Sunday, 27 November 2011

Bad Music, The flute, The Beatles and dead symbols

OK less voco-centrism, upon the music tip now. I have noticed a lot of intriguing histories around music in the Dolar text and also through the greek myths, probably sharing a similar genesis to the history of 'dealing' with the exo-irreducible remnant part Voice (as discussed in the Dolar essay). I keep stumbling across examples of people struggling to except, or come to terms with, or just fearing the un-coded remnant side of musical communication, by musical communication I think it's fair to say that musics (I say musics, because I am not just referring to pop songs, or rock, or classical but everything that either has a system notation or can be employed as a form of musical communication - be it western or otherwise) are coded, so entrenched in this code, that it can be used in the same manner as a matrix of signifiers to 'talk', this example of Deliverance is a great:

This is pure musically coded communication, both instruments are fretted I think, there is a call and response part too - quite obvious.

However when this code is broken, or an un-coded sound dominates (shofar springs to mind here, alongside fender squalls, and football chants) we may feel uneasy, over excited, angry or worse - politically motivated. The history of classical music riots is worth recalling here, as is The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to which Autechre infamously responded... Music is littered with spontaneous reactions to the uncoded, the ghostly remainder.

So whilst Dolar traces our 'problem' of dealing with the Exo-remnant in Voice, the endless shackling of the voice to logos, the feminization, the sexualization of this sonic 'other' (resembling mirroring our literal repression of women over histories), or on the other hand the thunderingly masculine sounds of the shofar or gods voice etc.... I wonder if there are similar enquiries or studies into the history of music, stepping outside of logos, of the irreducible a-logos facet of song?

There must be. See Sirens, Mermaids, Pan, Orpheus, Plato's dislike of the flute (the un-coded instrument, the instrument that is most open to sound, the flute Plato refers to would be a small free sliding 'scale' wind instrument), The Puritans organ burning. Infact, to kick up a rather corny pop culture relic - The Beatles. After Lennon made his infamous 'bigger than Christ' comment a good old fashioned furore of burning The Beatles record broke out across some southern American states.

OK, so whilst the The Beatles records themselves are not stritchly a-logos, they are not totally uncoded, I feel it's fair to say the 'X-factor', the special appeal (sonically) may have been the anomalous sonic remnant outside of musical codification - perhaps their live shows had that extra zing that erects goosebumps, the je ne sais quoi, that special something - but lots of fantastic musicians have this, this something is not exactly ubiquitous but there are certainly a lot of sublime and inspiring musicians and performers for every generation.

I'll speculate that the catalyst for such a wax inferno was Lennon's comment. Or rather, the sonic-logos implications behind the comment. To strictly juxtapose The Beatles with Christ created an unnerving dichotomy. The uncoded sonic of The Beatles appeal, something they had and could culturally surf, against or opposed to the word, logos, the book, the Bible. One was living, moving, globe trotting and inspiring and communicated on levels that were, arguably, unbeknown previously, the pandemonium of live music, the fandom of the record etc. The charming, charismatic liverpudlians had something the good book didn't, they were alive and touching people through music, emotionally in a way that a bunch of dead symbols never would, and never will do.

This brief dominance of musicality (along with it's a-logos appendage) over logos/the good word  coupled with Lennons ill founded comments about being bigger than jesus maybe made the more logosphilial people in southern american states uneasy, some to such a degree they felt compelled to burn their own Beatles records.

I accept that a large proportion of the outrage was due to Lennon criticising Christianity. However I do wonder, even though we'll never be able to gather an empirical basis for this sequence of events and myriad subjective agendas, metaphysical, political, peer led or other (quite fittingly considering the phenomena in question), I wonder if there is not a reasonable basis for the assumption that the mixture of theological criticism, music, hysteria and uncoded a-logosonic aspects of The Beatles songs was a large part of the reason why  such events occurred.

"A change to a new type of music is something to beware of as a hazard to all our fotunes. The modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling the most fundamental political and social conventions. It is here, then, I said, that our guardians must build their guardhouse and post of watch. It is certain, he said, that this is the kind of lawlessness that easily insinuates itself unobserved.
Yes, said I, because it is supposed to be only a form of play and to work no harm.
Nor does it work any, he said, except that by gradual infiltration it softly overflows upon the characters and pursuits of men and from these issues forth grown greater to attach their business dealings, and from these relations it proceeds against the laws and the constitution with wanton license, Socrates, till it finally overthrows all things public and private."(Plato, Republic IV)


"Bacchic frenzy and all similar emotions are most suitably expressed by the flute" (Aristotle, Politics VIII)

Is there anything for the uptight logos lover to fear today? As soon as something is deemed 'new', it is absorbed into capitalism and commodified. There are economic problems now, and subsequently political problems and music feels boring and coded like never before. Is it because I am no longer a wide eyed teen reliant solely on HMV for music? Or is it because torrent sites have spoilt me and ipods jaded me? Is there anything exciting to come? Musophobia as relic - I fear.

EDIT - I'm tuggin at something here, not sure what, if it reads like i'm wringing my hands and mincing my feet to and fro it maybe because it's late and the post has drifted onto more questions than answers. I'd really like someone to recommend me some nice music analysis text around the subject I'm scraping (clumsily) at... Maybe it's just because i'm bitter that Shackleton (who programs each individual beat, so the tracks sound lifelike and organic - I wanted to work this into one of my theories) has released an eponymous LP with Pinch and it is the most anaesthetizingly dull record I've heard for some time now.


  1. There's the obvious stuff on 'noise' by Jacques Attali (and then Paul Hegarty). Varese and Cowell wrote some interesting stuff.
    Try also Mark Slouka on silence or Kahn's 'Noise, Water, Meat"
    Loads of other stuff but want to avoid a list

  2. Might be interested in these guys too (re: voice)