Time in Music as a Psychoanalytic Concern – Sybille Yeats (1935)

Some Aspects of Time Difficulties and their Relation to Music. Sybille Yeats (London). International Journal of Psyco-Analysis 16, pp. 341-354, 1935.

1. Time can be measured exactly by clocks and sundials, but human beings can rarely measure time accurately, for the feeling of the passage of time varies in each human being, and even then is not constant but varies for each one of us with moods and events (…) One does not remember time during great enjoyment, either sensous or mental… Also in work, one talks of being absorbed that one forgets all about time;

2. The small child’s appreciation of time differs in some respects from that of the adult; the chief way being, that small children live more in the sensations and wants of the present and find it very hard indeed to appreciate a future. A future can only be envisaged as differing from the present by remembering at the same time a past which differes from the present. It takes time before childrenn are able to do this (…) The fact that the present only is appreciated by small children, makes their idea of the passage of time quite different from that of adults;

3. Time is marked for the infant by the recognition of things which gradually becomes known… The first kind of time that is recognized is that ‘my body feels that it is time for food’; It is only when outside time or parental time and inside time or bodily time clash that time becomes a factor of importance and stress for the baby;

[What kind of time is musical time? How does it relate to this first bodily experience?]

4. In times of waiting, a new repetition comes in – the cries of rage on the child’s part… These repetitive cries may work up to a climax when they get completely out of the infant’s control… When this state of exhaustion is acute and prolonged it gives the child its earliest experience of annihilation: not only of the annihilation of the self but of all the people around.. Time is put out of joint and all subsequent satisfaction is too late.

[5. Several distinct mechanisms used by children in order to avoid or escape this anxiety are then described, such as “putting oneself temporarily outside of time”, or through “phantasies of having the parents as its slaves, obedient all the time to its will”…

And now something very interesting:

6. “The child who has adopted  this means of drawing attention to itself as a means of controlling its parent’s time and as a defence against its own aggression, often takes up an artistic career, but this is constantly hampered by the fear of repetition lest it bring about a climax of uncontrol”.

7. The article then proceeds to report a case in which “time has played a large part throughout the whole of one year’s analysis (…) the patient is a musician – a pianist and teacher of music – the sublimation has broken down”.]


The Challenge of Conceptualization in Music Composition: Roger Reynolds (2007)

The challenge of giving names to compositional processes, situations, attitudes – taking his own creative experiments as references:

(1)      aesthetic consistency: always a function of the presence of constraints.

[comment: this is such an important formulation – aesthetic consistency and constraints]

(2)      coherence: measure of completeness — within the web of subjective implications.

(3)      impetus: a small generative source or seed; the concentrated, radiant essence out of which the whole can spring and to which, once composition has begun, the evolving whole is continuously made responsive, even responsible.

(4)      integrity: measure of completeness — the pattern of objective relationships.

(5)      intent: it is the intent of the work that successful form must satisfy.

(6)      processual models: focus on unbroken evolution of premises such that suddenness of change, distinctive demarcation is subordinated to an unbroken unfolding, a continuous aggregation of implication.

(7)      sense of belonging: the persuasiveness — in the presence of the work’s elements; the local event anticipates the macro level in some way, just as the overall form invites its detail.

(8)      sensitive adjustement: within a world of constraint, the adjustment or modification of these limiting conditions in applica

(9)      structural models: involve the relationships of portions of the whole to one another – individually distinct.

(10) surprise: surprising turns are essential to deepening engagement, eliciting wonder; but must not themselves be the seeds of a conflicting conventionality of dissociation.

Highly Emotional Reality and Highest Degree of Unreality – Isador Coriat (1945)

CORIAT, Isador H. [1945]. “Some Aspects of a PSychoanalytic Interpretation of Music”. Psychoanal. Rev. 32, p. 408-418.

1. While the aesthetic appreciation of music has produced considerable psychological descriptive literature, the psychoanalytic approach to this problem has been rather limited;

2. Pfeifer invoked: Music is a means of escape from reality through rhythm which, through the process of psychic economy, provides pleasure through compulsive repetition, thereby releasing unconscious fantasies untrammelled by the limitations of language. The pleasure principle replaces the reality principle;

3. The content of music is pure libido symbolism; it lacks objetive content because the libidinal aspect of music has not reached the object level of development [comment: again the idea of music as an objectless art]; consequently, music is the only mental creation in which these libidinal processes can be found in pure culture;

4. The aesthetic effect of music is the result of three factors: compulsive repetition, pleasure in economy and the force fo attraction exerted by the unconscious. The peculiar effect of music consists in the induction of narcissistic and erotogenic pleasures;

5. Chijs invoked: music often symbolizes the identification of the listener with the composer, at times depicting in sound both ejaculation and orgasm [this is just a dream of early interpreters?]

6. Mosonyii invoked: Analogy between composition and dream work, music and day dream;

7. The pleasure experienced in music is synonimous with the pleasure of falling in love; music is the imagination of love in sound;

8. Eryximachus invoked (Plato’s Symposium): Music is the science of erotics applied to harmony and rhythm;

9. Inspiration (incubation of unconscious material) as a relationship between composer and superego;

10. Certain coprophilic elements may enter into music and musical composition as a sublimation fo these interests; Ferenczi – the infantile interest in sound accompanying flatus may be transferred later in life to the subject of music [again the anal erotic connection];

Based on Anal and Narcissistic Foundations, Music is an Objectless Art – Richard Sterba (1939)

RICHARD STERBA. “Zur Problematik des musikalischen Geschehens”. Internationale Zeitschrift und Imago [1939]. Translated in [1946], “Toward the Problem of the Musical Process”, Psychoanal. Rev. 33, p. 37-43:

Goethe’s letter to Zelter (about Johann Sebastian Bach): “I said to myself, it is as though the eternal harmonies were conversing with one another, as it might have been in God’s bosom just before creation of the world. It moved within me and it was myself, and it seemed that I neither had nor required ears, certainly not eyes, nor any other senses” [comment: who could have said it better?]

1. In psychoanalytic literature one can find very little that has been written about music, and what has been said on the subject is not very enlightening;

2. It is considered proven that music is based on anal and narcissistic instinctual foundations, but analytical investigation has not gone further than this;

3. …But to apply this method of investigation [finding the latent content of a work of art] to music is impossible, since in music the conscious and unconscious emotions are not expressed in the form of images of the outside world. Music is what we may call an objectless art [comment: this is a variation of an idea proposed by Frieda Teller, inspired in Hegel, to be sure];

4. I am concerned here exclusively with the investigation and speculative consideration of occidental music, and even then not with this music as a total phenomenon, but only with its formal element of theme, which is the germ cell of musical forms;

5. Music and hypnagogic hallucination [the unifying factor between musical and visual processes is movement], the experience of music and the experience of movement; [comment: such an importan connection here];

6. According to Aristotle: the movements of melody imitate the movements of the psyche;

7. Another reference: Hanslick and the “sounding, moving forms”;

8. Cosmic motility: It is brought about through a profound regression to an early stage of Ego development, where Ego and outside world are identical. Pleasure in motion. Music and oceanic feeling. Dissolution: Identifies the mastery of one’s own body with the ideal motoric mastery of the whole cosmos, and lets them be experienced as one (see Goethe’s letter above).

Composition Defined: Composition is…

            We are manly against all and every asserted principle –  Group of Composers of Bahia, 1966.

1.To compose is to invent a music in accordance with the rules of the art. RousseauDictionaire de musique (1768).

2. Komponieren ist: denken in Tönen und Rhythmen (Composition is: thinking in tones and rhythms). Every piece is the presentation of a musical idea. Musical thinking is subject to the laws and conditions of all our other thinking, and beyond that must take into consideration the conditions resulting from the material. All thinking consists essentially in bringing things (concepts, etc.) into relationship with each other. An idea is the production of a relationship between things otherwise having no relationship to one another… Each composition raises a question, puts up a problem which in the course of the piece has to be answered, resolved, carried through. It has to be carried through many contradictory situations; it has to be developed by drawing conclusions from what it postulates… and all this might lead to a conclusion, a pronunciamento…  But every relation that has been used too often, no matter how extensively modified, must finally be regarded as exhausted; but ceases to have power to convey a thought worthy of expression. Therefore every composer is obliged to invent, to invent new things, to present new tone relations for discussion and to work out their consequences. (Arnold Schönberg, The Musical Idea, 1934)

3. [What is composition? Not it at all]: When is “composition”?: I use the word “composition” whenever I wish to speak of the composer’s activity and the traces left by it. The composer is motivated by a wish to bring about that which without him and human intent would not happen. In particular, the composer’s activity consists in constructing contents, systems, stipulated universes, wherein objects and statements, selected by the composer, not only manifest more than there mere existence, but have a function or value or sense or meaning which without his construction they would not have. (Herbert Brün, my wrods and where i want them, princelet editions, aphorism 49, 1986).

4. Organicity and Relativization: The first law has to do with the creative act, which encompasses the following phases: to conceive, to give birth to, to make it grow, to make it develop, to make it bloom and to mature – thus a really organic process from which results the form and which also implies in constantly trimming and criticizing. But it also implies that it is not the teacher’s criticism that should prevail, but his gift of being able to awaken the critical spirit in the student: the self-criticism… The second law is based on the relativity of things, of points of view. Since Einstein’s discovery we need to rethink. We must admit that we do not deal with dualisms anymore like ‘Either this or that’, as Cecília Meireles says [to us and] to the children, but with paradoxical reality of ‘this and that’. Inclusivity instead of exclusivity (Ernst Widmer, The formation of contemporary composers… Ms, 1988).

5. Composition is an act, and human acts are designed sequences of steps making sense of some chosen task environment in the service of an Idea or plan… It is the activity of an organism in the world in pursuit of creating its own world… Listening as well as Composition, when not abstracted out of this ‘Lebenswelt’, are activities of an organism that, by way of reason, creates its own world. It is quite another matter to ‘reason about’ this activity scientifically, than to follow one’s reason in accomplishing actions such as listening and composing. (Otto Laske. “Toward an epistemology of Composition, Interface, 1991, p. 235.)

6. Sometimes composing is like chasing butterflies. You try to capture moments and articulate them as clearly as possible. You help them become inevitable. (Eric Stokes, In: The Muse that Sings, p. 5, 1999)

7. I have been saying all the time that composition for me is a challenge. Not in the sense that it is difficult, but rather the challenge to present and resolve compositional problems, and as someone interested in the study of music, to identify problems and solutions. It is precisely in this presentation and solution of problems that I identify creation.  (Jamary Oliveira, “A respeito do compor”. Revista ART 019, p. 59-63, 1992)

8. Five components or dimensions of the compositional act: 1) a field of choices (top-down and bottom-up strategies); 2) ‘music is something that we do’ (inseparability between theory and practice, they operate more like a continuum); 3) creation of worlds (imagination and causality); 4) critique (composition as an act of interpretation); 5. reciprocity: ‘the design creates the designer as much as the designer creates the design (see Laske 1992). All the five components are involved in defining the quality of that which is composed. (Paulo Costa Lima, Teoria e prática do compor I, Edufba, 2012, p. 24-27).

9. Drei Grundbeobachtungen möchte ich ansprechen (three basic observations about composition): 1. Komponieren heißt: über die Mittel nachdenken (to think about the means; intellectually, intuitively, spontaneously or strictly calculating… by analysis, by experiments. by training of the ear, by education in the widest sense, by watchful life – quite indeed by composition); 2. Komponieren heißt: ein Instrument bauen (to build an instrument, in other words: sound as a structural experience); 3. Komponieren heißt: nicht sich gehen, sondern sich kommen lassen (not to go, but to let yourself arrive instead; do not trust the composer that knows exactly what he wants…). LACHENMANN, Helmut, 1996. Über das Komponieren. In: Musik als existentielle. Erfahrung: Schriften 1966-1995. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel. p. 73–82. (via José Henrique Padovani). 

10. Composition, for spectral composers, is the act of sculpting sound using time as the framework that enables the perception of various sonic structures… Spectralism is an attitude towards composition rather than a specified set of technical and aesthetic guidelines… After denouncing the word ‘spectral’ as an inappropriate label, Grisey lists certain ‘consequences’ of the spectral attitude. These consequences are grouped into three categories: harmonic and timbral, temporal,  formal. (Gainey, Christopher J. University of Iowa, Attitudes of Spectralism, 2009).

Anthropophagy as Cultural Perspective: Silviano Santiago and Eneida Leal Cunha (2006)

A bundle of important formulations:

1. The “Letter” of Pero Vaz de Caminha describes, in addition to the men and lands discovered, the first days and first portuguese actions in the New World. It is possible to ‘read’ Caminha’s mass (the description of the first mass in Brazil) as the original scene of brazilian historic and cultural identity. It portrays all the instituent elements of the colonial history: the portuguese authorities taking possession of the new land through an Act of State, congregating both political and religious rule, the Faith and the Empire.

2. The disclosure of this first document written about the country, giving formal existence to the Colony (Caminha’s Letter), simultaneous with the romantic  engagement for the institution of nacionality, is an ironic historic coincidence. The first act of colonization exposed to the XIXth Century and to the builders of nationality a dignified immage of colonization, entirely justified by its historic and religious circumstances. The romantic production corrects the initial representation, gives it another form, alters the rules of composition and the elements of the scene, without damaging the imaginary that produced it (romantic correction).

3. In the XIXth Century, in parallel to the institution of nacionality, it is also created the dilemma of the brazilian intelectual when contemplating the scene of the first mass, be it in its original version of the “Letter”, or in the innumerable forms of the symbolic which have reproduced it: to know himself as a non-european, to know himself as non-indian, to compose his own ascendancy.

4. The modernist version of the first mass takes a route which is the inverse of the romantic construction. It does not propose the substitution of the circumstances of the encounter in order to maintain the imaginary forces that have produced it. Inverts the romantic process maintaining the ritual nature of the encounter, but transfering to the indian all the activity. The pale catholic communion is replaced by the efffective devouring of the bodies. Anthropophagy is proposed as a representation that neutralizes the discontentedness with the colonial experience and colonized attitude (anthropophagic reversion).

5.  Taking as a departing point the ethical and political interpretation of the violence involved in the colonization process, the indication of the mechanisms involved in the suppression of alterity –  and the differences of the many cultures that have faced the european ethnocentric and expansionist impulse, Silviano Santiago tries to change the emphasis of the discussion, from the idea of imitation and copy to the attribution of value. For him (reading Oswald de Andrade), anthropophagy represents the possibility of guiltless appropriation of the spectacles of art and thought produced in places away from colonized countries and cultures, away from the experience of periphery. Santiago is interested in the possibility of ‘de-colonizing’ the dependent culture, by proposing that the sense of indigence, the precariousness of what is considered second-hand,  be replaced by an affirmative posture capable of recognizing itself as differential value.

CUNHA, Eneida Leal. Estampas do Imaginário: literatura, história e identidade cultural. Editora UFMG, 2006. (a ‘free’ translation of some important ideas)

Didier-Weill: Music and the Invocatory Drive (1995)

Some important thematic ideas:

1. What happens when you listen to music? At first you feel, as a listener, that you are just listening to the music. But, the more the music “touches” you, as they say, the more you will discover that, in fact, it is not you that is listening, quite the other way, it is the music that is listening to you, it is the music that listens a presence which existence you have forgotten, making it possible to revive it and to receive it back. Well, this presence is given to you, it means that you can not give it to yourself; it is not at your disposal. It is at the disposal of the Other, the only one capable of liberating it from its hiding place, the only one which is able to reveal it.

[My comment: This is no doubt, so far, the best available distinguishing description of the Unconscious in music, or should we say, the Unconscious as music?]

2. I can not escape saying ‘yes’ to the music [that touches]. The simplicity of this ‘yes’ does not mean that it is easy to understand. Quite the contrary, it is incomprehensible . To what do  I say ‘yes’, then? What does the music listen in me? The music listens that I have listened in its sounds an appeal to which I have said ‘yes’. A simple and enigmatic ‘yes’. I only know that through this ‘yes’ an articulation is produced between a receiver that in me received the appeal of the music, and the appearance of something that emits a call to the music. Through this ‘yes’, I am at the same time the one who says: “Yes I am called by you” and “Yes, I call you”.

3. It is in this mutation, by which an invoked subject becomes an invoking subject, in this very pressure of saying ‘yes’, that we indicate the invocatory drive.

Le trois temps de la loi. Éditions Seuil, 1995.