Music as Objective Truth - 1

(The following interview, in the form of six short essays on the topic of ‘Musical Truth’, was held with Anthony Fiumara and originally included in the booklet All and Beyond: the music of Peter Adriaansz and Piet-Jan van Rossum, published in 2010 by November Music and MCN. The present text is a slightly revised version of the original text)

Re: Objective Truth (AF: ‘How do you feel music and objectivity/truth are connected? Is music about metaphysical concepts such as truth, beauty, goodness?’)

PA: In the end, Art – and I take the liberty of writing ‘Art’ with a capital A again – can never offer 100% pure ‘truth’ and nothing but the truth because it always hinges on personal interpretation. There are thousands and thousands of ways to present one and the same truth. Say you hand 10 composers the model of a helix and ask them to translate this into music as ‘truthfully’ as possible. In all likelihood, you’ll end up with 10 completely different, yet entirely ‘true’ versions. So, ‘objective’ truth does not exist as far as I’m concerned.

Yet, one can still strive for it. Be it in a personal way.

In that sense music, like all Art, has a symbolic value. It also represents a particular way of thinking.
By this, I certainly don’t mean to imply that music is subordinate to anything else. Like all other Art forms, music is a pure and entirely autonomous phenomenon, and can essentially capture the whole world. Just like philosophy or science it can be used to gain insight into certain phenomena, or even into the universe itself. The only problem is that ‘the universe’, as the sum total of all spirituality and all thinking, is an endlessly larger phenomenon than Art. Viewed from that perspective Art is definitely subject to something far larger and is merely a medium.
To my mind every form of Art is thus essentially the expression of a thought, then of an ideal, and ultimately of a belief. The choices you subsequently make are in the first instance ethical, then aesthetical. I view such choices as one of the few ways in which an individual can rise above his or her own intrinsic shortcomings. And in that way Man and his product can often diverge dramatically. (Think of the many, many sublime creations by people far from magnificent themselves…)

Many ancient cultures, from China to India, embraced this ‘mediating’ function of Art for numerous centuries – just read up in Daniélou. Certainly long before Western Europe put ‘Art’ – and the artists themselves – on a pedestal, and thereby at the epicentre of a potential answer. Not for nothing was music considered part of the sciences in many of these old cultures.
And this is, at least to me, where the problems started. For by now, this latter view to a large extent determines the ideal all over the globe, manifesting itself most supremely - and ineradicably, it seems - in the form of the romantic ideal: an ideal where ‘personal truth’ reigns supreme. Only a fool could believe that the Romantic era ever truly ended!
This focus on the individual – instead of on the universe as a whole, with its inevitable implications of ‘questioning’ – in practice however means that many aspects of speculation and research within the area of notated concert music, entwined as they so often are with acts of ‘translation’, have become an oddity or have been banished to ‘safe havens’ such as electronic music or sonology. In that sense, Music largely appears to have abandoned its mediating role in our consciousness. At least: definitely in the sense of a collective ambition.
Abandoning ‘the question’ and dwelling too much on ‘the answer’ however does come at a cost, I believe. The biggest being that composed music (as a form of truly autonomous Art) can run the risk of stagnating at the level of nothing more than high-quality entertainment. Only reminding us of our own limitations, through continual historical self-reference, and forgetting to imbue us with a sense of wonder about the rest. As if all questions have been answered…

And I don’t think that really was the original idea.

So, yes, based on this cryptic reply you could conclude that to me music has a metaphysical purpose. ‘Truth’ is an important component because it says something about the credibility of what one does. In addition, I believe that credibility – towards either yourself or the wider world – really is a fairly essential issue.
Within this context of ‘shifting the focus away from the individual’, the pursuit of ‘truth’ implies that finding becomes more important than creating and that the emphasis lies less on expression than on revealing, for example. The message being, that mystery may be found all around us, if only we look hard enough.
The advantage of this approach is that elements of personal compulsion or manipulation – feelings that we as listeners immediately pick up on as they enter our system – are reduced to virtually zero. Once that happens, things become ‘what they are’. As far as I am concerned, from that moment onwards we can truly start to concentrate – and detach ourselves from unfulfilled desires.
If, as an artist, you have the incredible audacity to subject others to your products, you’d better also have something to say, I think. The world is filled with so much hot air as it is!