“The Fine Art of Repetition: Music Alone” – Reading Response

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

I feel that Kivy’s circular, ego-driven [“repeats are for dullards”?] exploration of “music alone” only approached the totality of it’s subject in the last few paragraphs of this chapter.

So what he’s implicitly saying is that music isn’t like wallpaper at all. At least I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the trippy, emotionally poignant wallpaper he describes in that passage. Kivy essentially tries to do what we struggled to do during our first lecture, what Ivana tried to do before giving up, and what various technologies attempt to do in complex, multifarious ways – which is equate the visual to the auditory.

Although literal translation across sensory systems can be a fun experiment, and a tempting philosophical thrust, visual – and similarly textual – comparison inevitably do music an injustice. The “sonic wallpaper” example proves this quite thoroughly. By the time we’ve sorted through what that image means the entire analogy has fallen apart. This, I believe, is because there is no playfulness in the analogy – it is meant to be a literal, visual reflection of a sound, which is ineffective. On the other hand, Kivy’s exploration of the carpet I found to be effective.

But this is because it is a structural analogy for the experience of engaging with a piece of music – not for the music itself. Experiences lend themselves more easily to cross-sensory translation. Talking about an experience of two pieces of art is a leap away from attempting to compare them objectively.

Music is not literature, and is not a painting. Because of this fact, I think that expressing one’s opinions on repetition in music would be most effective through music – even through verbal comparisons of musical pieces. What does free jazz, the antithesis of ‘music for dullards’ achieve intellectually that the da capo cannot – and vice versa? What is substantively different about a text-based narrative versus a non-verbal but visual fantasia, versus “music alone” – separate from visual and textual cues?

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