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Music and Musicians

The imagination is indeed a perplexing faculty. On the one hand it suggests an intimate and silent realm of possibility; on the other it projects loudly our dreams and hopes, our needs and yearnings, our wishes and wants in public activity. One such activity is musical performance and a more specialised kind of such performance is the performance of so-called “serious-music”. The Violin Concerto by Beethoven will fall into this category for anyone who cares about such a label. However, more intriguing than applying a label of “seriousness” to music is the question what possibilities Beethoven’s work might afford the imagination today.

A recent concert experience provided striking opportunity to reflect on just this question. Here is the setting: A gala performance– garlands of purple flowers framing the stage to provide a setting of perfumed expectancy. The musicians of the orchestra already on stage seem disciplined and alert; dimming lights, concentrated tuning. Conductor and soloist enter to excited and voluptuous applause. Both are major performers of international standing but the contrast could not be more striking: Small statue, grey hair, impish walk- the conductor appears boyish, excited and eager to share the secrets of music. The violinist in yellow mermaid dress enters like a princess, gracing all with her presence. The production is perfect: dress-matching shoes, immaculately styled hair, radiating and gracious smile – a suggestion of eternal youth, of mythical beauty, of a goodness that suggests redemption.

The entrance is electrified by expectation. The performance had already begun months ago with a carefully planned campaign in glossy media where patrons and public were prepared to witness a phenomenon, to hear a superstar otherwise only encountered in film or sport. Those who are here tonight had heard the tale of legendary fame, of a life which transcended ordinary tragedy and extraordinary promise, of an eternally youthful giftedness and of a dedication to others through charity work and the promotion of young artists. Is this merely a musician or is this someone who may respond to our dreams of eternal youth, of combining beauty, truth and compassion, a creature of all-encompassing goodness?

The entrance suggests a magical aura. It hints at a fulfilment of the quest for eternal youth. It hints at relief from the eternal disappointment of transience. It hints at redemption from a daily struggle with goodness and truth in an ordinary, dreary and frustrated life. Here comes a specimen of perfection, invited by the audience’s imagination, by its desires, dreams and disappointments. With the first sounds of her violin, this artist will need to respond to a call of an imagination and of a yearning that reaches beyond Beethoven into the abyss of modern life. How this artist performs in this dimension will define her art!

The orchestra starts the extended tutti with concentrated care. There is attention and control of tempo- a reticence to become assertive and exuberant notwithstanding that the music may call for this. From her first entry with its ascending dominant seventh arpeggio the violinist commands our attention with a sound of striking modality, aided by intense vibrato, lascivious glissandi and seductive contrasts exposing breathtaking colour, beauty and tone. This is a sound-show to spectacular effect and with compelling colour. Unusual rubato, sudden effects with striking seduction in sound, some sharpness in pitch at times cuts into the listener’s attention – no device is spared to tantalise our attention. It becomes increasingly clear why the orchestra was careful: It did not recognise that it was in fact part of a different kind of performance and that this performer could harness the dreams of an audience more powerfully than any music. It is no longer a question of simply performing a work of music and revealing its existence. The yellow-golden violinist has lured all towards a different kind of realm. Here, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto becomes merely an opportunity to incite the fundamental desires and yearnings accumulated in the everyday. There is myth-making at work here.

The performance unfolds with irresistible authority and wilful imagination. It directs the attention of the listener towards the musician on stage and confronts him with a hidden, amplifying consciousness. Did he come to hear Beethoven’s Violin Concerto? This hardly seems relevant for this performance is about the listeners’ hidden dreams, their yearnings and their unfulfilled desires, their everyday frustration and their despair at the ever receding amount of life seeping away through mundane, everyday activity. The soloist brings redemption, a brief sojourn of hope and a promise that dreams can become real, that myth may be true and that youth can be ever-lasting if only we follow our imagination.

At the end of the performance the gratitude of the audience at this celebration of semblance knows no bounds. Here is an artist who knows that ordinary listeners come to concerts not merely to hear the music: they come with a need for catharsis, to gain redemption from their quiet despair. And the imagination must be complete, the needs fulfilled to temporary satisfaction. The mermaid conjured up the mythical and intoxicating forces of redemption with her violin. Where these forces of Beethoven’s imagination? It hardly matters for the forces of the listeners’ imagination and its desires were stronger. They were inflamed and fulfilled. The power of the mermaid closes our consciousness – she does not question it nor does she free us from it. She seduces and satisfies, perhaps, but she leaves behind a greater dependency. Should this be the purpose of music and music making? Should Beethoven’s Violin Concerto become the vehicle of seduction, of narcissistic wish fulfilment? These are academic questions. They are in any case entirely dependent on accepting my description in the first instance. And there is no way one can argue the point against an essentially irresistible imagination. Putting the question will inevitably ricochêt an answer. “Muss es sein?- Es muss sein!” – Beethoven knew this and so did Walt Disney. But Beethoven extracted the answer from our imagination to enhance our freedom and autonomy of consciousness while Disney buried it into our imagination and thus continued to commit us to an enhanced dominance of desire. The latter is no real catharsis - for the mermaid masquerading as a mother of redemption is little more than a beautiful reflection of dreams which ultimately entomb us in the cellars of our own consciousness.

Recent opportunity stimulated further reflection about conductors. What do they do? What should they do? How do they do it? How can it be that there are not only vastly different ways of conducting but such perplexingly different ways of leading an ensemble and its performance? Can something be learnt from observing- and from understanding effective conductors outside their musical achievements?

Literally translated, a conductor “leads” (ducere) an ensemble “together” (con-). The more common derivation of the word would refer us to the phenomena of transmission and conductivity. In this understanding a conductor is someone who transmits- and who is transparent. A conductor facilitates. He translates the creativity of musicians or the idea of the music, perhaps. The conductor has a complex task, then. He brings musicians together to play as an ensemble rather than pursue their creative or musical agendas as disparate individuals. He does so by interpreting and translating the idea of music (or the work of music as the case may be). He variously articulates, he persuades and he balances.

If we are firstly thinking of the task of bringing a group of musicians together, it seems there are two ways of accomplishing this. In the first instance we may be tempted to hold the view that a performance poses primarily a logistic, organisational challenge which requires a complex signalling system to ensure that all play together as intended. This seems a modern and timely view. The conductor will be judged by efficiency and effectiveness to achieve clean ensemble. In this paradigm conductors tend to be directors of musical traffic. Musicians respond by waiting for signals before proceeding. Their own initiatives and actions are dependent on receiving “go-aheads” in the first instance from the person on the podium. They must check at all times that they are rightly playing on cue.

There are many (including high-profile) conductors I know who ultimately adhere to this view. They usually identify themselves by insisting that musicians “must follow the beat” or that musicians “must watch” closely and comply with instruction. They look for compliance. My experience is that they receive often little more than superficial compliance. Nevertheless, a conductor of this kind signals possibilities for clean organisation. But he also imposes explicit limitations on individual autonomy, creativity and spontaneity. He suggests that musicians must be primarily responsive as their role is to translate and interpret external signals. This imposes clear limits on individual inspiration and initiative. After all, personal initiative may get in the way of clean functioning.

Before anyone rejects this compliance view of conducting, let me insist that there is some merit in it. Poorly coordinated or random initiative can often lead to chaos and contradiction. This interferes with translation of purpose and distracts all. The chaotic outcomes can eclipse uninspired and irrelevant results disastrously. An ensemble which spends its time sorting through mess and dissonances may be creative in a way but it will be ineffective in articulating such creativity convincingly. Notwithstanding, the compliance view of performance has a clear limit: Why would anyone continue to exercise their autonomous imagination when an acceptable and successful performance is apparently achieved by translating given gestures and signals into sound? Any musician with autonomous creative imagination will simply detach himself and withdraw into his own imagination. The performance result will be less than inspiring – perhaps coherent of sorts but rarely inspiring.

There is another way, however, to look at the conductor which is derived from a different – and I suggest more genuine- interpretation of musical organisation. In the first instance, all meaningful musical performance unfolds in the moment and within an instant. Reacting to signals establishes a succession where simultaneity is required. The compliance paradigm creates lag and delay. It creates stragglers and latecomers. Genuine musical interpretation proceeds with attention to the musical work as an intentional object. The ensemble, then, has a task to achieve synchronicity and common intent. The conductor’s role is here to direct the musicians’ attention towards the intentional object. Such direction promotes attention and listening. It is directly opposed to the distraction which affirms rules of external functioning and compliance.

In this medial conception, the conductor stimulates the autonomous imagination of a group of musicians in such a way that they naturally choose congruent modes of musical initiative, activity and sound. The conductor is no longer directing traffic from outside. Instead he generates a second order awareness of the musical and immanent flow and inspires musicians to join together in listening. Any decision on go-aheads or subtleties of performance here are made primarily by every individual person him- and herself. They do not emanate from a conductor but from the mediated, natural flow of the music itself. The conductor is focussed on the musical unfolding taking place in his imagination. He projects this unfolding to the musicians with the help of his physical gestures. In other words the conductor invites musicians into a consciousness and imagination of the work in question. In this engagement, musicians will make naturally congruent decisions unless they are distracted in some way. Such distraction can take numerous forms. Lack of technical freedom, tiredness and physical discomfort, egocentricity and preoccupation with individual aspects of the music can all contribute to a lack of attention.

Musicians are responsible to see that they remain open and attentive and their distraction stays at a minimum. Their individual technical and musical preparation ultimately has this aim. Liberated from a requirement to determine right and wrong according to rules and signals of traffic, musicians must be free to determine right and wrong autonomously and in accordance with the natural unfolding of music itself. This includes increased responsibility for their own playing and conduct. It also has evident benefits for their own engagement, their autonomous imagination, their creativity and spontaneity. It provides a conducted ensemble with a consciousness of individual, yet collective freedom and one that is firmly rooted in listening. It may also unsettle musicians who are suddenly faced with responsibilities they did not realise they possessed. However, in the long term it achieves two important things: it preserves the authentic qualities of music making and it affirms the autonomous imagination of the artist.
Musicians instinctively reject an approach which seeks to control and streamline expression. This is understandable as the very activity of music making is an exercise of autonomous subjectivity. At the same time, musicians do not always extend their consciousness of responsibility to a comprehensive engagement with a performance. In large ensembles in particular the musician can be quick to defer decision, abdicate responsibility and withdraw to a position of fulfilling functionality. Such withdrawal serves to balance individual frustration with public demands to perform. However, it has potentially devastating consequences for the musician. It accepts and promotes a restricted musical context. It takes attention away from the task. It destroys the genuine and truthful intent of music making. A musician who plays with diminishing awareness and attention will not do well and must ultimately fail his spiritual task. The musical requirements of harmony and form demand a consciousness of the music which is comprehensive even if the individual musician merely performs a part.

It is clear that only conductors who are genuinely and single-mindedly attentive to music itself will understand this choice. It is their desire to imagine and intuit the music in its fullness. This creates an extended consciousness in which all – musicians and listeners- ultimately participate. Regrettably, much contemporary conducting is inattentive here. Rather than attending to the intentional object with heightened energy and single minded concentration, conductors seek to achieve results and create effects, solve problems, promote performance, satisfy audiences and evoke critical acclaim. In other words: they seek opportunity and success. This leads them to ignore music as an intentional object and seek compliance from others in turn. They tend to forget that the consciousness of the musician is to be with his musical, creative imagination at all times and to seek increasing clarity here. Indulging in musical experience and effect is the privilege of the audience – not the purpose of the conductor or the musician.

Cynics may argue that the relevance of Immanuel Kant, the enlightenment philosopher, has exhausted itself in obsessively regular and domestic habits. Accounts of Kant’s life often emphasize the anecdotal report that the citizens of Koenigsberg in East Prussia used the philosopher’s predictable afternoon walks as an opportunity to confirm the accuracy of their clocks. Thus Kant is perhaps responsible for more than one Copernican revolution- the habits of the philosopher as a verification of time itself.

However, does attention as a result of order and regularity already constitute relevance? The philosopher is in a difficult position here. Attention and relevance are of vastly differing import to him for his contribution is relevant to the presence of contaminating substances in our spiritual drinking water. Invisible or otherwise indiscernible to most they may only come to attention when the many are already infected by disease. We know that when it comes to water quality, absence seems more relevant than presence. Again, why do we need the philosopher? The philosopher insists notoriously on purification –this makes him relevant and required. It also makes his contribution obscure and at times annoying. Frequently, he remains (and Kant is no exception) unnoticeable to the everyday drinker.

What I have particularly in mind here concerns Kant’s famous conception of “disinterestedness”. This is relevant to our understanding of our attitude to art and our appreciation of its beauty. Particularly in music, where imagination can reign unfettered and passions can be whipped into a frenzy, the idea that our attitude needs to be “disinterested” to appreciate its beauty strikes many as peculiar. One reason for this can be a common misunderstanding which should be eliminated from the start: the disinterested listener is not an uninterested or unengaged listener. To be sure, this is a difficult point to appreciate by many but one upon which we must nevertheless insist.

According to Kant we can distinguish three forms of appreciation and judgment: the appreciation of the good (or bad for that matter) articulates a practical interest or at least an interest in a thing or activity as it exists. If we judge something to be good, we relate its purpose to interests – either real or potential. Judgements about goodness are related to a will to see the object of the judgment realised. A similar relationship is established with the agreeable. If we deem something agreeable we take an interest in its reality and we deem such reality pleasurable. Finding something to be agreeable is thus equivalent to expressing a desire for it- notwithstanding the fact that such a desire may in a concrete sense be tempered or even suppressed.

An appreciation of beauty seems entirely different to Kant. Such appreciation is essentially a contemplative affair. It does not express a desire for real existence or indeed for possession nor does it articulate a conceptual understanding of a practical or pragmatic purpose. Appreciation of beauty – which, we assume for the sake of this context underpins much if not most musical listening- is “solely and alone a dis-interested and free appreciation” as “no interest, neither of the senses nor of reason forces us towards approval” (Kant, Critique of Judgement, § 5).

Such an abstract statement conceals a fair amount of relevance. In the first instance, it alerts us to a distinction of forms of appreciation that in many cases become confused and conflated. It is simply difficult to separate what is good from what is agreeable or beautiful. So musicians frequently find judgments about beauty that are actually judgments about pleasure or interest. There are two immediate explanations for such confusion: either the complexity of the phenomenon does not allow a separation of the appreciation or the person attending to the phenomenon is unable to make such a separation. Schopenhauer identified the latter with lofty arrogance: According to him, “the ordinary person, this factory product of nature which the latter produces daily by the thousands is, as I said, unable to engage in an entirely disinterested perception, which is the genuine contemplation, at least not in any sustained form: He can only direct his attention towards the things in so far as they have some – even very indirect – relevance to his desire” (Schopenhauer, WWV, § 36).

Schopenhauer’s haughty view suggests that a pure appreciation of beauty may be rare and unlikely. Needless to say that in circumstances of increasing focus on individual interest and agenda any capacity for the appreciation of beauty is reduced or eliminated. This is not good news for musicians or listeners who find themselves in contexts where interests are polarised. Polarisation tends to produce determination to cling to – and reinforce interests. In such cases, aesthetic judgements are likely to be increasingly mixed, merging judgments of beauty and the agreeable especially. Pure appreciation of beauty will be rare as it would presuppose a sustained capacity for contemplation.

Should this imply that the notion of “disinterest” must be discarded? A follower of Kant must argue against this. Abandoning a commitment to disinterestedness will leave us with an inability to appreciate the difference between technology, entertainment and art. When it comes to music and musicians such confusion will become very messy and in fact debilitating. Music has an emotional impact on us and it does appeal to be agreeable. It stimulates our desire and interest (with Kant) which means that it does not merely delight us (gefällt) but that it in fact even entertains us (vergnügt). In addition its complexities of conception and creation rely on technical abilities which we will admire and wish to promote. However, neither the appreciation of its quality nor its appreciation as agreeable completes an aesthetic and fully artistic appreciation. In order to take music seriously we will need to attend to its beauty. This requires us to suspend interests and any judgments related to it as agreeable. If we manage to elevate ourselves towards such contemplation, exercise our capacity to suspend desire and interests and attend to the phenomenon in question with the clarity of a disinterested attitude we may in fact step closer to an authentic conservation and advancement of music. Suffice to say that such disinterestedness may become passionate in a peculiar way.

A slippery discussion with an aspiring conductor and candidate of postgraduate studies caused dizziness above a hollow abyss of ignorance. Our conversation on conductors and conducting had to cut laboriously through pompous defences of narcissism. When we finally arrived at the subject matter of relevant literature the candidate drew blanks. There was much head-nodding (the hands were engaged in writing fervently) and finally the telling question: “How do you spell Leinsdorf?”

The conductor Erich Leinsdorf (author of The Composer’s Advocate- A radical orthodoxy for musicians, Yale University Press: New Haven, 1981) would have appreciated the stunning nature of our conversation. Imagine a doctoral student in physics inquiring about the spelling of “Heisenberg”. The student aside, we would be justified to conclude that the end of the discipline itself was upon us. Leinsdorf, an eloquent advocate for the comprehensive education of musicians and one of the 20th century’s most notable conductors, would agree that any similarly serious conductor must know the subject matter. And knowing the subject matter of conducting would seem to suggest (among other things) knowing more than the names (or the spelling) of those who have significantly formed it. The reality is escaping from such expectations in the case of my conducting candidate whose inability to spell clearly disguised a much more fundamental ignorance and lack of attention.

Conductors and musicians, it seems, are increasingly focussed on impression management and on the imitation of artistic intention. This might be a function of times when a spectacular rise to fame and a capacity to enchant enthusiastic but ignorant patrons is a priority. A pursuit of success at all costs and a reliance on charisma comes at a decreasing ability to face the music and search for an authentic meaning of the score. Authentic forms of musical interpretation and the personal commitment to the truth of music would require involved study of music and its performance history. Busy musicians simply do not have that time. Public expectations do not allow that time. Fudging becomes a way of life. The business of music making increasingly favours individuals with a strong sense for power, a weak sense of the limitations of their knowledge and no sense for the appropriateness of their ambitions. A combination of ambition, ignorance and audacity, however, has rarely produced sustained benefit for all. Accordingly, it can only be helpful to remind all of some important foundations which need to inform the education of musicians with the help of Erich Leinsdorf.

Leinsdorf’s book outlines some pretty clear demands. It argues that musical interpretation is a search for meaning. As such, it requires interpretative skills and a will to truth. It presupposes a capacity to read and understand complex scores in considerable detail. It demands a comprehensive knowledge of performance traditions and contexts. Conductors in particular require a clear understanding of orchestras, their instruments and their modes of preparation. Leinsdorf demands from them the ability to speak at least four languages as conductors must be able to relate directly to operas and their respective Italian, German and French original texts.

Leinsdorf’s conception of the education of an interpreter is grounded in a unified view of human consciousness and creativity. While it is fashionable to emphasise the near-exclusive importance of inspiration to music, Leinsdorf argues for a fusion of grace and intellect: “It is unfortunate”, he writes, “that intellect has been made into an antipode of emotion and inspiration necessary to create great works. Inspiration and intellect are not incompatible; they must complement each other if a composition is to be a masterpiece. We can feel awe at the unfathomable and at the same time recognise the importance of conscious thought and effort.” (CA, 23)

The interpretation of music requires a critical capacity and the search for its meaning demand a critical effort. This focuses on questioning the ideas and clichés which are inherited or accepted and which can determine a prevalent perspective of a musical work. In the context of a performance tradition and readily available interpretations of musical works, critical reflection enables the interpreter to qualify or suspend accepted beliefs thus clearing the path for a new and illuminating conception of a particular work. Critical reflection and creativity are mutually informative. The former suspends habitual modes of thinking through questioning of ordinary responses and interpretations. It leads to an uncovering of new potential and thus a stimulation of creativity and creative initiative. The latter makes proposals and projections which must be questioned and tested. In the interpretative context, some but not all creative ideas are worthy of survival. Some but not all charismatic visions deserve an audience. In addition to aesthetic and spiritual enchantment critical reflection and artistic conscience determine what has a right to survive here.

Musical performance as interpretation thus benefits from reflection. It is fundamentally dependent on the will to engage with letter and spirit of a score – a will to truth. This includes a need to suspend an often predominant concern with the ego of the performer. “Vanity”, Leinsdorf writes, “is indeed the archenemy of the interpreter, because it interferes with his ability to receive messages from other minds. Freischwebende Aufmerksamkeit (“free-floating attention”), a technique that is the sine qua non of dream analysis, is in my view the essential quality for a great interpreter. Unfortunately, the consensus has been that those performers who exhibit the oddest, most flamboyant or most eccentric personalities have the greatest talent. This may seem true, as long as we do not know the composers they perform too intimately. If we do, the performer’s idiosyncrasies and vanities rise to the surface like oil in water.” (CA, 49)

Musicians seem to play multiple roles. Some of these require a presence of a strong and unyielding ego. Others require – what we may call with Leinsdorf – freely suspended attention, ie. an attention that is disinterested to the concerns of its ego but merely present in the pursuit of meaning. We call the latter ordinarily listening. In the case of my faint conductor the roles may become increasingly determined and narrow: an extreme sense of entitlement and importance and a weak sense of responsibility and conscience lead to spiritual deafness. This freezes authentic interpretative engagement – not a good prospect for the musician. While he remains suspended above an abyss of groundless satisfaction those condemned to make music with him experience the absurdity and despair of nonsense.

The phenomenon of resonance is a genuinely musical phenomenon. Naive perceptions may lead us to the conclusion that resonance is enhanced by performers with- or within cavernous spaces. After all, some experience suggests that hard or hollow substances reflect sound more directly. However, hollow-headedness only supports superficial impressions. Music knows the difference between loudness and resonance. Loudness is a characteristic of noise. Resonance, however, is a characteristic of meaningful sound. The latter is not a matter of an arbitrary aggressive return but a result of sympathetic cognition. Resonance requires clear conception and empathic recognition- not mere functional reflection. For a musician this means most certainly that resonance is a phenomenon enhanced by – and in turn enhancing - meaningful listening.

Naturally, such abstract conceptions require further clarification. Why- and how does sound actually sound? Sound requires resonance. It remains mute without resounding. What makes resounding possible? Resonance presupposes a coherence between stimulus and response. The phenomenon of resonance responds to sound because sound and resonance share a common musical logos. Sound calls towards a medium of recognition. The responding medium can provide sound with utmost reinforcement. It can and will do so where sound finds itself within an authentic medium of reflection. We speak here about sound being "true". Expressed more emphatically: Sound sounds within a medium and resonates within a context of reflection. This medium and context allow sound to sound if sound in turn recognises the authentic characteristics of the embracing context. This implies that sound sounds because it remains truthful to the conditions of its own resonance.

Resonance and sound constitute a dialectic phenomenon. Sound and resonance, the possibility of empathic recognition, inform each other. Sound must recognise its context of resonance. Yet, the context for sound has to be transparent. It must allow sound to travel freely and authentically in its original momentum. If we deny the immanent fulfilment to sound, we inhibit resonance and in fact impede sound itself. This would be an entirely unmusical outcome and contrary to any artistic relationship with sound!

How do we determine the possibilities of resonance for any sound? How do we determine the appropriate sound for any medium of resonance? The answer to these questions seems straightforward to me: We determine sound and its possibilities of resonance through clear perceptions. Clear perceptions imply clear conceptions. Without clear conceptions our mind and our imagination become storage places of noise and confusion. There are manifold ways in which accumulated confusion betrays itself. The most obvious ones are confusing judgements and confused perceptions. Determining sound and resonance then is a form of cognitive purification, an exercise of clear thinking, of clear perception and of clear judgment. The latter – it seems- will thrive where balance prevails and where noisy reverberation as a result of hollow reflection is reduced to a minimum. Resonance of sound is certainly not helped by wobbly reverberations of noise. However, insisting on clear thinking and clear conception will bring forth clear perceptions in due course and enhance true sound.The phenomenon of resonance is a genuinely musical phenomenon. But its importance is not restricted to the playing of music.

A recent essay by the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt discusses the prevalent phenomenon of humbug (Frankfurt, On Bullshit, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). In his essay Frankfurt aims modestly for a development of “a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis” (2). On the path the author exposes a range of phenomena that appear relevant to music and musicians. In particular these include the subtle distinction between lies and bullshit. His discussion has considerable relevance for the presence of falsity and fakery in music.

Before considering the latter further in their relevance to musical listening, however, let me redraw some main points and distinctions. The inventions of the bullshitter, Frankfurt argues, are distinct from those of the liar. The liar recognises the importance of truth – be it through a denial. This recognition motivates in the first instance any falsification and fabrication. However, the bullshitter simply ignores the demands of truth altogether. The bullshitter “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does and opposes himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all.” (61). The liar wishes “to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality” (55) whereas the bullshitter is unconcerned “how the things ...truly are.” (55). Bullshit is a form of brazen ignorance of the kind Socrates condemns as most damaging to an individual’s existence. Bullshit excludes any questioning stance, any capacity and intention to seek refutation of one’s convictions and opinions which is central to truthfulness. The bullshitter ignores (or actively obscures) any path that may lead to truth. Instead she flees the possibility of truth - in spectacular cases with frequent reference to a bold “vision” and noisy acclaim.

Needless to say, the bullshitter thrives in an increasingly complex world where the notion of truth itself has become relative and obscure. Humbug becomes the norm where people feel called upon to hold and articulate views about matters they know too little about. Where listeners shun the arduous journey of discovering facts and of searching for the truth of a matter for themselves – activities that can be difficult, confronting and unsettling- and instead follow comfortable conversation and superficial chatter a humbugger and bullshitter will remain at large, recognised, however, often by a dramatised posture of authority and kaleidoscopic, flamboyant babble.

Whatever the circumstance, bullshitting aims at creating, sustaining and promoting impressions. Bullshit is a form of impressionism and essentially a musical phenomenon. The impressions of the bullshitter are created by performances which resemble music making. They are the result of an energetic flow, advanced often with much conviction and charisma, which persistently stimulates the sensuous perceptions of the listener. Such stimulation seeks to limit the listeners’ capacity to reflect and to think for themselves. It resembles tones and sounds which require persistent sounding. If the sounds appear agreeable and the listeners remain captivated the performance will distract from any further reflections on the validity of the impression. Thus, the bullshitter produces a distracting variety of music: noise, operatic distractions and excitement or intimate and flattering personal attention. These musical manoeuvres suppress reflection and thinking which essentially occur in silence, in calmness and in distance.

Bullshitters and humbuggers are musical performers of a particular kind. They are “pied pipers” – with all the theatrical attributes that serve to orchestrate such a role. They solely seek to captivate and persuade the imagination of listeners – often by appealing to insecurities, fears or needs of their captive rats. They must deny listeners any possibility to inquire into the meaning of their impressions for fear of being discovered- hence the interest of the bullshitter and humbugger in reaching and manipulating the marketplace through publicity, through acclaim and through claims of success. The noise of the marketplace allows the bullshitter to conceal any emptiness of meaning. The marketplace is too noisy for real listening. It is no place for genuine dialogue that might expose substance, but thrives on impressions, on chatter and on gossip. In the marketplace the bullshitter has little to fear. The bullshitter in fact supplies the marketplace with the colourful and noisy monologues that inspire much of her- and its yearnings.

The trouble with all this is that humbug provides us with no opportunity for real listening. Musical listening does not develop from any monologue in the marketplace. It is a dialogical process to which a listener must be invited to bring an autonomous and a qualified reflection. The dialogue between composer, performer and autonomous listener constitutes what is heard in music, its meaning and truth. This dialogue, naturally, can occur within the same person and need not be restricted to a concert-performance in which performers and listeners are in fact separated. In fact any musician is ultimately a composing and/or performing listener or a listening composer and/or performer. The critical point here is that only where the listener is allowed, indeed is challenged by the creator (or the creative consciousness) to unfold an autonomous imagination and critical curiosity does musical listening take place. Such listening as “reflection in action” (Donald Schoen) hears and brings music to presence. It unfolds paradoxically in a context of silence -in other circumstances we hear noise.

The rhetorical, operatic dimensions of musical performance, the overstatement of emotion or the invented projection of drama and excitement which are the hallmark of humbuggers and “pied pipers” leave a listener essentially mesmerized and dazzled. The task of a listener is to constitute musical experience in reflection. This is a difficult and fragile task. It is difficult, because it requires attention and alertness. It is fragile, because it brings some ambiguous attributes of attention to music. As an audience we are in fundamental ways unable to critically challenge our own musical experience without disrupting the perceptual flow at the time. Critical and reflective challenge to this flow which articulates limitations may be undesirable as it disturbs our consciousness while musical performance unfolds. It undermines the musical experience which is primarily sensuous, subjective and particular in nature. A genuine sensory experience needs to position itself initially beyond critical reflection to be freely available and to be appreciated. However, such a position denies authentic aspects of reflection, dialogue and critical listening to the formation of an enlightened experience. How do we close the gap between sensuous immediacy and critical reflection? How do we ensure that our listening is not bamboozled by humbug?

The key here is an understanding of musical – or interpretative listening itself. Musical listening is not merely determined by sensuous particulars, notwithstanding that its primary experience is defined through sensuous particularities. Musical listening in fact reflects, retains, recognises and relates. It relies on conscious transformations, it reacts to emotional projections and it refers to cognitive demands. Musical listening is dialogical. This seems essential to the constitution of musical sense. What we hear does not just sound beautiful, it also does - and must make sense. Music is not a mere kaleidoscope of unrelated, pleasing sounds. Music is a field in which we search for meaning, for sounding, moving form and for clarity. This search takes time, progresses dialogically and with respect to a musical logos. It must be allowed to occur. The listener must be free to exercise it. This search cannot be suffocated by noise or seduced through confusion.

Music has the constitution of a question, a riddle nature (as Adorno puts it). It unfolds best without hysterical noises and without dazzling acclaim. Impression and illusion are contingent in music (as they are elsewhere) upon truthful substance. It is the task of a listener to pursue and search for this substance. It is the task of the performer to assist this search – not to prevent it. This means, however, that a true musician pursues openness of perception, promotes critical alertness, welcomes the unexpected and transforms intuitions and convictions into questions. This is indeed bad news for the humbugger and bullshitter for it suggests that no matter how talented, they serve themselves and not the music.

It seems timely to remind all about the relationship between music and leisure. Aristotle does so famously in his Politics which discusses the public and the practical life. The characteristics of this life are its business and urgency. It is a life in which deadlines demand decisive actions and emergencies call for urgent attention. The life of business and politics is driven by the unrelenting pressures of competition, survival and achievement. This life knows no leisure.

The politician busily endeavours to organise the affairs of the polis. Urgent demands for response and action make it unlikely that real reflection enters into any of her decisions. Her mandate requires constant attention to her stakeholders whose interests are pushing her into closure and decision making. Her fate depends on her public standing and on overcoming her detractors. This requires constant attention, at times desperate vigilance. Responding to the pressures of the moment her decisions are likely to be flawed, her thoughts are likely to be confused and her actions are likely to be incoherent.

The trader in the marketplace hurries from opportunity to opportunity. She must incessantly praise her wares, entice her customers or flog her products. Faced with a choice between truth and market- share, she will choose the latter and neglect the former. Any decline of activity and business, of achievement or attention implies in fact a decay of her mode of being. A trader cannot afford to slow her advance. A loss of urgency and business brings a loss of the invented self. The consequences are potentially catastrophic as the groundlessness of this fictional activity is exposed. The trader or politician who defines herself through her active and public life thus lives in constant demand to prove herself and in constant fear to lose herself. She is fundamentally unfree. She is addicted to publicity and gossip. She experiences neither happiness nor “felicity of life”. These – as Aristotle tells us- “are not possessed by the busy but by the leisured: for the busy man busies himself for the sake of some end as not being in his possession, but happiness is an end achieved, which all men think is accompanied by pleasure and not by pain.” (Politics 1338a)

What about music and the musician though? What are the potential characteristics of his activity and art? Aristotle offers one general answer and three detailed possibilities which we must carefully consider: Music is in the first instance a self-sufficient activity and hence a reflection of human freedom and autonomy. It is an activity of leisure, an activity which calls on our capacity for reflection, for listening, for calmness and relaxation and for the acceptance of the present in its presence. Music does not primarily crave public success. It invites human participation. It leads an autonomous existence of creative possibility and freedom. This explains Aristotle’s warning against becoming a professional musician. While professionals will “necessarily perform better than those who practice only long enough to learn” (Politics 1339a) the professional performance of music contains dangers of introducing business, urgency and confusion into this art of leisure. “We may consider” he writes “the conception that we have about the Gods: Zeus does not sing and harp the poets himself. But professional musicians we speak of as vulgar people, and indeed we think it not manly to perform music, except when drunk or for fun.” (1339b).

Aristotle’s point about the barbarity of the professional musician is familiar to us. In fact it is an echo of his insistence in the Nicomachean Ethics that the superior life is the contemplative life, the bios theoretikos. The busy life among practical tasks and acquired things commits to results, to public achievement, to applause and acclaim. It delivers us into a form of slavery. It transforms us in extreme cases into barbarians, into hunters of media fame, into warriors for market dominance and into killers of time. But music rejects haste, urgency and business. It is itself temporal form and it grants us time.

The rejection of urgency and business is by no means a rejection of all activity, though. Aristotle makes it quite clear that only an active life has the potential for happiness. However, the active life needs to be pursued within self-sufficient activity whose ends must not to be confused with spectacular achievements, accumulation of matter or public acclaim. An important passage in the Politics points out that the “active life is not necessarily active in relation to other men, as some people think, nor are only those processes of thought active that are pursued for the sake of the objects that result from action, but far more those speculations and thoughts that have their end in themselves and are pursued for their own sake; for the end is to do well.” (1325b)

This definition of an activity as aiming for “well-doing” (eupraxia) is highly relevant to the musician. It grounds the relationship between music and leisure. Music and music making exist as “energeia” – as actuality. In other words they have their ends in themselves and not in the products of their making. This, however, means that music is not driven by an intention to make a product with attributes that exist outside the activity of production. Music is thus not driven at all. It is leisured – it lets itself- and those who make it- be.

When considering music further, Aristotle identifies three possibilities through which we can identify the leisure of music: Firstly, music may be a form of relaxation (anapausis) which grants us relief from the relentlessness of the every-day. In this sense we engage with music “as one indulges in sleep or deep drinking” (1338b). Secondly, music may be a form of education. After all, it influences our being, forms our character and sounds out our mood creating an attunement to the world. In this way music may accustom us “to be able to rejoice rightly”. (1339a). Thirdly, music may be a form of cultural or “intellectual entertainment” (diagoge), a sophisticated form of cultured leisure. All three possibilities are according to Aristotle relevant to music - it is “reasonable to reckon it under all of these heads”. Their common theme, however, is the self-sufficient activity which identifies music as leisured. Education, relaxation and cultured entertainment all deny the pragmatic urgency of the every-day. Their excellence resides in themselves. They present us thus with the possibility of freedom.

There is a danger that such reflections on music and leisure are perceived as removed, abstract and perhaps irrelevant. However, this is a superficial impression. In fact these thoughts have very real correlations in concrete life. Musicians know that the aim of their performance cannot be – whatever the appearance- the attainment of acclaim and applause. Playing to the gallery will not enable them to be at their best. The aim of music making must be the achievement of “doing well” itself (eupraxia). This attitude aims at potential and achieves the crucial convergence between possibility and actuality.

Musical performance is thus concretely determined by leisure and by the capacity to conceive and work with leisured states of mind, body and spirit. This can be clearly seen when attending performances by highly accomplished virtuosi: their playing is always distinguished by ease, by freedom and by leisure. Their artistry is a combination of intuition, timed intensity and insight within a self-sufficient discipline. Even the most difficult work becomes seemingly effortless in the hand of a master. The virtue of a virtuoso in fact lies in the capacity to distinguish between the heightened intensity of music and the urgent energies which qualify business and politics. Unlike the urgency of noise, the timing of virtuosity is natural and self-sufficient. Unlike the busy trader or fervent politician the musician does not react to deadlines, emergencies or critical situations. The strength of his connection with leisure always includes any concrete realities of playing. He remains self-sufficient in the present, directing this playing into the future. Music as leisure cannot be otherwise. It closes the gap between possibility and actuality.

Tyrannical attitudes and titanic aspirations are not uncommon among musicians. Naïve patrons might believe that such characteristics necessarily accompany a strong, creative personality. Further still, some believe that these are only downsides of focused energy and creative determination and should in fact be nourished especially among public performers. A musician, so that view goes, who seeks to be successful must form single-minded desires, must crave spectacular fame and must pursue recognition relentlessly. She must nurture her powerful passions with extreme aesthetic or subjective convictions in the interest of music, in the pursuit of musical exposure and even regardless of the impact on others.

It is striking to note that Plato seems to suggest that a ruthless and extreme character of this kind may not even be a true musician. Book IX of the Republic contains a lengthy discussion about the nature and evolution of the tyrannical disposition. This discussion between Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus concludes with the suggestion by Socrates that the wise man “will always be found attuning the harmonies in his body for the sake of the concord in his soul.” Glaucon agrees with this conclusion. “By all means”, he replies, “if he is to be a true musician.” (Jowett translates: “If true music is found in him...”)

What is the feature of a tyrannical disposition? How does it come about? According to Plato everyone is potentially subject to a “terrible, fierce and lawless brood of desires”. The question is whether we allow these to determine our character and to form our existence and our habits without reflection or restraint. Plato suggests that a lack of proper education allows tyrannical habits to form. Absence of rigorous formation leads to unbalanced personal characteristics, pathological states of desires and amplified ruling passions. The tyrannical person develops because she is unable to resist the “indwelling tyrant Eros” and forms corresponding tyrannical habits and patterns of behaviour.

In circumstances of a pervasive liberal or democratic education – so Plato- a tyrannical disposition may in fact overwhelm and corrupt selected possibilities of the individual. This corruption progresses in a parasitic way: Unrestrained instincts capture desires which are found initially in a balanced context. These are converted into self-serving, self-sufficient subjective values and narcissistic aims. The tyrannical disposition operates entirely in the realm of appearance: assuming a “pomp and circumstance” it dissolves a functional harmony by amplifying single voices from a concordance of psychic forces. It suppresses the sound of legitimate desires. It denies without shame and without conscience any requirements for rational attunement or justification. In its relations with others, it seeks to establish power by forming associations of advantage and corruption and by nourishing its position through flattery and fear.

Plato’s understanding of the soul is relevant here. According to Republic IX the soul is driven by three “appetites and controls”: love of learning or wisdom, love of honour or victory and love of gain or money. The meaning and the validity of some of these values, however, is derivative. Honour and gain must be validated by reason. Rooted in appearance, the objects they seek are not necessarily able to fill the soul with meaningful or even pleasurable content. Such content can only be established if the will to power is committed to learning, understanding and wisdom. Without this grounding, the desires for honour and gain become tyrannical and the person becomes essentially unhappy, her soul devoid of meaningful pleasure.

How does this relate to the true musician? The brief comment in the Republic makes the suggestion that the true musician is in fact the person who is able to harmonise and attune the forces of her soul and character. This attunement takes place in relation to the love of learning or wisdom. In this sense the musician achieves the same as the philosopher: he listens to logos. That point seems to be further elaborated in the dialogue Laches where Plato defines as musical a person of particular disposition: “I take the speaker and his speech together, and observe how they sort and harmonize with each other. Such a man is exactly what I understand by ‘musical’- he has tuned himself with the fairest harmony, not that of a lyre or other entertaining instrument, but has made a true concord of his own life between his words and his deeds, not in the Ionian, no, nor in the Phrygian nor in the Lydian, but simply in the Dorian mode, which is the sole Hellenic harmony. Such a man makes me rejoice with his utterance, and anyone would judge me then a lover of a discussion, so eagerly do I take in what he says” (Laches, 188d).

According to this understanding what we say and what we do, the word and the deed are not automatically or accidentally aligned. They require an active will to harmony. Such a will must seek the guidance of reason. It accepts the priority of thinking and reflection in a search for understanding. This still implies an intuitive step in which we listen to- and hear the voice of reason. Such an attention allows the true musician to breach the abyss that naturally separates our reflections from our actions. He can do so with ease and confidence and on the basis of a will to harmony of action and reflection within his soul. If, however, this will and the love of learning are overwhelmed by a will to power, by amplified desires for gain and victory, the musician ceases to be true to himself. She turns into a tyrannical person finding herself constantly in the realm of action and at odds with human essence. The symptoms of such fundamental dissonance are an incessant flight and a pervasive fear. Plato’s point thus seems to be that amplifying a will to power in tyranny silences music while denying a will to harmony in ignorance corrupts the musician.

Kierkegaard’s reflections on Don Giovanni (found in his book “Either/Or”) must concern us musicians: They identify music as the art of the “immediately, sensuously-erotic” and suggest that music is authentically devoid of reflective attributes. Transient temporality is affirmed as a fundamental determination of music. The pursuit of sensuality, an incessant desire for conquest and change and an absence of reflection and conscience all characterise Don Giovanni. This makes Don Giovanni for Kierkegaard essentially musical.

When confronted with this phenomenon an ordinary, bourgeois consciousness naturally thinks of moral disapproval. However, a moral judgment is strictly speaking not applicable here. Don Giovanni simply fulfills the conditions of an existence that is absolutely committed to continuous transience. The absence of a temporal consciousness excludes the moral perspective. An ethical state of existence only emerges where we find endurance and a conscious conception of presence, a temporal horizon. Only a consciousness of endurance and presence confronts us with responsibility. Don Giovanni’s transient being, his restless immersion in becoming, dissolves such a context and accordingly severs his attachment to responsibility. He remains unaccountable since he lives absolutely in the here-and-now.

An absolute commitment to transience and intoxication excludes Don Giovanni also from any form of communal justice. To be sure, a metaphysical form of justice catches up with Don Giovanni in the end. But this amounts to an affirmation of being versus becoming: The cold stone statue of the Commendatore becomes the hero’s undoing. Don Giovanni is presented with the consequence of his incessant becoming, with his own nemesis. But Don Giovanni is never brought to worldly justice or to moral account. He simply comes undone as his existence leads to an inevitable conclusion inherent in the original denial of being. The absolute affirmation of becoming (with its implicit denial of being) collides with a transcendent truth of being. The point is that an hermetic, absolute isolation of the aesthetic perspective cannot be maintained. It will meet - and fail in the challenge of enduring being.

For us musicians this seems to contain an important message: If Kierkegaard is right in identifying the aesthetic state of being as essentially musical, an absolute affirmation of music as a mode of aesthetic existence, of a relentless becoming, of incessant change and turbulent chaos, will loose its bearings. Musicians who deny being and relentlessly affirm becoming come undone. This occurs notwithstanding the fact that the essential nature of music is becoming and change or – in Nietzsche’s characterisation - the “Dionysian”. However, is music absolutely “aesthetic” or (with Kierkegaard) an expression of the immediately, sensuously-erotic? It does not seem so since music is also and perhaps foremost a spiritual art. A conception of music as a spiritual art commits us to conscious listening. Conscious listening is always reflective, however. It creates, discovers and commits to meaning within a flow of otherwise ever-changing impressions. In fact, the very possibility of musical perception requires the presence of consciousness. Reflection and consciousness enable the listener to recognise the signal as a musical symbol, to distinguish noise from music. At this point of recognition, however, the aesthetic perspective is transcended and forms of presence, of permanence and of endurance are introduced. Identities are established and with them the requirements of responsibility. It seems that this is the point of Don Giovanni as an opera. It is not the point of Don Giovanni as the character, though, who is a nihilistic phenomenon: a denier of the truth of being.

Musicians must take care not to confuse character and play: While grounded in becoming and in the sensuously-erotic, music is also sustained by being and mediated, reflective consciousness. In fact music forms a bridge between the aesthetic and the ethical state of being. This makes it highly significant. It makes it also subject to the tensions emanating powerfully from both force-fields at all times.