MANIFESTO OF CATARTHIC MUSIC (online 2014.04.27)
Intellectual property reserved Edoardo Bruni
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Art music and art in general during the second half of the 20th century have mainly been ruled by two aesthetics diametrically opposed to each other. These aesthetics can be justly considered as products of their time and expression of the cultural spirit of a world scarred by two world wars and by different kinds of totalitarianism and dogmatism. We look on them as, by now, barren, out-of-date, and surpassed, and we propose that music and art should take on new perspectives and should follow new paths.
The first aesthetic position is the expression of an art that questions a society and a culture that it does not approve, of which it does not share the ideals, and that it wants to alter or to renew. Consequently, its main characteristic is a contesting, deconstructionist and innovative attitude. With these new objectives the classic search for “beauty” has lost its importance, leading to the loss of criteria for defining what is art and what is not, to the realization of unappealing and incomprehensible works, and to the alienation of art from society; in music, there has also been an alienation from the majority of musicians. The perceptive and aesthetic result of this conception is malaise; metaphor for the malaise that this type of art feels for society. Hence we define this aesthetic position as the aesthetics of malaise. It has become the hallmark of the academy and has created a hegemony that decides in an independent and auto-referential way what artistic currents are artistically valid, and acts systematically against the “non-aligned” currents that don’t follow its dogmas. In music, the aesthetics of malaise has expressed itself mainly through the (meta-) technique of extreme, deconstructionist atonality: “Atonality”, because it is based on its opposition to traditional tonality (that built on traditional scales and on tonal hierarchy) and “extreme and deconstructionist”, because it takes this rejection to extremes. Through the various specific techniques that followed one another during the second half of the 20th century (dodecaphony, serialism, aleatoric music, noise music, microtonal music, spectralism…), it has not only rejected traditional scales and tonal hierarchy, but it has also dismantled all the other musical elements (rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre, temperament…).
The second aesthetic viewpoint can be seen as an extreme reaction to the preceding aesthetics. It is an art that neither criticizes nor contests society, but which in a way wishes to re-establish a relationship. Yet it does this by appeasing it, passing from the extreme criticism of before to another extreme approach of denying that there is any problem and, above all, by identifying “society” with a “large audience”. Here, too, the criteria for defining what art is and what it is not have got lost: the only things that remain are commercial success and the appreciation of a large audience. The perceptive and aesthetic result is that of agreeable, relaxing, simple and comprehensible music, but banal and naive; equally as banal and naive is the attitude of those who in art seek only pleasure, evasion and escape from reality. Hence we define this aesthetical position as the aesthetics of banality. It is the hallmark of populist and commercial art (if we can call it “art”), and has created a general lowering of artistic taste towards the models promoted by the media and by commercial powers. In music, the aesthetics of banality has expressed itself mainly through the (meta-) technique of traditional diatonic tonality: the various specific compositional currents typical of the aesthetics of banality (neo-romanticism, neo-tonality, new simplicity, minimalism, ambient music, new age music…) have done nothing but bring back old tonality, for the most part diluting it into pale diatonic versions.
We now find ourselves in a Hegelian-style dialectic situation: the aesthetics of malaise and the aesthetics of banality are a thesis and an antithesis lacking force in themselves: they are out-of-date, barren and surpassed. We intend to overcome this situation with a new position, the aesthetics of catharsis, which takes the positive sides of the two aesthetic approaches, reconciling the intellectual research, the criticisms, and the complexity of the one side, with the appeal and the comprehensibility of the other. This aesthetic position is more suitable than the others for the problems of present-day culture and society: instead of criticizing them (malaise) or evading them (banality), the new position can be defined as “constructive criticism”. In music, we suggest looking for new compositional techniques, which can offer an alternative both to extreme deconstructionist atonality and to traditional tonality (not only to diatonic tonality), and which can create, here too, a new synthesis. Together, the esthetics of catharsis and appropriate techniques will give birth to the new cathartic music. The term “catharsis” (suggested by the German composer Martin Münch) refers to the (Aristotelian and Nietzschean) idea of the cathartic function of music, and underlines the idea of liberation and purification from the aesthetics of malaise and of banality.
Version: 27th april 2014