Sound and Documentary in Cardiff and Miller's Pandemonium

Narrative and Noise, 19th Century

For all its suggestions of narrative, Pandemonium relied heavily on an ostensibly abstract form of instrumental music. Classical Western art music traditionally has worked to exclude any sound that would reference the world at large. Allusive sound is barred in music’s very structure, which divides musical tone (sounds with periodic vibrations such as tuned instruments and vocal chords) from noise (ambient or concrete sounds with nonperiodic vibrations). [102] As media arts scholar Douglas Kahn explains in his 1999 book Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts, Western art music has, “long-standing habits of imagining that sounds transcend or escape meaning or that sounds elude sociality despite the fact they are made, heard, imagined, and thought by humans.” [103] Kahn refers to conventions that hold ‘absolute music’ to be fundamentally abstract and therefore require composers to banish narrative and purge their work of imitative sounds. Modern music issued a series of challenges to this taboo, however, and Pandemonium compressed a host of these referential strategies into its sixteen minutes. 
In the 1830s, European programme music set out deliberately to evoke extra-musical narratives. [104] The genre takes its name from written program notes that often parsed musical movements into narrative episodes for the listener. Though programme music actually predates the nineteenth century and intersects with ongoing practices of opera, ballet, and film scoring, it was codified and most richly exploited in the Romantic period contemporaneous with Eastern State Penitentiary’s early history. [105] Programme music relies on synesthetic correspondences between music and visual arts or lyric poetry to evoke colorful associations in the listener’s mind. Hector Berlioz’s (1803–1869) psychedelic Symphonie fantastique (1830), for example, represented with ninety instruments the experiences of a love-stricken artist as he poisoned himself with opium. Modest Mussorgsky's (1839–1881) Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) simulated with piano an attentive promenade through the galleries. 
Approaching the twentieth century, programme music sharpened into singular character studies or impressions of phenomena as in Richard Strauss’s (1864–1949) tone poem Don Quixote (1897) and Claude Debussy’s (1862–1918) ‘Nocturnes.’ [106] Debussy’s focused sonic images, the sea in La Mer (1903–1905) for example, pushed the idea of musical tone as coloristic timbre to such an extreme that it exceeded programme music’s representational calling and ushered in a modern mode of expressive abstraction. Debussy played with timbre and intensely delayed crescendos to “free music from formal convention.” [107] In Jeux (1912), his last orchestral work, Debussy’s experiments took “cinematographic form . . . [through] constant motivic renewal in which undulating fragments gradually evolve into a scalar theme which is itself broken off at its violent climax.” [108] Pandemonium seems to reference this formal shift from Romantic to modern music by fluctuating between narrative episodes and phenomenally textured passages and culminating in its own delayed climax. 

This page has paths:

This page references: