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The activity of performance is fundamental to music. Even where it does not take place in reality, music only comes to presence through the sustained and coherent activity of internal listening and imaginative presencing. The phenomenologist Alfred Schütz has identified this active ontological modality of music as “polythetic”. Like a mathematical proof, we must experience music and participate in its temporal unfolding to perceive and understand music at all. Music cannot be understood as objectively present in front of us. It exists within human intentionality, as temporal form and because of our directedness into the future. Music reveals itself in actuality and as formed in the activity of performance.

The existence of music as a temporal form distinguishes it from other realms of being that are a-temporally and objectively constituted. Music, however, does not admit objective identification readily and on its own. All musical presence differs on account of the essentially differing temporal horizon in its performance. At the same time, the intuition of a musical form can apparently be present in an instant. Mozart famously identified the act of composition as an articulation of an idea, present to the composer at once in a synoptic view. The intuitive conception of musical ideas in an instance thus appears to be the driving force of the unfolding of musical performance. The musical performance is then the clarifying and approximating reality of a synoptically conceived musical form only present in a directedness or intentionality of our consciousness.

The relationship between form and performance determines any corresponding human activity. Aristotle famously identifies their difference as the difference between praxis and poiesis. Praxis or mere doing, is self sufficient. The aim of the activity lies within the activity itself. Aristotle refers to sight as an example. The activity of seeing is self-sufficient. Its aim is simply to see. Poiesis or making on the other hand takes aim at a form outside the activity itself. Aristotle cites the activity of building. We build in order to build something. The activity itself is informed by taking aim at the potential object that is made. Praxis or doing is characterised by its actuality (energeia). Poiesis or making is characterised by its work (ergon).

Musical performances collapse the differences between actuality and work. We can thus only speak about making music in a sense that is different to Aristotle for whom all making is instrumental. It distinguishes possibility from actuality and identifies modalities of how a given aim is achieved. A doing or praxis preserves the unity of process and product and does not separate the “what”, the aim, from the “how”, the activity itself. In musical performance, a separation between the “what” and the “how” is ultimately not desirable. It leads to an inauthentic aesthetic experience. Music exists in a unified experience where process and product are joined. The musical work exists in the musical working. The paradigmatic form of musical creation is accordingly “play”. We do not make, but we play music.

Musicians appropriately tend to take a view that anticipated musical outcomes or aims determine paths teleologically and are in fact congruent with such paths. Their teleological paradigm suggests that where the imagination, inspiration and conception of an aim are strong enough, the activity and path towards its achievement will reveal itself without further reflection. In musical performance imagination must suffice to guide us towards reality. The deliberation or reflection about the “how” distracts the performer at the moment of performance and undermines the constitution of the musical work.

The play-reality of music contrasts with a reality where paths distinguish themselves from aims and in fact assume a detached importance in themselves. In the aesthetic context of music making a failure of achievement presents no critical problem. It may in fact not even be perceived in the power of the moment. The musical reality is after all a praxis and the activity and its aims remain united. The musical performer and listener exist in this sense in a suspended, aesthetic “play” reality. In the reality of human lives which deals with objective realities, a failure to respond appropriately to a partially known reality may have serious consequences to individual lives and result in significant failures of individuals and communities.

Collaborative conceptions of outcomes in particular imply a detached conception and articulation of aims and activities. They require a poiesis. Human society is no play reality and must be determined by a capacity to form and articulate aims and visions, to devise - and agree on paths towards their realisation and establish interpretations of outcomes and achievement. This dynamic is subject to a dialectic which separates aims (the “what”) and paths (the “how”). This has good reasons: Harmonious co-existence in a civilised society suggests that we approach challenges collaboratively. We cannot be confident that individuals conceive aims and understand outcomes completely at all times to determine a path adequately without further thought and assistance. In addition our individual imagination and inspiration may not hit upon the best or indeed most productive path towards the realisation of an aim immediately. We need to deliberate collectively about aims, outcomes and paths to achieve optimum results and thus need to separate them conceptually. From a perspective of praxis and the self-sufficiency of doing, a detached path is perceived as an obstacle, as a distraction and as unnecessary. Conflating contexts of praxis and poiesis in human communities leads to confusion and ambivalence but also to ignorance, fanaticism and intolerance. In extreme circumstances it will lead to a breakdown of human collaboration and of humane community altogether.