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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E

                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1995 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 1, Number 1     January, 1995     ISSN:  1067-3040   |

  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu
AUTHOR: Richard Cochrane
TITLE: The Ideal Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds: Response to Covach
KEYWORDS: Covach, Heidegger, phenomenology, fundamental ontology, 
hermeneutics, structure
REFERENCE: mto.94.0.11.covach.art

Richard Cochrane
Dept. of Philosophy
University of Wales College of Cardiff

[1] When Cage composed *4'33"*, he composed the physical 
background which informs all musical experience; the noise 
which is the degree zero and condition of possibility for any 
musical experience. He did this, in that piece, on a largely 
physical level, although his other "silent" pieces have more 
philosophical intentions (1). Perhaps there is something of this 
in John Corvach's paper, "Destructuring Cartesian Dualism in 
Musical Analysis". In this brief commentary, I would like to 
suggest some of the directions in which this paper's 
considerable phenomenology may be taken.

1. Cage "wrote" two further silent pieces, entitled *0'00"* and 
*0'00"#2*. In *For The Birds* (with Daniel Charles: Boston, 
M. Boyars, 1981), their implications are discussed at some 

[2] John Covach speaks of "musical worlds" which, if they are 
to be true to their Heideggerian parentage, must be prior to any 
musical object; they are "ready-to-hand", an environment, 
rather than "present-at-hand" as objects of our reflective 
judgement. The musical world is thus not composed of musical 
objects (i.e. "pieces of music") at all, but pre-musical 
phenomenological structures of some kind -- indeed, perhaps, 
the non-musical as such.

[3] For this reason, at least one of the problems raised at the 
end of the paper is not a problem at all, but a solution. John 
Covach writes that "There are a number of other kinds of 
music... for which the idea of a musical 'work' does not apply" 
(para. 20). Indeed, we should be looking to such musics for 
examples of a musical world prior to the Work; the music of 
India, which is entirely improvised, might serve as an 
example. It is predicated upon a series of complex combinatory 
rules (the *talas* and *ragas* and their permutations) which 
in turn serve to illuminate the pure, cosmic resonance (the 
OM). This tradition actually enshrines the opposite kind of 
movement from that of Western Classicism; its conventions 
serve to draw the performance into the musical world, the 
ontological condition of possibility for music, the non-musical, 
the pure vibration. Indian musical practice, one might even 
say, is more authentic than that of the West. It certainly has its 
own share of being-towards-death(2)

2. It occurs to me that this is something like what Heidegger 
meant by the authenticity of *Dasein*; to be in a world whose 
phenomenological structure is one of *aletheia*, of 
withdrawing into its Other as it reveals itself. Perhaps this is 
close to the deep meaning of Being-towards-death.

[4] The musical world, prior to any music whatever, produces 
out of itself musical structures, conventions and so forth. These 
conventions may contribute towards what we might call an 
"authentic" musical practice (withrawing the music into its 
own ontological foundations even as it appears), or they may 
hypostatize it into an object for a subject. Yet how can the 
musical world found the structurality of music?

[5] The musical world is a kind of ideal space. Let us say that 
it is a stage, in the theatrical sense. The musical world is then 
a *mise en scene*, a stage-setting, which is always there, and 
always changing, on which performances take place. We 
should also take note of Heidegger's example of the actor in 
the No drama who, with a single gesture on an empty stage, 
brings forth a world. The stage is empty -- the metaphor must 
not be taken to mean that the musical world fills the stage with 
past musical experiences. The musical world *is* the stage, 
the performance space, the ideal 4'33" which forms the 
necessary context for musical experience. This experience, 
then, is like the gesture of the actor (3). It uncovers (and 
conceals) the world of the music.

3. The phenomenological structure described here must be 
carefully understood; the actor is nothing (as the musicians are 
nothing) as far as the piece of music *per se* is concerned. 
Only the gesture, the physical sign, is important. The gesture 
without actor is pure movement, the irriducible vibration of air 
which is not the same thing as "music" at all.

[6] It is absolutely essential that this space is not considered to 
be a static space. "How do our musical worlds change as our 
experience grows?" (Para.20) is a valid question, but its 
answer is already at hand. The metaphor of the stage must be 
carried to a more abstract level, and we can see that it must be 
a mobile space, if only because *Dasein* is necessarily 
temporal, and so therefore is all musical experience. This 
much is fairly obvious; yet how will the current musical 
experience transform our musical world?

[7] Perhaps we need to be clear about what we mean by a 
musical world. John Covach defines it as follows: "a number of 
other works that form a kind of background -- a body of other 
pieces that create a purely musical context for some particular 
piece" (Para.16). On my reading, which is admittedly 
thoroughgoingly Heideggerian, the musical world cannot be 
precisely as it is described here since, if it were, the condition 
of possibility for works would simply be other works, which 
leads to an ontological infinite regress and a hermeneutic 

[8] Let us consider how a musical world might function. It is 
certainly constituted from musical experiences (what else 
could constitute it?), yet it does not contain works of music. It 
is, rather, a space created by *experiences* of music, 
engagements with music as "equipment", as environment. 
Thus, it is an *aesthetic* space. These experiences cannot be 
differentiated -- again, we are speaking of a space, not its 
contents, and the musical world is not a taxonomy of previous 
experiences, which may be recalled individually at will. They 
instead conbine to form a space or stage in which other 
musical experiences may "take place".

[9] This immediately points to a solution to the problem of the 
mobility of this space. There is something like a dialectic 
(although not in the Hegelian sense) at work between the space 
and its contents, and this dialectic takes the form of the 
ontological difference. This much is clear. Yet this difference 
is also a deferral (4) or referral which captures both the space 
and its object in a process of change. As the space effects the 
object (radically; the space enables the object to be what it is), 
so the object effects the space. For what cannot be objectified 
in the experience of the piece of music itself goes to mutate the 
space, the musical world itself. That which can be objectified 
will be removed from musical experience altogether, and 
passed into a different mode of thought,such as the 
mathematical, cultural or historical.

4. The idea of difference as deferral is evident in Heidegger's 
early work, and was brought out by Derrida, who is usually 
credited with inventing it. See "Differance" in Derrida, 
Jacques, *Margins: Of Philosophy" (Brighton: Harvester, 

[10] What we are speaking of, then, is a staging of the musical 
work in which work and stage undergo a metamorphosis at 
one another's hands (to mix a metaphor). The purely 
subjective-experiential space is infolded within the musical 
work; it is its secret, what Adorno would call its "enigma", the 
kernal of non-music within music, which makes that music 
possible (5). Perhaps this is one way in which we could escape 
the solipsism which threatens this project. While the musical 
world is experiential, it is also in the realm of ideas, and these 
ideas may be (are necessarily?) ideological. Thus we get to 
Adorno via Heidegger, in spite of Adorno's protestations to the 
contrary. That contradictory kernel could easily be seen quite 
simply as the contradiction which, in the course of negative 
dialectics, comes to be a negative kind of truth, an escape from 
ideology which is wholly negative. Thus, the musical world, 
although still subjective, is nevertheless social and political.

5. See "How Marx Invented the Symptom" in Zizek, Slavoj, 
*The Sublime Object of Ideology* (London: Verso, 1989) for a 
discussion of this idea from another, very thought-provoking

[11] It is to be hoped that some of these ways of thinking may 
be helpful to those engaged in the relationship between 
fundamental ontology of music and its relation to 
hermeneutics. Anyone interested in discussing any of these 
issues is welcome to contact me by e-mail.

Richard Cochrane
Dept of Philosophy
email: senrc@cf.ac.uk


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