Language, Music and Communication

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Manifesto Two

Language Music and Communication


1. Introduction


The mushrooms were busy talking among themselves . . .

"What a beautiful existence!," they said to one another,

"To be able to release spores is the highest purpose in life! We are so lucky

to be able to release spores all our life long!"

And with attentive devotion the clouds of powder floated into the air.

Windekind the elf and the boy Johannes were listening:

"Are they right, Windekind?"

"Why not? What could be higher for them? It is lucky that they don't aim

any higher because they can't do anything else!"[1]


In relation to my new music-theatre work ZAUM some new ideas about language, culture, music and meaning—and the relationships between each of these areas—have evolved. Comparable to the accompanying Manifesto One, these developments have had an impact on the way I see myself in relation to my work. As a result of this, a theoretical dialogue concerning the relationship between music and language was able to develop, and this paper contains some first thoughts for new ways at looking at a 'music-communication' model. The desire to write this second document grows largely from a personal need to develop some of the concepts introduced in Manifesto One. Though in itself significant on a personal level, 1 felt that it contained many points of extremity that could only be useful as starting points from which further developments would be able to take place, and not a final point as was initially intended. After a relatively long period of drafting and rewriting I realised that the time that had passed since the first initial notes and the final volume was so great that the initial paper could not be changed in line with the new developments. I had to realise that that paper was an expression of a time and a period (hat had passed. This is also the reality for this document.



It is important first to return to some basic theoretical concepts first introduced in Manifesto One. We can start with an 'ideational' image of culture in which 'sign'-systems become the essential meaning-based unit. As human beings that must 'communicate' in order for any type of interaction to occur, we rely on these intricately complicated communication systems made up of symbolic elements that are accepted communally, helping to form the boundaries within which we are able to understand the world. In this ideational sense of culture, spoken language forms but one of a myriad series of interlocking systems formed from a combination of cognitive processes and practical necessities. Being able to communicate with one another through the use of signs, we are given the tools to perform social functions and interact with one another as well as being provided with the basic material with which we can form an image of ourselves in relation to those around us.


My new music-theatre composition ZAUM is an exploration of the roles these symbolic systems play in human society. The composition concerns the way we, as individuals in a given social group, are restricted in our communication possibilities by only being able to encompass what is allowed by the 'languages' we are provided with. We must try to define the world and find our own identities in a way that is largely provided for us in education and social life. On one level, ZAUM communicates a degree of restriction, suggesting that our 'language' systems bind us to particular ways of thinking and communicating." At the same time, however, this composition expresses during its development the notion that even though we are restricted to certain symbols and concepts, we are provided with tools with which we are able to find some sense of our selves and are ultimately free from a perception of bindings. On a symbolic level, the use of sound elements to control the actors like puppets during the performance function not only to demonstrate the restriction of language, but to suggest that 'musical' structures hidden in the subconscious underlie human 'cultural' behaviour and have an effect on the way we think about and experience reality.


This is expressed most clearly in Zaum-3 when the five characters find unity and freedom even though the limited symbolic systems they were provided with seemed at first restricting. In this paper these notions are discussed through personal explorations of the dissatisfaction that I have had with my own 'language' systems and how that has led me to explore other forms of communication (be that vocal, musical or movement-based). The ultimate goal of this short article, however, is to use the 'communication analogy' to try to get a little closer to understanding the different ways music functions within culture.



2. Language and Self


It seems remarkable that after another period of change, involved with moving from Belgium to the Netherlands which was accompanied by a number of necessary mental 'shifts' and personal realisations, I have been brought into another period of contemplation, self-questioning and realisation of change. This could have been caused by the striking change in environment, making me more aware of the contrasts in cultures brought about by differing ways of treating reality. It could be said that the great difference in lifestyle between Belgium and Holland can be traced back to historical circumstances resulting in countries ruled by systems influenced by two contrasting religions—Catholicism in Belgium and Protestantism in Holland. As I have experienced it, this contrast can be sensed in almost every element of life including the education and legal systems, leading to an inevitable influence on the general attitude of the population. For me, the first strong contrast could be sensed in the architecture, suggesting contrasting attitudes to the function of space and light. It seemed that in Belgium the buildings were designed to keep the inhabitants within, represented by a seeming restriction on the amount of natural light provided for by the placing of windows. By contrast the Dutch buildings gave me a feeling of openness and lightness; the size and intelligent placing of windows having the affect of making the rooms seem larger, exaggerated by the tactical placing of starkly designed furniture. The buildings in Holland seemed bigger although the apartments were most probably to a larger degree smaller than those in Belgium: light acts to make one aware of the world outside the building, affecting the use of space within. This is one of a myriad array of contrasts I have noticed between Flemish and Dutch societies, something I would like to posit could suggest contrasts between 'Catholic' and 'Protestant' societies. Perhaps it could be implied that the Catholics being more strongly bonded by religious concepts hold onto older ideas whereas the Protestants through their religious freedom strive for the new and the alternative, seen directly in Holland through the greater degree of movement towards alternative and 'new-age' religions.


Returning to the language analogy introduced in Manifesto One, it is possible to express some new ideas related to my own personal search for contrasting communication systems. Manifesto One concerned largely the negating of my own language, and my desire to speak, think and feel another language as if it was my own. My attraction to Dutch first grew from a strong feeling of alienation from English. I needed to find a new way of thinking, a new way of expressing my thoughts, and Dutch—even though I do not think it is an answer to all my questions on language—has managed to slip into this role.


I have since discovered that it is not simply the negation of English and the cultural system bonded to English speaking societies that has resulted in me finding such satisfaction through the Dutch language, but also characteristics of the language itself that continue to interest and fascinate me. I could actually go so far as to say that I find it a more satisfactory communication system than English, and even a system in which I feel more personally comfortable and free. In Manifesto One I expressed the frustration of being born into a symbolic world that was limp and empty; a frustration brought about by 'symbolic' starvation, feeling never satisfied with the language systems with which I was provided and at the same time not having the conceptual tools to be able to move beyond them. This was also characterised by an alienation from those who accepted their surroundings and cultural 'symbolism' unquestionably, even though there were many who were unsatisfied and were also searching for a 'way out'. This resulted in a feeling of 'anomie', cultural alienation, and as such I ended up on a quest for a new language, a liberation from the shackles 1 felt 1 was bonded by.


Elaborating on these ideas I have the feeling th.it niv alienation (roni English rellects not only an alienation Irorn the Anglo-Saxon culture but also from the language ilsell which has become so diluted with foreign words that it becomes difficult at limes to discern a precise meaning. It seems to me to be a language filled with ambiguities and foreign terms that can be interpreted in many different ways. At the same time, I am always aware of the fact that when I speak English it appears to be automatic or natural; I feel like my thoughts are directly represented in language and that language is not simply a symbolic medium that sits somewhere between the '!' and the 'We'. This symbol system is so deeply embedded in my subconscious that it sometimes feels that I have problems commanding it entirely, moulding it into the form that really expresses what I want to say. What makes it doubly difficult is the fact that I have accepted language as being 'artificial' and the English language as being 'representative of a culture which I reject'. I am not satisfied and refuse to be forced to adopt a symbolic system that I don't understand to the degree that I find necessary. Speaking and especially arguing in English is sometimes accompanied by a feeling of 'helplessness', a lack of ability to control the 'artificial' symbols I am using to express basic communicative concepts.


This feeling of 'helplessness' is a very important image for me when discussing the English language. There arc characteristics of the Dutch language that do really help me to overcome this 'helplessness' that English seems to induce. Firstly, as a composer who has an interest in symbols and the unique capability of human beings to recognise and communicate with (sound-)symbols, I can now recognise the satisfaction of speaking in a language that has not been too diluted by the adoption of foreign words. Dutch words can be easily broken up into morphemes: 'meaning-based particles', which help to give the whole structure of the word or the sentence meaning. For example, root verbs such as staan (to stand) can be used as the basis for other words such as verstaan, bestaan, opstaan, rechtstaan which use the basic notion of 'standing' to represent other concepts of meaning that can be related in some way to the stem. Another example is the word /s/ which means load or cargo. The notion itself gives a feeling of weight or heaviness, and it can be interpreted also as meaning a difficulty or a nuisance, something 'weighing' on the shoulders. Developed from this, the word belasten means to be loaded or burdened with something, and the word belasting can be translated as taxes or rates, a weight on the wallet. In learning this language, one can get a 'feel' for the meaning of the words by simply understanding the root notions involved, which in this case is merely the feeling of weight. It is possible to imagine the meaning of other words with the same stem by comparing the prefixes and the meaning-based association connected to that root sound.

When speaking Dutch, 1 feel that the impact of the word units 1 am using will have a stronger impact than English words because I am strongly aware of the meaning-based function connected to the sound. By contrast, when speaking or especially arguing in English 1 feel at my most vulnerable, as if the language itself forms no protection because 1 speak without really knowing what 1 am saying: the ideas become directly expressed as 'words' with little interference from me, hindered considerably by the fact that 1 feel that this is not necessarily the 'natural' way for me to communicate. Dutch however gives me a real sense of command, and I feel that 1 can formulate arguments much more clearly. These ideas are quite alien to almost every person I have spoken to, people that seem to think that they are at their strongest when speaking their mother tongue. Some are quite shocked to hear that 1 feel this way about English which they find the most 'expressive' of all European languages precisely because it has adopted so many foreign words. For me, this is where English loses its potency. In order to understand the origins of this language one must study German, Latin, Ancient Greek and French (to name a few) just to get an idea of where the sounds and meanings originate, and the studying of these languages in

addition to English was not considered a necessary part of my own education. This was insufficient for my own needs, playing inevitably a role in the symbolic 'starvation' that resulted in the search for new communication systems.


Dutch seems to fulfil the role for the time being, although I am at the moment searching for other communication systems, especially musical ones (as elaborated in Manifesto One). My current obsession is learning Chinese. I am fascinated by a language whose writing is based on a graphic expression of meaning, growing both from sound and meaning based concepts. I want to understand how these people have expressed themselves, how they understand 'meaning' and how their philosophies have affected the different ways they have interpreted meaning and expressed it in symbols.


In Manifesto One, my primary approach to the concept of communication resulted in the expression of an analogy: a river was used to symbolise the communication process, where individual communication systems provide only one stone path across the river, suggesting ultimately that there are many different ways to get to the other side. I would like to take this chance to present another analogy which attempts to symbolise the concept of finding personal identity within a particular language. This analogy presents the idea that speaking in a different language is like pulling on a different jacket in that we may look different (or in this case sound different) when using another 'language'-jacket, but the colour and form of the jacket does not essentially change the identity of the person within. In this way, a different jacket gives us an alternative way of crossing the river, an alternative way of expressing our ideas into symbols that can be taken in and interpreted by the listener (or even ourselves). My big discovery therefore is learning that it is very important for me to have as many 'jackets' as possible because I now recognise that every different language gives me a different chance to understand how people conceive of ideas and thoughts. Could it be that musicians or composers, or anyone involved intimately with contrasting types of communication, are more open to this attitude to communication that rejects tying identity strictly to the vocal sounds that one makes? In relation to myself we could also discuss my own position here in Amsterdam, an international city in which I feel that I will be able to pull on the 'jacket' that I choose and not be treated as a stranger. Here I am allowed to be foreigner, to retain my personal identity without feeling like an outsider. I want to be free to be stimulated, to create while being at the same time free to express myself through whichever communication form I feel comfortable with—be that music, language or dance. Manifesto One spent a great deal of time discussing the difficult I have had identifying with Australia and all things connected with Australian society. It is clear now how important it is for me as a composer interested in language and communication to separate myself from this identity and find new forms of expression through other 'languages'.


From this image of language which is extended from simply the signification of abstract sound into an entire symbolic universe, I would like to end this section by taking the first steps to explore theoretically this extended concept of meaning: as human beings we surround ourselves with different layers of 'meaning' which are functional in that they provide us with a mental environment in which we are able to find ourselves, as well as providing us with an apparatus which gives us the possibility to relate ourselves to other people, objects and ideas. The ways in which these various different meaning-layers can be interpreted range from the largely functional verbal language which is used for practical purposes, and the less 'practical' expression of the meaning-based structures which can be seen in ritual, music and dance. These levels of experience fulfil basic social and cultural needs within a society, so their 'meaning-based' functions cannot be underestimated. At the same lime, a realisation of the contrasting type of 'meaning' discussed when involved in this type of research makes one realise that a model for verbal language is insufficient for the inclusion of communication systems which are beyond expression in this type of discourse, even though verbal language can be used as a means of access to these 'deeper' levels of communication. A communication model that truly encompasses 'musical' experience will have to be considerably extended, and we will have to try and do our best lo avoid being influenced by our own 'cultural' restrictions, especially when looking at musical communication. The rest of this paper is involved with looking at music from a cultural perspective in order to extend this communication model. First, we are made aware of the difficulties of approaching music from other cultures with our own ideals about what the notion of musical 'experience' encompasses, and then new ideas for an extended communication model are suggested as viewed from a sociocultural perspective.



3. East/West :

Contrasting Musico-Cultural Discourses


After realising the enormous distance I had set up between myself and my own 'musical' culture through the creation of my own musical 'languages', it was clearly time for me to examine the traditions I was reacting against a little closer. It is also important to consider the factors of other musical cultures which I have borrowed to form part of my own compositional 'vocabulary'. Beginning with my own compositions, it is clear that as a reaction to western conceptions of music, I have been searching for new 'symbol' systems that unite the music into a cultural whole; that help music to act as a symbolic communication system to express structures that are entirely out of the range of verbal communication. It could be said that my music(-theatre) is not 'separate' from life in that it attempts to define or outline clear symbolic structures as opposed to a western music which has grown from a sense of an expression of the individual. Divorced from a context, western music has connected to the notion of music such things as technique and individual genius, all concepts which are alien to my conception of true musical communication. Our tendency towards development and change has resulted in music's separation from daily life, and our tendency for logicity and rational processes has resulted in the classification of 'music' as something involved with 'technique' or 'form', classical ideas that are to be held and perpetuated, based on philosophical notions of time and space that seem to lack validity in a post-colonial world. In separating music from life we have only succeeded in making it more difficult to gain a deeper understanding of structures that surround us and make up our biological beings.


Is it possible to define factors common to all 'western' music? At this stage, it would be difficult if not impossible because of the wide range of musical forms that are to be found in contemporary societies. It is possible, however, to try and discuss some of the factors that have resulted in my alienation. On a simplistic level, it could be generalised that for the past couple of hundred years there has been an emphasis on development and progress in western society. It could also be generalised that such a forward motion can also be sensed in twentieth century western 'art' music which could be associated with a similar level of forward motion, development and change. This is represented in many different ways in both the theoretical and practical performance of contemporary compositions. One of the most strikingly western musical notions is the beginning/middle/end concept of time connected with Christian religious ideals. Comparable directly to western linear conceptions of time and in contrast to the cyclical conception of time originating in Hinduism, our music must begin, have a development and finish, usually on a highly dramatic note. Our music acts also to almost divinify certain figures or 'individuals' - for example a composer or a conductor. It is less about the expression of a group or a collective and concerns more the power and command of an individual over a mass. Before I realised that these generalisations about western culture were forming in my subconscious, I had already begun to turn to the music of other cultures to fill the aching gap left by western music. My dissatisfaction with western conceptions of music was a reflection of my alienation from what I perceived as essentially 'western' thought and the ideologies connected to that culture, and this was all made doubly difficult by being brought up in Australia, a colony of England, in which these ideologies are blindly accepted by most people despite the fact that they cover years of colonial domination and violence.


Dissatisfied with the larger theoretical/philosophical structures of western music I was forced to explore other music forms, in this case Indonesian music which has largely affected the way I compose. For me a satisfying musical experience is one in which a feeling of unity is found within the musical structure. In order to be able to find a bit of one's self within music that acts to unite a person for that brief time with the cultural 'whole' means that the listener has to be extremely familiar with the musical structures involved. Cultural identification in music is important, and the understanding of a musical experience involves an understanding of the culture itself and the different ways 'music' is expressed. In Bali, as well as in a great deal of 'Indonesian' culture, the musical experience is not separated from that of dance, so a western audience that will only 'listen' to the sounds of the instruments could never hope to approach the music to a close enough level for true 'musical' communication to occur. Returning to our analogy of music as a communication system in society, learning a musical system as 1 have learnt Javanese music can be compared to learning a new language. One must, however, be deeply familiar with the elements of a musical language to be able to communicate with it and understand it, even more so than with normal language. One can learn a language on a superficial level but to really be able to understand the subtle nuances it is necessary to be born in the country itself and to learn to deal with all the other elements of the culture. This presents the western danger of trying to listen to and be influenced by many types of folk music which can only be understood in the most superficial way if experienced outside its original environment and on which western musical values are imposed.


A good example of this 'western imposition' is a concert I saw not so long ago by a group playing contemporary western music on Javanese instruments.[2] After playing Javanese gamelan for many years I have developed a different conception of music, especially when hearing or playing the Javanese gamelan. I get the feeling that for the time that lam playing their music that I am expressing for that brief period a part of a larger cyclical pattern. Indeed, these instruments are a particular outlet for these larger patterns, and the repeating cyclical structures give an impression of the totality that expresses itself through the musicians. Therefore there are no individual personalities in Javanese music. It is based on a group, a collective that play together for the expression of something larger than themselves. This concert of contemporary gamelan music involved western musicians using essentially western concepts to express western musical ideals on Javanese instruments. The single figure of a conductor stood with all his power before the performers who were there only to submit to his domination. Musical patterns were expressed with a strict conception of time. The performers had only a certain number of sounds to play and they played those individual sounds at certain times as specified by the music—here we see the figure of the composer who defines a personal 'structure' that can only be felt individually by the creator. This stands so strongly against Javanese music which is involved with the unified expression of musical patterns that have no specified length and are united into a constantly pulsating rhythmic pattern. The music just 'happens' and is not brought about by the domination of a single controlling figure. For me this concert was a fragment of absurdity, a mixture of mismatched forms and ideals that still managed to create something more than the content of its parts. Despite the fact that I was disturbed by the power-based western structures, some of the composers were starting to approach these alternative conceptions of music at certain points in the performance, which produced a strange feeling of anomaly.

My own reaction against this type of western musical expression can be seen in works that I have written for Javanese gamelan.[3] In comparison to compositions that have a strictly determined 'beginning' and 'end', these compositions are involved with cyclical repeating structures and are therefore fluid in speed, length and time. The contrasts extend further than simply an adoption of Javanese 'gong'-structures and into the concept of performance within the composition itself: compositional 'change' and development within a number of these works is determined by the individual performers who must relate their own performance to what is happening in the collective composition. In this sense, there is no further need for the controlling figure of the conductor, and the performers are free to structure the composition as they feel fit.[4]


In general, however, a more traditional 'western' attitude to music can be sensed in twentieth century music, expressed directly by the striving for new musical forms and possibilities. This is represented in a great deal of contemporary music by composers searching for new ways that 'sounds' can be made and combined, which supposedly 'frees' the composer or performer/improviser to be able to make an open choice. These notions of musical freedom are essentially western and for me personally do not at all represent 'freedom' but rather 'restriction'. Being able to communicate musically means for me that one is completely familiar with a musical language made up of a determined number of musical symbols connected to a complex cultural background. In western music we have so many 'sound' choices that they become in effect reduced of cultural significance because of their multitude. This means that it is for me no 'language' at all, creating a feeling of absence or emptiness, and is a personal fear of mine that is directly perceivable in my compositional work: clearly expressed in the screams and cries of From a Gable Window[5] and the 'empty blackness' I hoped to fill with the driving melodies of other more minimal compositions. My fear was based on the loss of language, that through my rejection of traditional communication systems I would be left with nothing; this fear was accompanied by an awareness that I stood outside of society and was threatened by the structureless chaos that could be found there.



Personal development through later composition work has luckily freed me from this fear: as I familiarise myself with more 'languages' I am able to attain more communicative freedom. As provided by the language analogy, any sort of communication system provides us with the means to cross the river, to express ourselves, and although it can be restricting in that the path across the river is in many ways predetermined, at least we can make it across. This is my bridge over the abyss. My work recognises the negative and the positive aspect of the limits brought about by these communication systems. ZAUM in attempting to present language and music in this way, recognises that music and dance are also communication systems that represent structures which help to give form to the reality around us. I am now sure of the meaning-based origin of musical communication and am now ready to explore exactly how it used by other cultures in order to utilise it more completely in my own work. Musical experience transcends the cultural context in which it is structured. The deeper level of musical communication, that can mostly only be achieved after the cultural 'grammar' has been learnt to a sufficient degree, is involved with the 'musical' structures that are echoed in the subconscious; musical structures that represent a 'biological' connection with the music.


4. Music as an Expression of psychological,

social and biological structures

-Towards a new theory of musical communication?


Comparable to language, it is clear then that music plays an important role in culture on many different levels. The question is, how can this all be encompassed theoretically? Can communication models used for language be used to encompass music? If not, what can we use as a basis for understanding musical experience? In the following passages! will merely try to suggest some different ways that such a communication model could be presented. Maybe then we can draw a few conclusions about musical experience and understanding.


Firstly it is important to take a closer look at some long held musical myths. According to the Oxford Dictionary music can be defined as the "art of combining sounds of voice(s) or instrument(s) to achieve beauty of form and expression of emotion; pleasant sound."[6] The western avant-garde musical tradition has successfully turned this definition inside out by saying that music is not necessarily about 'pleasant' sounds, echoing in the theories of Adorno who preached for a new music which would be used as a tool to represent social dissatisfaction.”[7] This may have been a step in the right direction, although the notion of music as a strictly aural experience remains a strong western attribute, connected to other distinctions separating creative form into different categories According to Robert Kaufmann "the western distinction between music and dance helps but little in understanding African music because in African musical culture it is irrelevant. Movement patterns transcend these two spheres."[8] In many non-western cultures, including Indian and Indonesian cultures, there is simply no distinction between music and dance, just as in the regional languages of Indonesia there is simply no word that defines music as a discourse on its own. John Blacking suggests that music should not be defined in strictly acoustical terms, and introduced a concept of 'musical intelligence' which could be expressed in human behaviour in many different forms.[9]" With this definition, music is defined as a way of thinking and experiencing reality, and can be expressed in social life in any number of different forms. Music is, therefore, no longer restricted to any form of aesthetic distinction, but rather a way of thinking and communicating. At this stage 1 would like to posit that 'musical' experience is a complex social one involving an array of interactions between 'musical' and other levels of cultural experience. Music, therefore, does not exist in a vacuum but is inextricably bonded to cultural life in ways that we are perhaps not even aware, and in this sense music has a bond with language which also plays such a meaning-based role in culture.


For me, the relationship between language and music as a cultural structure was made very clear when my rejection of the musical system could be extended to a rejection of the cultural symbolic load of the music and by consequence of this the society itself in its entirety. As was made clear in Manifesto One, my move away from language and towards music was not so much an attraction to musical aesthetics but a belief that music could communicate on a level that penetrated deeper than verbal language. The emphasis remained, therefore, on the communicative process involved; how meaning is transferred in a 'musical' experience. I have since realised that the sort of structures involved with language communication contrast considerably to those of music. Although my study of semiotics has given me the theoretical apparatus to be able to encompass both of these phenomena within the context of cultural structures, the question of theory now manifests itself: can music be encompassed in the same theoretical structures as language? Although there are areas in which music and language can be considered as comparable discourses, I would suggest that different or extended theoretical tools would have to be used. Although we have been looking at the concept of music from a semiotic perspective emerging from the same school of thought that extended the field of linguistics considerably, it is clear that any distinctively 'language-based' models are ultimately insufficient in encompassing music. Kristeva has already noted that the linguistic models emerging from semiotics are useful only for analysing "those practices which subserve such social exchange: a semiotics that records the systematic, systematising, or informational aspect of signifying practices[10]." Music does concern 'communication' but on many different levels setting it apart from other types of communicative activity, demanding ultimately a new communication model. Kristeva suggested that a possible way for semiotic theory to develop would open itself to influence both from the conscious and the unconscious world, in which 'meaning' is considered in terms of the signifying process itself rather than the more traditional sign-system analogy, resulting in influences provided by "on the one hand bio-physiological process", and the other hand "social constraints (family structures, modes of production etc." This is an important beginning point for us, suggesting a possible relationship between 'cultural' and 'natural' structures when examining music as a communicative vehicle.


It has been made clear that logical systems used for analysing language are clearly insufficient for other communicative processes, in our case music. Language however, plays a very important role in the process of musical communication, especially a great deal of popular music in which the text seems to play a primary role, so the relationship between the two should be investigated. In my opinion, the importance of text and music has been to a large degree overestimated. In a theory of examining music with text, especially popular music, the text itself should be set a little into the background and the role of the music itself brought forward. At the same time, again important in the context of the performance of popular music, the musical act should be interpreted in the context of the complete cultural event that brings about the musical performance. For example, concert events can be described as being extremely complicated events semiotically if one considers all the signs that have to be considered: the attitude and reaction of the audience to the music, the appearance of the performances, the sound of the performer's voice as he/she sings, the use of lighting, in addition to the music and the text itself. Text, then, reveals itself to be one element in a larger series of factors that make up such a musical performance, but how does the text help to communicate the meaning of a musical event?


On a surface level, we could say that the first function of text could be the way that it acts as an aid to memory—having two major forms. Firstly, the syllabic sounds can be used as a means to learn the music. For very many people it is the primary medium through which music can be learnt, where musical tones become connected with syllables. It has been theorised, for example, that the 'troping' that created a great deal of elaborations on the Gregorian chants was the result of such 'memory aids'. Secondly, the music can be used in a similar way to learn the text. The function of the music may be simply to act as a storage vehicle for the text, as the text may be the primary reason for the composition to have been written. This is especially true of western music where the text becomes the primary stimulus for the composition of the music.

In many cases, however, the role of the music can go much deeper than immediately perceivable. The music can be more functional than simply acting as a culturally accepted 'memory tool' but can be intimately involved with the subject of the text in which basic elements within the text are expressed although in a considerably different form, a common example is texts involved with life cycles, which are expressed musically by the circular, repeating structure of the music. This becomes even more complicated if we start to examine the different messages communicated simultaneously in musical structure from different cultures and time periods. An example from our own culture is fourteenth century motets in which contrasting texts were adopted into a complex polyphony of sound and meaning. This complex combination of texts was designed to present musical 'puzzles' to bemuse the intellectuals of the lime in which political and religious texts were placed into incongruous contexts. The relationship between politics and religion played role, in addition to more complicated musical meanings: here 'musical' meanings cannot be abstracted from complex economic, religious and political contexts. Another example is the discourses that communicate simultaneously during a performance of 'abhinaya' in Bharatanatyam (A South Indian Dance form). Here, a complex message is told through the use of sign language dance symbols, while the text of the 'song' is seemingly involved will a different level of communication. One could go further to discuss 'nritta' in which syllabic sounds are used to designate an 'abstract' dance story involved with tension and the return to balance; the direct expression of musical structure. On this level text in combination with its expression as dance and music moves directly into the area of 'musical thinking' as introduced earlier, and is a level of musical experience that has to be more closely examined. Here the concept of 'language' in relation to music has to be rethought, suggesting that a new model should be formed based on social, psychological and biological factors.


My own reaction to the use of text has been particularly influential to my composition work. Because of my rejection of traditional language' and 'music' systems which I was provided with as a natural consequence of my practical and social education in a society that I found symbolically 'stifling', it was important to find a new way of adopting language, but not from the harshly logical perspective that was forced upon me. This explains my attraction to the expression of unconscious and mythical structures in music, and at the same time and on the same level my interest in making a connection between these 'musical' (biological) structures and traditional language, as this was a direct connection with the unconscious and rationally structured systems. This was accompanied by a realisation that music and language were closely bonded because they could assist one another in making a communicative link with these thought processes. In my composition Songs of Incantation[11] the use of ancient Greek texts were highly important to the structure of the composition, although they were used in the original ancient Greek form that could not be 'understood' by the audience during the performance. In this case, the texts were used to help form the larger structures which I wanted to represent musically, and therefore formed the 'musical' material that was used to express these structures. In this sense text could be described as being our 'rational' connection with essentially untranslatable 'musical' structures. Bateson has suggested that "algorithms of the unconscious are coded and organised in a manner totally different from the algorithms of language"[12] It has been suggested that these 'musical' structures hidden in the subconscious deal not with content but with pattern, and that these levels of experience involved with music, metaphor and poetry, "may lie in realms of mind and brain that are relatively inaccessible to systematic analysis.[13]


To continue our discussion, we can move forward from text and music and explore a little closer the relationship between music and language. The two 'obvious' contrasts are (i) music does not concern the communication of individual, translatable messages like language, and (ii) music does not use symbols that can be expressed in different units of the same medium. Music is, however, involved in a powerful sort of communication which is experienced by every individual. I would like to posit that the symbolic function of music, like in examining any complex social function, can not be successfully examined without carefully and completely considering the context from which it comes. Music, like language, fulfils a very 'meaningful' role in the lives of people that are involved in its expression, which can be in any number of forms, and an attachment of symbolic or mythical meaning to musical symbols helps to fulfil basic social and psychological needs. Music, unlike language, is to a large extent not a 'descriptive' discourse; its function is not to perform direct and practical 'functions' as suggested in Austin's speech act theory. It is involved with the internal processing and expression of certain ways of thinking in culturally accepted forms, as has been suggested by Kristeva's bio-physiological element of the signifying process. The awareness of such a cultural 'processing' of natural symbols into a musical form was explored in ZAUM-1. Mere 'ritual' meanings expressed through musical sounds and gestures are attached to meaningless Russian sounds. The essential 'meaninglessness' of these symbols is expressed, but at the same time it is realised that these symbols play an important role in providing points of relation with the real world and an internal symbolic reality. Music, then, can be related to a ritual experience in which the listener recognises him/herself in a larger structure, acting to reinforce basic ideas about life and being that would suggest that these symbols are only 'meaningless' from a very superficial and scientific point of view.


Music, then, could be described as an expression of internal symbolism that is realised in a for that uses culturally accepted mediums—usually musical instruments, although certainly not restricted to this medium. The sorts of meaning these 'structures' could be said to be communicating would involve in itself a great deal of further research and discussion, but before we even go on to considering these things, I would like to make a further suggestion. Music provides a form in which other cultural systems are able to communicate: these systems provide an access to the musical structures just as the musical structures give a form for the expression of more practical cultural functions. 'This is most easily observable in complex ceremonial rituals, but could also be extended to 'cultural' events such as cinema or film, or even television advertisements. This image could also be extended to popular music in which the 'music' itself actually plays a seemingly subservient role to much more powerful communicative modes. In these cases, like in rituals, other elements than purely sound enter the arena. Music performs an important role, providing a 'structure' in which other culturally directed meaning-based vehicles can be placed. This is especially apparent in the performance of rituals and in the theatre.


We have already seen the implication of theory influenced by a 'sociolinguistic' communication model where meaning-based exchanges cannot be understood purely within the context of the language itself, but from the social context in which the event is expressed; observable in the social force of popular music performances. By contrast, theories involved with 'universal grammar', generally attributed to Chomsky who suggested that language is a result of the expression of a 'biologically endowed faculty', a model for language is presented in which universally applicable 'mathematical' structures were used to understand linguistic expression. This was a linguistics divorced from semantics that concentrated on the cognitive realisation of language as thought processes,

one in which "the formal, syntactic mechanism of the recursive whole of language"[14] is realised. According to Kristeva, "Chomsky claims to be more of an analyst of psychological structures than a linguist" [15] which could be of interest to us in discussing a musical model: could it be said that the differing expressions of musical traditions are only different on a surface level, that the thought processes that affect the way music is perceived and understood are essentially shared by all humans? This possibility is explored in the context of the music-theatre composition ZAUM which uses a selection of Russian futurist texts to create a 'music-language' that only has meaning in the context of the composition itself. During the process of the work, elements from traditional theatre discourse are 'illogically' recombined as dictated by the musical structure; all of the events within the work are only 'meaningful' in the context of this structure. Through this adoption of musical structure it is suggested that Blacking's 'musical intelligence' could have a greater impact on social life than is currently recognised. Perhaps it could be said that 'musical thinking', in its expression of internal structures, affects the way we think, behave and interact with others. In the context of this discussion I would like to suggest that music is an essential part of social existence, being a cultural expression that has symbolic value both to the individual because it is an expression of internal structures, and to the culture itself because it can be used creatively within a cultural context to provide unity.


At this stage I would like to return to the notion of form presented in my discussion of Eastern music which seems to me to introduce the idea that music is an outlet for larger structures that exist outside the everyday world of the musicians. This concept suggests that music is constant and eternal and that the musicians become the outlet for the musical expression on the necessary occasions. This notion is certainly exemplified in Balinese music where the music is used in many holy rituals, sounds considered to be direct communications from the gods themselves; sacred time in which musical instruments are allowed to play divine patterns. Perhaps music symbols, in whichever form they occur, are the expression of something more vital and intrinsic, related to structures hidden within our subconscious. This relates to the language-music analogy and also to the notion introduced earlier of the basis for these 'musical' structures. What roles do they play in our lives, what significance do they really have? To what extent are western composers interested in expressing structures that are not readily interpretable in other communication systems, and what are these structures made up of? A new discovery for me has been the observation that many contemporary western composers are trying to express in musical form structures that are not communicable in other means. Examples of these structures are DNA, or other non-socially based chemical or physical structure which can be interpreted as being vehicles that carry 'meaning' or sources of information that become in one way or another—be it not through human beings—'interpreted'. In this way these structures can be compared to the cosmological aspect of music already suggested in relation to the cyclical patterns of Eastern music, the expression of systems and ways of understanding that stand outside of expression in traditional word-based communication systems. This level of music seems to move the discussion from cultural structures that combine different communication systems simultaneously to a deeper exploration of biological structures. It could be suggested that this connection with naturally occurring structures would make it necessary for us to rethink the biological 'affect' of music on the body. Maybe the emotions that we experience through music are merely surface level manifestations of deeper biological structures.


It could be said the abstract idea we call 'music' is a phenomenon in culture that becomes agreed upon within a given social group to express certain 'structures', which have revealed themselves to be of a diverging nature. Many musical structures are agreed upon within a culture and the music therefore becomes associated with certain cultural factors: the listener is able to find his or her identity within the music. This cultural manifestation is a result of the expression of internal structures that are not translatable into logical processes, and music is therefore a largely ineffable experience. We are left with a number of different levels within which musical meaning can be viewed, spanning from the ways in which music affects our everyday social existence to a deeper level in which music is considered as the expression of structures within the subconscious that affect our thought processes. It is possible to grade these levels on four planes, beginning with the surface level and moving on each ascending level further into the realm of 'musical' thinking:


(1) On a surface level, music interacts with social life affecting our everyday existence in
many different ways. This spans from uniting us with a certain cultural group or simply
demonstrating that we belong to a certain social class.

(2)    Music provides a structural bed in which other social and ritual functions can take
place. This stresses the importance of viewing music within a wider cultural discourse.
On this level, interaction between music and other discourses could be examined. This
would include the role of musical experience in dance and ritual, as well as the ways
language is used in combination with music to help make the musical experience
accessible to those involved.

(3)    The musical environment provided by our culture surrounds us and influences our
behaviour. Careful cultural crafting designs it in such a way that it can be used both to
restrict behaviour, as well as helping to provide one with tools in which these cultural
expressions help one to encompass reality.

(4)    Musical experience can be said to be a direct cultural expression of structures within the
subconscious of every individual, forming an important tool for both self-understanding
and for the understanding of ourselves within culture.


Encompassing these levels of music experience into a usable theoretical model is the primary goal of my new research project. At this point it is impossible to present any definitive statements regarding such a music-communication model, although I would like to add at this point that new streams of thought influencing the music of today can help point us in the right direction. It can be sensed that contemporary 'classical' music is being affected by two major factors:

(1) A move towards the influence of popular music (exploration of cultural structures), and

(2) A move to express different types of structure in music—such as DNA or quantum
theory—that are not created within the context of cultural experience (exploration of
natural structures).

These observations help me to form two major divisions in which music can be considered:


(1) The importance of music in relationship to other cultural structures. This involves an
exploration of the importance of music in ritual, dance and theatre. This theoretical
standpoint begins with the assumption that ritual theatrical events act largely as symbolic
expressions of cultural needs; complicated meaning-based structures in which music can be
seen as only playing a role in combination with other communication systems.

(2) The importance of music as a biologically structured way of thinking. This area of
exploration is involved with how we 'think' musically, and is concerned with musical
structures that exist in our subconscious. It is more concerned with music as a direct
expression of biological structures than as an expression of cultural systems. In this way, it
is involved with the direct 'composition' of music and explores which sort of biological
structures could be being represented.


The collision between these two levels as viewed from the perspective of musical

experience will certainly be an important dimension of further research, representing a

general level of controversy in contemporary anthropological research. This duality opens

up the discussion into a number of different areas, but unfortunately leaves areas of

ambiguity open to further development, particularly areas that seem to bridge the two

gaps. I would like to end this brief survey by presenting a number of questions which will

be useful beginning points for the future:


-What is the primary relationship between 'composer' who is responsible for expressing

musical structures in a culturally accepted form, the 'performer' who is responsible for

realising them and 'listener' who is responsible for taking them in and making them

his/her own?

-To what extent is our musical knowledge culturally based and to what extent is it

inherent and biological?

-To what extent is musical experience an expression of cultural values and to what extent

it is a deeper expression of 'musical' thinking?

-Where does culture end and music begin?




Adorno, T. Minima Moralia (New Left Books 1974): translation E.F.F. Jephcott.

Bateson, G. "Style, Grace and Information in Primitive Art"

Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Intertext: Philadelphia, 1972).

Blacking, J. "The Biology of Music-Making" Ethnomusicologv: an introduction (ed.)

Myers, H. (MacMillan Press 1992).

Eyal, J. "Liberating Europe From Nationalism Will Not Be Easy"

International Herald Tribune: May 24 1994.

Innes, C. Holy Theatre. (Cambridge University Press 1991):

Ch.1 The Politics of Primitivism.

Kauffman, R. "Tactility as an Aesthetic Consideration in African Music"

The Performing Arts (ed.) Blacking, J. (Mouton Paris 1979).

Keesing, R. Cultural Anthropology (Holt. Rinehartand Winston, 1976):

Kristeva.J. Language: The Unknown (CUP: New York. 1989).

Kristeva, J. "The System and the Speaking Subjecf The Tell-Tale Sign (ed.)

Sebeok, T. (The peter de Ridder Press Lesse, 1975).

Kubik, G. "Pattern Perception and Recognition in African Music"

The Performing Arts (ed.) John Blacking (Mouton 1979).

Laskewicz, Z. Zaum: New-Music Theatre a historical, theoretical and scenic description (Night Shades Press: Amsterdam, 1994).

Lessing, D. Memoirs of a Survivor (Octagon Press: London, 1974)


ZAUM-new music-theatre for five performers and tape- was composed by Zachar Laskewicz in 1993. The first complete performance took place in November 1993 in Ghent, Belgium as part of 'The Stekelbees Festival' organised by Victoria, a local theatre group. Information about this composition can be obtained from the composer.


Zachr Laskewicz was born in Western Australia in 1971. As a child he showed great interest in the theatre, and has since studied composition and flute performance at the University of Western Australia, sound production and design at the Academy of Performing Arts, theatre at Murdoch University and experimental composition at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent (in Belgium).


Zachar was a major contributor to the Evos Youth Ensemble in Perth and has won prizes for his musical compositions There Will Come Soft Rains and Primordial Genesis. His works have been broadcast on radio stations around Australia, and he has performed with professional musical ensembles in Australia, Russia and Belgium. He has also presented concerts of his theatre works in Perth, Moscow, Ghent and Brussels.


While writing his end of degree thesis on contemporary music-theatre in Belgium, Zachar was invited to direct a theatre production of his own creation for the Stekelbees Festival in Ghent. The result was the performance of the new music-theatre piece ZAUM for five actors and tape. This article is a collection of thoughts that were influenced by the creation of this composition, and relate to the important role that language seems to play in an understanding of culture.






Zachr Laskewicz

April 1994

Ghent (Belgium)


[1] Translated by Zachr Laskewicz from Dutch.

[2] Ensemble Gendinq speelt nieuwe muziek voor gamelan

Saturday 12th of November 3:00 pm, in the Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam.

[3] Project-2 (199Q) pelog gamelan.

[4] Transmiqralion-2 (1992) ritual theatre for pelog gamelan, voice, flute, alto flute and bassoon.

[5] From a Gable Window (1991 – a Gothic Horror Tape Work.

[6] Sykes. J. (ed.) The Concise Oxford Dictionary (OUP London1976).

[7] Adorno. T. Minima Moralia (New Left Books 1974): translation E.F.F. Jephcott.

[8] Kauffman. R. "Tactility as an Aesthetic Consideration in African Music" The Performing Arts (ed.) Blacking, J. (Mouton Paris 1979).

[9] Blacking, J. "The Biology of Music-Making" Elhnomusicoloqy: an introduction (ed.) Myers, H. (MacMillan Press 1992).

[10] Kristeva, J. "The System and the Speaking Subject" Trie Tell-Tale Sign fed ) Sebeok T (The peter de Ridder Press Lesse 1975).

[11] Songs of Incantation (1991) New music-theatre for 8 performers and tape.

[12] Bateson, G. “Style, Grace and Information in Primitive Art” Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Intertext: 1972).

[13] Keesing, R. Cultural Anthropology (Holt. Rinehart and Winston. 1976).

[14] Kristeva. J. Language: The Unknown (CUP: New York, 1989): pg. 17.

[15] Kristeva, J. Language: The Unknown (CUP: New York, 1989): pg. 260.





May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)*
Send mail to zachar@nachtschimmen.eu with questions or comments about this website.

September 27 2013.



Major Writings