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WHAT IS PHENOMENOLOGICAL MUSIC, AND WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH SALVATORE SCIARRINO? AARON HELGESON HERE EXISTS, IN THE CIRCLE of contemporary musicians in which we find ourselves, a growing discussion of a music which is purported to be phenomenological. This label seems to be applied consistently to several composers making use of non-traditional instrumental sounds (Helmut Lachenmann, Pierluigi Billone, Chaya Czernowin, and Rebecca Saunders, to name only a few), but it has made its most conspicuous appearances in relation to the music of Salvatore Sciarrino. For example , program notes for the Kontinent Sciarrino series at the 2008 Salzburg Festival describe his music as: concentrated expressions of life, which while listening allow the border to dissolve between inner or outer reality. This art of T What is Phenomenological Music? 5 refined perception has been variously related to Sciarrino’s Sicilian origins: the silence of the heat of midday, the deserted landscape and the shimmering Mediterranean light as a background, against which this kind of musical phenomenology can unfold.1 As has often been the case in situations where such labels are used to categorize emerging musical practice, the word has been applied not primarily by its practitioners, but by its observers. In such instances, these labels have frequently been reclaimed, revised, and re(de)fined by those whose work has been so categorized. Most recently, we have observed the coining of the label spectralist by musicologists, and the term’s subsequent reclamation by composers like Tristan Murail, Jonathan Harvey, and Joshua Fineberg. Similar examples in the twentieth century can be found with labels such as minimalist, serialist, new complexity, and experimental. There is, however, an important way in which the label “phenomenological ” stands out from these examples, for it invokes a particular intellectual discourse that predates its current usage by at least a century. That discourse is the phenomenological philosophy of Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This philosophical tradition—known for its emphasis on empirical observation and radically descriptive (as opposed to explanatory) investigation—brings with it a very long and complicated history in describing perceptual experience. Surprisingly, though, the works of these philosophers include barely any mention of sound, let alone music.2 Insofar as the philosophical practice of phenomenology has been invoked in describing contemporary music (including both its works and its workers), it is relevant to explore the meaning of words like phenomenon and phenomenological in such a context, and whether indeed their applicability is unique to the music they are used to describe. To begin, we must investigate what the phenomenological project is,3 in order to ascertain what it might be able to tell us about sound in general, and music in particular. Phenomenology is the study of phenomena. In the most literal sense, this means that phenomenological investigation aims to describe not things as they are (noumenon), but things as they appear to us (phainomenon). To a phenomenologist, perception is always perception of and about something: phenomenology contends that once underway all experience, whether fulfilled or remaining “empty,” is found to have a specific 6 Perspectives of New Music shape in that all experience is “referential,” “directional,” and “attentional.” All experience is experience of ———. Anything can fill in the blank. The name for this shape of experience is intentionality .4 Its of-and-about-ness means that there is an object to our perception (a marble, a song, a color, another person, a sunset) as well as an intentional act (seeing, thinking, walking, hearing). We therefore call these perceptual phenomena intentional objects: objects that exist in nothing more, or less, than our experience of them. Intentional objects distinguish themselves from physical objects in at least two important ways: 1) they need not conform to an objective explanation of reality,5 and 2) they are experienced all-at-once (Zugleich) as a totality, rather than as a summation of partial views or individual dimensions.6 For a simple example of the former, we need only consider the color black, which appears as a color, but which “in reality” contains no visible frequencies of light. For an example of the latter, imagine that I hear the sound of a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2325-7180
Print ISSN
0031-6016
Pages
pp. 4-36
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-01
Open Access
No
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