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Tiekso, Tanja (UH, defense Nov 16th 2013): Music of Reality: The Idea of Experimentalism in the Manifestos of the Musical Avant-Garde

This dissertation studies the concept of musical experimentalism in the manifestos of musical avant-garde. This study theorises the concept of musical experimentalism, clarifies the confusion between the concepts of avant-garde and modernism in music research, and locates the most important manifestos in reference to the idea of musical experimentalism. The main finding of the study is that musical experimentalism is a radical ethos concerning the making of music: aside from working as a musical technique, it can also serve as a way to be in the world and a way to change society.

This dissertation examines, among other things, contemporary classical music, electronic music, sound art, noise and free improvisation. The salient material of the study comprises manifestos written by well-known avant-garde and experimental composers such as Edgard Varèse (1883–1965), John Cage (1912–1992) and Pauline Oliveros (1932–). The material also consists of writings by R. Murray Schafer (1933–) and Hildegard Westerkamp (1946–), both representing the field of acoustic ecology. Few previous studies have explored some of the manifestos underlying the idea of musical experimentalism in this study such as the writings of composers Frederik Rzewski (1938–) and Cornelius Cardew (1936–1981). The material also includes manifestos by artists from different domains of art, such as texts by the Italian futurist painter Luigi Russolo (1883–1947), the Russian futurist auteur Dziga Vertov (1896–1954) and the American beat writer William S. Burroughs (1914–1997).

This study is based on avant-garde theory (e.g. Bürger 2006 [1974], Ziarek 2001, Calinescu 1987; Huyssen 1986; Poggioli 1968 [1962]) and experimental music studies (e.g. Demers 2010; Saunders 2009; Hegarty 2007; Attali 2006 [1977]; Nyman 1999 [1974]; Mauceri 1997). The study builds the theory of musical experimentalism from the viewpoint of Martin Heidegger's (e.g. 2010 [1929]; 2007 [1962/1988]; 2000 [1927]; 1998 [1935/1936]) and Herbert Marcuse's (2011 [1977]; 1969) philosophies using Heidegger's concepts of ‘being-in-the-world', ‘uncanny' and ‘nothingness', and Marcuse's concepts of ‘aesthetic ethos' and ‘counter-societal experience'. The study also considers the idea of experimentalism from the viewpoint of etymology, phenomenological philosophy, transcendentalism and anarchism.

The study presents an interpretation of the ethos of musical experimentalism as a mode of musical and cultural subversion. The study argues that musical experimentalism does not operate within conventional musical laws, theories, preconditions or definitions, but is based on the idea that music can happen anywhere at anytime. The ethos of musical experimentalism requires openness to the world and acceptance of the indeterminate essence of reality. Musical experimentalism depends on the instability of being and aims to radicalise experience through seeing, hearing and understanding reality in a new way.

Musical experimentalism questions the accepted reality and replaces it with a new, artistically formulated reality. In this way, musical experimentalism is also radically political in that it aims not just to subvert musical experience, but also the experience of reality. In other words, musical experimentalism aims to change the world by changing individuals; not only the laws of music, but also cultural values are to be questioned.







Image: Marja Viitahuhta.