavoj Zizek's thoughts about ideology is for me his work "The Pervert's Guide to Ideology" where his ideas and his speech go together with different images, music and characters from films, publicity, etc. It encourages us to put on special "Zizek glasses" in order to see and to understand Zizek's ideas about ideology which are presented in this special genre.
He says, for example, that the "Ode to Joy" from the 9th Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven can be like an empty container for what ever... any politics, any representation in films... but, at the same time, the music is not empty at all, it touches us...
Let's think now if we, composers, would really give, instead of a score, an "empty container" without music... What would happen? What would change?
I allow myself at the end of this article to go a step further, to present some characters (composer, secretary, six critics) and a missing object (empty pages instead of a music composition) in order to show how ideology in music can function even without music. The missing object doesn't make everything to be "less"; on the contrary, as Slavoj Zizek would say, "less is more". So, here is the quintessence of musical ideology without music.
Critique of the blank sheet
Composer: (asking the secretary). My dear, please place some blank papers on the music stand.
Secretary: Some blank papers? But where is your composition?
Composer: There is no composition.
Secretary:The critics will come any moment now!
Composer: There is nothing to worry about. You will see that the music or what could be the music, for them, is only an occasion to show themselves.
We hear the noise of a squeaky door. The first critic comes to the music stand.
First Critic: But where is the composition? Oh, this one... Yes... You know... The first thing which goes into the eyes is the absence of contrast. Each sheet of paper is the same... but, in order to be more convinced, I would want to see a more precise and complete form of the piece. If it would be just one sheet of paper, the full form would be clear. Or a packet of papers, for example... But, having several pages you can always add more pages or take a page away, don't you think? We also speak about standardization as something fundamental. Your sizes of paper are standard, but you don't feel shy or embarrassed by this. You are not afraid to follow standard ways.
The First Critic goes out, and the Second one appears.
Second Critic: What are you showing to me? This? Can't you understand that tricks of such a genre became outdated a long time ago after John Cage? Yes, and your paper is also old fashioned... But there is something interesting in your version of the aleatoric... Since it is clear from the beginning that there can be any order of the pages and even upside down... it is curious that any change of pages really doesn't change anything. In classical examples, like "Zyklus" of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, the musical difference remains after the change, the result is not the same... But, in your case, the aleatoric cancels itself out.
After the Second Critic leaves, the next one comes in being a bit nervous.
Third Critic: White sheets of paper? It seems that this is a music of death. You know that there are many such imaginary compositions made up of only the musical thoughts of the composer at the very last moment before his death? But, how could we pull out of the dead composer's head what is in between these blank pages? I hope that the fact of showing them to me doesn't mean very sad news? No? Thank God! Too many people die these days.
He goes out of the room as soon as possible and closes the door, but, after one minute, the door opens again with already a new Critic who appears.
Fourth Critic: What I see here already brings lots of questions to mind to ask the composer. Why, for example, this sort of paper was chosen and not an other? Why not an other material? Personally, I find the choice to be too limited, almost automatic. If you would think longer, you could come to more interesting conceptions. Then... Why are the pages not connected with each other? For what reason do you need to divide something which would want to be presented as a whole and not divided into equal parts?..Or, why not make unequal parts by putting different length pauses between turns of the pages? I find that this composition is not well written and poorly organized. By the way, why do you need a music stand at all? Also, I would try to find out how much you know about the history of the paper, when and where it was invented, etc...
The Critic continues to think, to speak already to himself while he disappears behind the door. Soon the next Critic appears who has a friendly face.
Fifth Critic: The composition which doesn't exist? Sheets of paper? It is a big pleasure for me to speak about unexistenceâ¦ it is as important as speculative realism. I feel myself being the boy who came from nowhere. Look at these sheets - they are pure. They are not touched by the ink which would make them dirty and would change the white into black. They are not stained with spots of finger prints of somebody's "I". They are situated beyond the language problem. Yes, the sheets are white, and it seems that very soon you will hear something... you will hear the voice of unexistence... Also, of course, the quantity of pages is purely random and doesn't have any reason behind it. Like in contingency, it could be one way or another. There is no law which would make six pages to be necessary and seven or five to be impossible. Thanks to the composer for these pure minutes...
The Critic bows with enormous gratitude and then leaves the room. Instead of him, now, the last Critic shows up with definite impatience and discontent, because he was waiting his turn too long...
The Last Critic: What is this? Are you sure that this is a composition? But, it is a protest against education! For what reason in this case do we need written literacy, knowledge of musical notation, educational institutions, written books? You undermine the status of their importance! Can you tell me which political party you belong to? Do you have musical education yourself?
The Critic expresses his discontent and says goodbye feeling disturbed... He continues to be indignant in the other room.
The secretary takes the pages back and mixes them with her other blank papers in order to use them for printing her report.