Sunday, March 12, 2006

Music & Narrative

“Is not music the mysterious language of a distant realm of spirits, whose lovely sounds recho in our soul and awaken a higher, because more intensive life? 1” –
Story telling originates with the human need of sharing personal experiences. Every culture in this world seems to have created stories as a way of making sense of that world. I wonder what else we would do if not tell stories? Humans like to form stories in their mind and very often connect it with their personal feelings. Can a bunch of organized sounds tell a story? How does it differ from the point of view of a narrator to the point of view of the audience? Story telling has used sounds to invoke the myth or may be to create a certain emotion. Further I regard human imagination as a story that gets formed within the mind. I strongly believe that it is story telling which makes us human. Right from the time of human birth and till now, we have constantly evolved as a narrative. Music and language How much is music a language? The image of music as a kind of extra ordinary language can be understood from the beliefs in the heart of many cultures and can be very clearly seen from the perspective of science. “Music and language are both temporal sequences. They take place in time and share the basic elements of pitch, accent, intensity and timbre”2. However music contains more layers of simultaneous meaning, which leaves the listener to interpret the message sent a crossed. A lot of cultures believe on the supposed supernatural powers of music to feel close to god. Is it the only language which god understands? Regardless of understanding if that was true, why would someone spend hours in their religious grounds or use the power of music to heal the sick or to assure fertility? The role that music plays in our society is quite remarkable. If you are an African there is no such thing as ‘art music’. Every religious ceremony is complimented with music to an extent that if drummers were not present the ceremony would not take place. If you were an Indian you would not have your first meal before you sing a small prayer in your private temple. All other cultures as well seem to worship music and regard it as the most important part of their life. We have deeply learned about spoken languages from modern linguistics and cognitive psychology can explain our experiences of music.
Philosophical discussions about music traditionally link the subject to issues about human emotion. The Arguments about music and emotions are quite attractive. Musicians quite often use narratives to make sense of their lives, to share their experiences and express their intentions. Someone who is moved by music does not simply replicate the emotions that the music expresses, rather the listener responds emotionally to the beauty or perfection of music. Narrative Theory “Fantasisation can be regarded as a privileged enterprise in any narrative. The importance of the element of fantasy has its history, so close to the nature of reality. The Vedas, the Puranas, the fairy tales and folk tales; all these are primarily perceptions of the imagination and only secondary to those of the rational mind3”. The highly subjective nature of the human imagination is a narrative story, which is formed inside the human brain and is completely responsible for the world we see today. “The universe proceeds from the subtle to the concrete and gets merged into the subtle again, which is the theory of narrative”4. Where there is entry there is always exit, there cannot be any narrative without exit. Scientists are generally aware of the influence of theory on observation. Seldom do they recognize, however, that many scientific theories are essentially narratives. The growth of a plant, the progress of a disease, the formation of a beach, the evolution of an organism – any set of events that can be arranged in a sequence and related can also be narrated. This is true even of a scientific experiment. Indeed, many laboratory reports, with their sections labeled “methods,” "results," and “conclusions,” bear resemblance to a typical narrative, that is, an organized sequence of events with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In comparison to the structure of a musical work, the composer ideally works with themes and motives, which gives a sense of an organized sequence of events. Whether or not scientists or musicians follow such a narrative structure in their work, they do not often recognize the extent to which they use narrative in their thinking and in communicating their ideas. Musicians have been for so long entranced by ‘structure’. The idea of building tension followed by a resolution can be understood as an important concept in composition, which to me is so close to the narrative theory. “Concepts such as cadences, meter and period have enough technical precision in them to justify their complete translation into musical terminology”6. The generative system of rules in composition and the aural experience provides an explanation of the wrong note phenomenon. Listeners can easily sense a violation of the rules, the grammar of the music in the same way they can spot a grammatical error in a sentence they had never heard or spoken before. “The Indian narrative shows a wonderful balance between stylisation and improvisation. The performer follows certain pre-established codes in the overall structure of his composition yet he also puts a stamp of his personality by improvising substantially in the motives and the contents of the overall structure”7. A lot of margin is there for personal freedom with regard to the content and individually invented style but the basic framework remains the same. Any raga played during a performance is a narration of a particular period of time which symbolises the nature and effect we see and the emotion that every moment carries. I see a close relationship in theory, if compared to the western thought, where the modes can be arranged in order of their relative brightness and darkness. If Lydian mode is seen as a brightest mode and compared to Rag Yaman, which uses the same set of notes, one can see a fundamental connection between the understandings of respective cultures. Rag Yaman is an evening raga that symbolises light and brightness - the emotion that time before sunset carries. Another way of looking at it could to compare the relative order of modes in relation to the amount of light present in the hemisphere. The performer is following a narrative approach through sonically displaying the characteristics of a particular time blended with his improvisation skills and present state of mind Conclusion Any art form is tied up with certain boundaries, not in relevance to its production but highly in regard of its use. Music should always be used with moral and ethical values; it should always be positive and expressive. Morals are about a certain kind of behavior and ethics is thinking about that behavior. Music being one of the most sophisticated language which humans have learnt its, transfer and use is of high importance. Music is the effort we make to our self how our brain works. Music of different cultures tells us about their beliefs and becomes a sonic portrait of how their brain works. I believe music being such a pure art form it only contributes towards your path of spiritualization. It fulfills all your desires through its inner sense and leaves your with a high level of consciousness and understanding of your self.
(1) Hoffmann, E.T.A .The Poet and The composer .1816
(2) William, Bright.1963. “ Language and Music; Areas of Cooperation” Ethnomusicology, VII No.1, p.26.Also see Henry, Walker Otto.Walker.1970.The Evolution Of Idiomatic &Psycho acoustical Resources as a basis for unity in Electronic Music. Tulane University, PhD Thesis, 1970.University Microfilms. Michigan.
(3) Paniker, Ayyappa K. Indian Narratology. IGNCA. Pp 200. Kalasamalochana series.New Delhi. 2003
(4) Paniker, Ayyappa K. Indian Narratology. IGNCA. Pp 200. Kalasamalochana series. New Delhi. 2003
(6) Swain, joseph P. Musical Languages.W .W. Norton and Company.London 1997
(7) Paniker, Ayyappa K. Indian Narratology. IGNCA. Pp 200. Kalasamalochana series. New Delhi. 2003
Newman, William S.Understanding Music. Harper and Row Publishers. New york.1961 Kak,
Subhash.New Theory Of Music’. University of the Philippines.Quezon City, Philippines. 2002 17 October’2006
Crites, Stephen .The Narrative Quality of Experience. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 39, No. 3. (Sep., 1971), pp. 291-311. iew/00027189/ap050019/05a00020/0 20 October, 2006
Maus, Everett Fred Narrative. Drama, and Emotion in Instrumental Music. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 55, No. 3. (Summer, 1997), pp. 293-303. iew/00218529/ap020218/02a00060/0 25 October .2006
Whittington, Stephen. Lectures in Perspectives Of Music Technology. Narrative Theory. University Of Adeladie.2006

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