Closing the Gap: Music, Psychoanalysis, Neurology

This book asks the following questions:

Are ways in which psychoanalysis helps us connect classical masterpieces to the psyche of the composer and to us the composers' listeners helpful as well for popular idioms?

Are there aspects of classical masterpieces that conventional musicology and theory have overlooked and how might we deepen our understanding of those works drawing attention to these overlooked dimensions?

Most particularly, are there aspects of extraordinarily familiar works (such as Vivaldi's The Seasons) that are profoundly remarkable, and how is it possible that we might simply have gotten so used to hearing the work as it is that we don't realize the profundity of the compositions? And what are the more broad implications of the fact that repetition can cause the remarkable to seem (and to sound) normal, unremarkable?

Assuming that we understand the basic nature of Freudian and Lacanian theories (that Freud is predicated on the divided subject and that Lacan is predicated on the ternary topography of the psyche—Imaginary, Symbolic, Real), are there precise dimensions of these theories beyond the basics that can (still) help us understand both ourselves and our relationships to musical works and to culture?

If we (mistakingly) thought that German Oi-Musik was a hate music whose dynamics were specific to German culture, what does it mean that American hate music depends on very similar dynamics of appropriation of the music of the (hated) other?

What happens when we include Neuroscientific research into discourses of psychoanalysis and music studies (music theory and music history)?

In each chapter, I shall examine a work of music or a musical practice from the points of view of textual and contextual analysis, as well as musical-theoretical analysis; I shall then shift the focus to Freudian, Lacanian, and post-Lacanian psychoanalysis; and then I shall examine neuroscientific explanations for the states of mind reflected, represented, embodied in the work.

An Overview of the Chapters

Vivaldi's Adagio from "Autumn": Music as Dream

In this chapter I explore this movement in Vivaldi's The Seasons circa 1720 as a musical representation of dream. I begin with Freud's typography of the dynamics of dream from The Interpretation of Dreams 1899. I then suggest how many aspects of the musical structure of this movement evoke each of the dynamics Freud was to explore nearly two centuries later. I shall show how Freud's account of the counter-intuitive nature of dream finds a musical correlate in the work at hand through a consistent combination of rigorous resolution of one tendency tone and incorrect correct resolution of the other tendency tone of each tritone in the work. This combination of correct and incorrect resolution of tendency tones preserves parallel voice-leading at the pitch level, suggesting both the flow of dream in sleep and a deeper, latent logic of voice-leading. In addition these resolutions and non-resolutins occur in both left-to-right correct motion of harmonic dissonance resolution and in several instances reversed direction--a highly unusual harmonic device in music of the standard repertoire of any period. I conclude the chapter by relating the claims of Freud, the musical-theoretical features I have discovered in the work with findings from Neuroscience.

Consonance and the Void—Bach, Fugue in C-sharp minor, WTC I, no. 4

In this chapter I discuss the relationship between consonance and dissonance in the work, focusing on the initial theme whose latent structure is the C-sharp minor triad with unresolved lower neighbor notes. For me idea that the notes of the tonic triad are consonances and the notes of the unresolved lower neighbors are dissonances makes sense in terms of the mutually-exclusive binary of consonance and dissonance at the foundation of western musical syntax since the Renaissance. However, I feel that the half-step motion with which each note of the tonic C-sharp minor triad descends, unresolving, by a half step means, points to, something else. I cannot not hear each of these descending half steps not as a gesture of incomplete coherence, as if each of those lower neighbor notes wants on some level to return to the note from which they descended. This structure of mutually exclusive consonance and dissonance owes a metaphysical debt to dialectics. For me the relationship between the C-sharp, E-natural, and G-sharp of the tonic triad and their lower, unresolved neighbors B-sharp, D-sharp, F-double sharp respectively goes beyond dialectical binaries. Each of those half step motions is a passage through the threshold between this world and a Void beyond. I shall support and expand this claim from the point of view of the Lacanian Real, which, in turn I shall relate to studies of the sublime in neuroscientific research.

Pappenheim and Schoenberg's Erwartung: Repression and Disavowal

In this chapter I begin with the paratactic monodrama Erwartung by Marie Pappenheim. The work is a series of fragmentary utterances of a woman (die Frau) who wanders through a park in Vienna. These fragments juxtapose what seem like hallucinatory images, memories, musings in a psychological collage in which it is difficult to distinguish what has happened, what is happening, from memory and hallucination respecively. We know that Pappenheim met and had a conversation with Schoenberg about her work and that Schoenberg expressed interest in setting it to music. He did so in August-September of 1909. Schoenberg's music renders the paratactic nature of Pappenheim's libretto in its fragmentary juxtaposition of musical elements from tonal and atonal musics: there are triads (most often in second inversion suggesting the instability of tonic chords with a dominant function), short fragments of motives comprised of interval cycles, what we now think of as atonal pitch-class sets (particularly trichords that belong to set class (016)), and oscillating simple intervals (often major and minor thirds). To the absence of beginning and ending in Pappenheim's work, Schoenberg adds one thing: an ending—a single measure of rising and falling interval cycles which draw a curtain over the work.

I shall then suggest that the nature of the narrator's lack of psychic integration is an espression of disavowal of the fact that she has in fact murdered her lover and cannot bear to know what she has done. For this portion of the argument I discuss Freud's distinction between repression and disavowal and suggest evidence in both libretto and music for the work as a representation of disavowal; I conclude the chapter with an exploration of the neuroscience of trauma, memory loss, and amnesia.

Barber's Adagio for Strings: Mourning and Melancholy

In this chapter I probe the question why this music is so beautiful, why it elicits in me and many others, a powerful emotional response. I seek internal, musical evidence for this reaction that goes beyond the affective power of the piece produced, for example, in the films Platoon and The Elephant Man. I begin with the well-known idea that the work at once evokes baroque counterpoint, modal harmony, and sequences that hover across the classical and popular thresholds. I shall show that the work is a series of interruptions (motions from tonic to an unresolving dominant). These interruptions are fragments—the piece is in B-flat minor, each interruption statement opens with a iv7 chord followed by the dominant. And the work ends with this unresolving dominant. But what interests me the most is the climactic highpoint of the work. I shall show that this point of the music takes the iv7 chord and moves counter-clockwise down the circle of fifths while the strings ascend to their upper register followed by a silent grand pause. In the descent that follows Barber enharmonically re-spells the harmonies (which had gotten thick with flats) back across the enharmonic divide to the sharp side before settling back on the dominant. It is the iv7 sonority after this unresolved dominant that I find so beautiful. And the reason for this is that Barber has modulated so far away from tonic B-flat minor that although we see the dominant of the interruption as F major our ears hear G-double flat major—the actual key from which B-flat minor had moved. So when that G-double flat major is followed by B-flat of the next iteration of the interruption, our ears need to realize in retrospect that in a heartbeat we cross back from the G-double flat major of pitch space to tonic B-flat.

To me (and I hope to you) this evokes the experience of trying to come to terms with something that the psyche cannot manage. And at this point I turn again to Freud whose writings on Mourning and Melancholy help me understand that the former mourning suggests the ability to represent, to transform, and to at least partially master loss, while the latter melancholy suggests being stuck in traumatic memory; I shall conclude this chapter with studies of depression and melancholy in neuroscientific research.

Left! Right! Left! Right!: American Hate Music after Charlottesville

I have theorized that German Death Metal (0i Musik) of the 1980s and 1990s appropriates the music of the other it ostensibly despises and turns it to the right. In the case of German Oi Musik that appropriation took the form of the appropriation of Communist worker songs, upbeat accents from Ska and Raggae, in addition to monophonic melodies of the blues minor scale set to heavy back beat percussion of Punk and Heavy Metal.

In this chapter I shall examine a parallel in American Hate Music, especially Hate Music composed after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. This music depends upon a similar left-to-right appropriation through setting explicitly racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic language to music evocative of American folk songs.

In this chapter I shall listen to the music to determine the extent and nature to which this appropriation of folk music takes place and what the parallel between German Oi-Musik and American Hate Music suggests.

Caretaker: Music and Nostalgia in the Soundtrack to the film Patience

In this chapter I explore the popular music of Caretaker. Caretaker calls into question the nature of popular music composition, performance, and reception. In a nutshell Caretaker works sound almost just like classic popular jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards. My phrase "just like" in the previous sentence is crucial. Since the works sound subtly distorted, slowed down, thick with quiet ambient noise, warped, they evoke the wow and flutter of tape recording imperfections of reel-to-reel and cassette technologies.

I shall suggest in this chapter that the music of Caretaker evokes the Lacanian notion of nostalgia as described by Žižek. Žižek, describes the essential structure of nostalgia as looking at oneself looking, remembering, listening. Nostalgia is a psychic mirror of mirrors in which frames of reference contribute to the memories being evoked. I find Caretaker to have created a musical nostalgia through the texture of technological interventions it uses to thicken, to mediate, to draw attention to the visceral sounds of the music. And the essence of this nostalgia is a two-fold texture of technology: first, to use sounds of noise and distortion from the early days of tape recording; second to use digital technologies available today. I shall conclude this chapter with an exploration of the implications of this nostalgic music for subjectivity in our post-Cartesian present.

Limbo (Playdead 2010): Sound and Fear, Anxiety, Shock

In this chapter I explore the use of sound in the videogame Limbo from the Danish group Playdead. The game evokes the visual ambience of black and white television, German Expressionism, and a dystopic world of a post apocalypse. The game also relies on an adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. In the game a boy awakens in a forest; his task is to find his sister. In a continuous shot we take the boy along his path using right and left arrows (right moves right; left moves left), the up arrow to jump, and the option key to grab objects. Forward progress through the game requires that we solve puzzles along the way. The puzzles are always obstacles that place the boy in great danger; he is often killed by spiders, traps, electrical shocks, and he always comes back to life as often as necessary until we figure out how to get him past a given threat.

There has been much written about the nature of film music, from theories of the sonorous envelope to the acoustic mirror in which music in film tends to be both essential to viewer identification but subordinate to image, to diegesis, in the conscious reception of the content of the film. I shall apply and adapt this body of theory to videogames emphasizing the role of sound in Limbo. In particular I shall apply the theory of suture to the game. Suture designates the structure(s) with which a game inscribes a user into a particular form of gaming subjectivity.

Cage: ASLSP: Sound, Silence, and the Number 0

In this chapter I shall explore this piece by John Cage that he composed in 1987 for organ. The title bears the acronym "As SLow aS Possible." The piece is being performed in a project at Halberstadt, Germany in a church containing an organ. The project is meant to last as long as an organ lasts—639 years. The performance began on September 5, 2001—the 89th birthday of the composer, with a 17 month silence before the first note was sounded. I shall explore the musical-theoretical nature of the work, despite the likely assumption that the notes resist the kinds of syntactic coherence latent and manifest in canonical classical music. I shall explore the nature of silence from an acoustic, phenomenological, and aesthetic point of view as it relates to sound. I shall then explore the emergence of the number zero including research into the neuroscience of how the brain conceptualizes "zero."