Luigi Nono in Emmerson’s words

In a book chapter entitled  “The relation of Language to materials” Simon Emmerson discusses the use of mimesis in music composition… particularly electro-acoustic composition. What he means by ‘mimesis’ is the imitation of naturally occurring sounds; and also the imitation of structures known to human culture but not usually associated to music. The use of mimesis is very prevalent in electro-acoustic music, clearly because of the advent of recording technology.

Emmerson attempts to analyse various well-known electro-acoustic works by their use of mimesis versus what he calls “aural” elements in the composition. An aural work makes use of sounds and structures which have little reference to naturally occurring sounds… Emmerson uses the phrase ‘abstract musical’. Before the advent of recording technology, music was essentially (but not exclusively) aural.

He cites Nono’s La fabbrica illuminata as an example of a work that sits between the two extremes of mimetic and aural works.


But surely the reason why listeners are compelled to listen to (aural) music is because the ‘abstract musical’ elements throw some kind of light, or draw some kind of reference, have some kind of resonance with structures known to human culture. … because the ‘abstract musical’ elements have some form of similarity with human experience and culture.

Its this kind of discourse (both mine and Emmerson’s) that makes me think that it is very dangerous to attempt to understand music with words. The more one attempts to outline and identify certain things, with words, the more the distinctions seem to disappear.

It might be a symptom of analysis … trying to pull things apart, more and more apart, into smaller and smaller pieces. Or it might be something else. I think it is something else. At a high level, a line seems to exist… but when one zooms in to try and better identify that line; it disappears. Its not a fractal thing … in fractal orders lines don’t disappear they just become more complex.

Perhaps it is more a symptom of over-simplification. I suspect this is a common problem when it comes to perception. I get the impression that perception is not something to be understood or analysed; rather, it is the thing that does the understanding.

In this sense … if perception cannot be understood then it cannot be manipulated or predicted. This suggests that the only way to conceive an art-work … in other words, to incite a perception in an other … is to simply re-produce or replicate a perception that one has had oneself.

So if one looks at the statue of David … one is actually seeing the world through Michaelangelo’s eyes.

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One Response to Luigi Nono in Emmerson’s words

  1. Bogus Name says:

    What you seem to be describing is scale. Things exist at one scale, but disappear at other scales. An example is human memory. If you increase the scale to the level of neurons then the thing you are investigating isn’t there any more. A second example is imagery of the earth’s surface. (I used to work with satelitte imagery.) It was very common to see a line on an image, say between two zones with differing vegetation. However, on the ground — a much larger scale — no line existed. Instead, the different vegetation types blended gradually into each other.

    On a separate matter, when you suggest that perception is not something to be understood or analysed you have backed a loser. This would silence the large and influential industry devoted to doing exactly that. They will not be silenced; instead, they will silence you. (Do you wish to graduate?) Also, I believe you are wrong. At the end of the day, perception is done by the brain, which is composed of neurons and stuff. The brain is understandable, even if our understanding at the moment is pitifully inadequate.


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