When disturbance is observed in music it presents itself foremost as an aural disturbance, a scattering of form and flow in some congealed chaos of an often frightful force and passion. Instead of being clear and explanatory, moving and sensory, a disturbance arrests the mind in a pause of negligible theoretical defeat. As what is heard cannot be set within a formatted system, it develops a gap or space that simultaneously disrupts as it opens up a wider field of notations and possibilities.
This breakdown seems to occur frequently in later cycles of development and presents itself when what is old needs to be confronted even if this confrontation can only engage in an endless repetition of perceived incidents of failure. As Garrett Stewart writes about Virginia Woolf, the statement issued can perhaps be made about modern vocal works in general: “Woolf’s phonic counterpoint to the rank and file of script, her syncopated collaboration between the written and the read, creates a poetic resonance that is at the same time a dissonance within the logic of inscription, of textuality itself.
In vibrating upon the ear, this conceptual discord between the graphic and the phonic matter of words appears to reroute the written text through the palpable, the palpitating upper body, its passively engaged organs of articulation. Not back through the body, as if voice were the privileged ground of all language. Rather, the body is not so much the recovered origin as the secondary medium of poetic utterance, sounding board rather than the source. ”(Stewart 422) The person becomes a persona, a symbolic configuration more that is somehow falsely removed from an actualized and present literality.
This spacious deviance from conceptions of form and matter formulate a sort of very interesting spectrum of the somewhat spectral that is never quite there. Furthermore, the definition of personhood is both loose, hybrid, and perpetually emerging without ever quite being. As modern vocal works often feature sounds overlapping, persons overlap as well. While personas filter in some medium that never achieves great clarity or an entirety of gratification what is amiss is very much tied to history and cultural developments as music is not a singular fixation, prompted purely by aesthetic demands.
II. Modernity and the Modern Aesthetic Music doesn’t simply enact itself spontaneously with automatic devices that allow for it to be conjured as opposed to created. Instead, it is necessarily the result of engagement, activity, time, and labor. As vocal music in particular tends to be situated in somewhat rarified and ritualized contexts, whether that may be the lofty cathedral of the grandeur of the prized concert hall; there is indeed an aspect that exists as an element which somehow pervades such works with an unidentifiable and yet impressionable presence.
Opera, which confused speech and song, eradicating normality with its carousing challenges and strangled loops into fantasy, is especially symptomatic. As Opera can be conceived as “a drama [which] is enacted and sung by characters for whom, once more, the frontiers between the experiences of life and music have ceased to exist. In Wagner, this concept comes to embrace the idea of the creation of a whole world, which functions as the setting for a story which tells ‘all there is to tell.
’”(Causton 15) The gargantuan or to be more charitable, formidable impact and scale of Wagner’s operas from which Tristan is in some ways idiomatic, is simultaneously an attempt and a failure. Yet its aura of enchantment and mystification is enthralling in such a sense that prefigures movie scores and soundtracks which aim at obscuration rather than clarification as an aim.