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Indétermination et improvisation

Célestin Deliège
International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music
Vol. 2, No. 2 (Dec., 1971), pp. 155-191
DOI: 10.2307/836834
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/836834
Page Count: 37
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Indétermination et improvisation
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Abstract

Summary: Indetermination and Improvisation. The notion of indetermination (this being a state of language and/or form, while improvisation is a type of musical practice) is relatively new in European music. Musical works of undeveloped but fixed form were known in the 18th century, while the improvisation in vogue in the 19th century was quickly reduced to a simple drawing-room amusement. At that period there existed a rigorous organization in the musical world, very like to the hierarchic structure of the society. Composers, publishers, organizers of concerts and performers often had a precise social status which led to a fair division of work. Nowadays, partly under the influence of technical developments and of the necessities of the media, we are witnesses of a sort of specialized utterance which also leads to an attenuation of the distinction between composing and performing activities. But if sincere collective works exist, one faces in most cases a "participation" as illusory as that which is offered to emloyees and workers by the possessors of power. An analysis of recent works of European music, and in particular of Karlheinz Stockhausen's, allows us to see the phases of a substantial modification in the relationships between composers and performers, modifications caused by a change in the language of the works under discussion. With "Zeitmaβe" indetermination reached the formal level. In other works, like "Klavierstück XI," several realizations of musical discourse co-exist by virtue of the composer's real choices and of the selective solutions brought about by the performers (and even by chance) inside these creations. With "Plus Minus" (1964) the composer-performer relation is transformed by the fact of the profound indetermination of this work, which is a real solicitation of the improbable, but where the serial system assures the composer a certain control. "Aus den Sieben Tagen" (1968) no longer contains any concrete element of determination. A poetic program has to assure the atmosphere of the work. Since 1951-52 indetermination can be found in John Cage's and Morton Feldman's music. It is impossible to explain Cage's music and his innovation by considering only his creative power - which, however, is not to be denied - with regard to the Orient's influences, jazz, or even his familiarity with the European music of the period. Cage's work became fully original when he turned his back on Europe. Thus, one should consider the specifically American milieu. A remark of Feldman about the United States' absence of history can help us to formulate our problem precisely. According to him, American music is more "philosophical" than that of Europe, because when one has no history it is necessary to philosophize. A thought of Merce Cunningham is also revealing. "The world being, naturally, what it is... we know that any thing is also every thing, either visibly or potentially. Thus we do not have... to worry ourselves to find relations, continuities, orderings and structures - they cannot be avoided. They constitute the nature of things." The acceptance of chance, in such a situation, almost has the appeal of evidence. This attitude informs different levels of the American life. There is thus a (non-violent) rejection of Europe, of its culture, and of its modes of reflection... In most attempts at free improvisation (sometimes by non-musicians) one finds two characteristics. First of all, there is a "co-existence of heterogeneous contents" (Cage's "Musicircus" and Pousseur's "Midi-Minuit" - though the aim of these two experiences is fundamentally different) whose roots can undoubtedly be found in Charles Ives' music and, on the other hand, an apparently progressive notion of "art produced by everybody." This attitude, which certainly arises from a generous ideology, in fact connects with the most reactionary manner of thinking. If art ceased being the product of specialized activities, it would soon become a leisure activity, an entertainement... implying the exercise of a primary occupation. And from art as contemplation to art as an action of everybody there could be no progress. Such a deviation, of idealistic origin, which would finally be an aspiration towards art as a product of everybody, is suffused by an idealistic nostalgia which it believes it is denying, even when it produces non-aesthetic objects. A "praxis" should legitimately be opposed to it, where art, life, society and the individual would be considered in their full integrity, and where every field of human activities, accomplished without any kind of subordination, would accomplish the identity - nowadays still potential - of the Art-Life relation.

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