|[Morton Feldman Page] [List of Texts]|
The reciprocity inherent in scale ... has made me realise that musical forms and related processes are essentially only methods of arranging material and serve no other function than to aid one's memory. 
Memory and personal identity are inextricably linked, neither concept being prior to nor separable from the other. The sense of personal identity that each of us has is a sense of continuity through time. 
We live between memory and anticipation, between the past and the future ... We live in time and through time. We are both of it and immersed in it. The present is therefore more than the moment of physical existence in which we feel pain or joy ... The present is destined to join the vast accumulation of all other lived moments of life ... everything, consciously or unconsciously becomes a part of memory. 
It could be considered to be this same reliance on memory and unconscious sense of ordering within the brain that has given rise to the development of form in Western music. As Rochberg states:
The power of return in music serves much more than a purely formal function about which we have heard so much in the past from theorists and aestheticians: ideas of unity in variety, repetition and return ... etc. It does not account for the sheer power of return, nor does it account for the enormous satisfaction gained when the meaning of a work is suddenly crystallised by the arrival at ideas, stated earlier in the work, emerging on a new plane. Return in music has something of the force of the past suddenly illuminating the felt present as a real element in the present. 
What Western musical forms have become is a paraphrase of memory. 
... it is not easy to dismantle form. It supposes a profound evaluation of the auditive memory; for the smallest recurrence or the slightest accidental alteration of a leading note will revive our structural expectations, creating an impression of dynamic forethought, short-circuiting that free-fall within the instant crucial to our perception of a music of free association. 
His first major exploration into this technique came in the work Triadic Memories, written in 1981. What Feldman discovered was that, as new material was introduced and successively repeated, he would forget the previous material.
Therefore, whilst memory acts as a point of orientation in most Western music, for Feldman it became a point of disorientation. This teasing quality is enhanced by placing absolute attention on the minutest of details, such as subtly altering the rhythmic framing of a repeated bar or by carefully displacing notes by an octave.
I am interested in music where the variation is so discrete. I would have the same thing come back again, but I would just add one note. 
The role of memory in hearing a piece is somewhat like the role of memory in listening to a conversation. To understand present utterances or events, one needs to have a notion of the gist of what went before but need not be able to recall literally all that was said. Usually, one comes away from a conversation with a knowledge of its overall meaning but with little exact recollection of details. 
Our appreciation of the work, therefore, is antithetical to the quotation from David Clarke: one comes away from a piece by Feldman or a work by Beckett with a sense of detail that isn't governed by a concern for cohesive meaning. As Christopher Fox has remarked "as in the work of Morton Feldman, at the end of a Beckett play the characters simply lie down again and die of old age."  What we are left to speculate on are the intricate fragments of an uncertain design; it is through a conscious attempt at the disorientation of memory that the composer is able to direct the listener towards a more abstract, intangible experience.
|1.||Morton Feldman, 'Crippled Symmetry', Essays, ed. Walter Zimmerman (Kerpen: Beginner Press, 1985)|
|2.||Mary Warnock, Memory|
|3.||George Rochberg, 'Duration in music', The Aesthetics of Survival|
|5.||Morton Feldman, 'Crippled Symmetry', Essays, ed. Walter Zimmerman (Kerpen: Beginner Press, 1985)|
|8.||Jean-Luc Fafchamps, 'Triadic Memories' (sleeve notes)|
|10.||Morton Feldman, 'Anecdotes and Drawings', Essays, ed. Walter Zimmerman (Kerpen: Beginner Press, 1985)|
|11.||David Clarke, Music, Mind and Structure|
|12.||Christopher Fox, 'Time not passing' (Lecture in Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 23.11.95)|
© Bryn Harrison 1996/1999
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