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Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 02:36 am Leave a comment

Winckel, Fritz. Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition. Trans. Thomas Binkley. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. Print.

Fritz Winckel’s Music, Sound and Sensation provides a scientifically rooted though easily accessible analysis of human interaction with sound.  Some of the more interesting and relevant concepts are discussed in the final chapter of the book, “The Effect of Music on the Listener.” One such concept is that music (and sound) only exists through variation—disturbances and modulations.  An example Winckel provides for this concept is the fact that “A continual monotonous hum of a machine in a factory disappears from the consciousness and is noticed only when it is turned off” (157).  This same idea can be applied to Ulysses—if the lyrics to a song appear later, they are inherently linked to the previous occurrence, yet the fact that they have been “turned off” (like the factory noise) only to resume later is also significant.  The fact that certain episodes (Sirens) were so reference-heavy made them overwhelming to pick apart, which following this theory of music as variation, means that each specific reference in Sirens is less significant on its own than a similar reference in a more musically barren episode.

Winckel also provides a differentiation between speech and singing.  He states that: “Singing is the development of utterances of speech into a cultivated sound through the extension of the vowels in time, mostly on a higher pitch level” (159).  There are, of course, more than just two states (singing and speech) present, and the further variation and extension of vowels as well as other factors advance normal speech in varying degrees towards the singing end of the spectrum.

Going back again to Bloom’s concept of “Musemathematics” it turns out that my previous understanding of musical notation, at least in terms of how notes come to sound like notes, was a bit off.  According to Winckel: “. . . the written note value never corresponds accurately to a defined vibration frequency, but rather to a ‘frequency band’ of vibrations, where the written note simply indicates the average pitch” (161).   This would explain the variation in songs as well as understandings of songs, as there exists on the scientific level distinct variations within each note, which is also compounded by acoustical variations both in the environment of the listener, and also within the listener.  This probably would not serve to explain the differing perception of the bells by Stephen and Bloom in Ithaca, but it does bring instances like it into question.

As a final note, the chapter provides an explanation for why music or sound is perceived in a unique way due to interior differences within the listener.  He states: “. . . impulses are not only sent forth through electrochemical transformation, connected with the nerve fibres, but also exist in the form of electrical fields, which go beyond the limits of the individual neurons and influence their excitability positively or negatively . . . which is further influenced by the hormone regulation of the synapses in the transmission network of nerves” (165).  Although this was a long quotation, I found it necessary to include as I lack a firm grasp of anything scientific outside of what I’ve read for my obsession; but what I gather from this is that the experience of a song or sound is absolutely unique to the listener, and in this logic Bloom’s experience in Sirens (recalling past events, etc.) makes perfect sense in that it was patently different from anyone else’s.

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Music and Song in Penelope

Monday, November 16, 2009; 01:36 am Leave a comment

Performance: 8888888

Opera: 88888

Song: 888888888888888888888888888

Music: 88888

Composer: 8

Instrument(s):

As always, the statistical breakdown is above.  In general, the frequency of occurrences in Penelope is fairly standard, although I probably missed some really minor ones, as there were many references to past performances or performers which didn’t seem particularly relevant.

I was struck by the lack of concrete references to songs in this episode.  Given that in the past most references occur within the mental space, and given that we were exclusively in the mind of a performer who is not interacting with the world around her (as Bloom would), the focus was notably not on music or song.  Obviously the circumstances of the day give Molly little reason to reflect on music, which was basically the best explanation I have for the lacking importance of music and song.

A passage which broke away from this and also held with some of my previous predictions was lines 18.874-900, where Molly references numerous songs while reflecting back on the early part of her romantic life.  This fits in with how song and memory are linked, and upholds my previous idea that the “experience” of a song affects how one views that particular song, and vice versa.

Molly’s approach to music and/or sound in general (as well as pretty much everything else) was, as expected, much less mechanical than Bloom’s.  In her mind performances take place, they’re either good or bad, and some memories are best expressed in part by remembering certain songs.  This is best summed up by her own understanding and thoughts of Bloom, on which she states: “he never can explain a thing simply the way a body can understand” (18.566-67).  This essentially pits the two as intellectual opposites, and fits in with Bloom’s own assessment of the situation.

Although not directly related to my obsession, Molly’s views on poetry (which could potentially be relevant to music) with regards to sparking a relationship with Stephen are somewhat rational, yet appear as only another “skeleton” form of art similar to printed music or plays: “Ill read and study all I can find or learn a bit off by heart if I knew who he likes so he wont thing me stupid” (18.1361-62).  The removal of emotional attachment and the economic benefit she would theoretically receive from this misrepresentation (or false presentation) is twisted in an odd way—she knows she would eventually hurt Stephen, yet really doesn’t seem to care.

Brief Update, Eumaeus and Ithaca

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 02:00 am Leave a comment

I ultimately don’t have all that much to add since Monday’s class, although I would like to include some of the points that I mentioned in class, most of which were not part of Monday’s post.

First of all, the feminization of Bloom in the “Little Larry Hughes” song given that he is equated to the “jew’s daughter” in the song as he invites Stephen to stay at his house soon after the conclusion of the song.  Although this is not a new characterization of Bloom (in fact it’s probably one of the most consistent things in the book), it is, as far as I can remember, the only time that song is used to establish that point.

The disconnection between the sheet music and the version which Stephen sings is also notable in the sense that Joyce himself could not have “written” that portion.  This, however, does not explain why the lyrics between the two don’t match up, and my best guess is still the abundant variations of the song which exist, given that the song was originally passed down through the folk tradition.

As I’m guessing is the case with almost everyone’s obsession, it simply is not possible to make definitive statements with the “if a, then b” structure, but I guess I’ll close this post with some very general conclusions on music and song thus far.

-The nationality of the song (or composer) is usually tied into the sentiment of the scene in which it appears.

-Thomas Moore’s songs figure heavily in the work, and usually function differently than most songs.

-The performance of music is usually tied to contemplation, at least for Bloom (in both Sirens and Ithaca).

-The demarcation between music and sound is often fuzzy, and sound is often thought of similarly to light in a mathematic sense.

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Music and Song In Eumaeus and Ithaca

Monday, November 9, 2009; 03:48 am 1 comment

Performance: 7777

Opera: 666666666

Song: 66666666666666666666677777

Music: 77777

Composer: 666666666677

Instrument(s): 7

Again, above is the statistical breakdown for Eumaeus and Ithaca.  Ithaca was particularly lacking in music and song, perhaps due in part to the mechanical, scientific tone of the episode.

Of course, the notable break to this is the second appearance of musical notation on pages 566-67 of the song “Jew’s Daughter” (the first appearance of notation occurs at 9.500, page 162).  Ultimately, this is the most complete vision we get of music, as it is as close to performance itself—both in the sense that Stephen is performing it, and in the sense that the music is a blueprint for the song to be recreated and performed.

In Ithaca, nearly a quarter of the mentions of song and music occur when Bloom reenters his house and sees Molly’s piano and sheet music (17.1302-10).  Although I’ve previously established the domestic space as one where distinctively Irish music exists, the picture presented in this scene runs in sharp contrast.  First of all, the Cadby (the piano), was, according to the Gifford, manufactured in England.  The performer mentioned, Madam Antoinette Sterling, was an American, and the musical term, ritirando, was Italian (Gifford 587).  According to my previous ideas on this topic, Bloom’s house should have been “more Irish,” but then again, the household, and the marriage as a whole is at that moment more or less foreign to Bloom, who even considers not going back into his house after parting ways with Stephen.

At 16.362-63, while in the cabman’s shelter, Bloom and Stephen briefly touch on an interesting discussion related to sound and identity: “Sounds are impostures, Stephen said after a pause of some little time, like names.”  Again, going back to the “musemathematics” concept, Stephen views songs as imitations, which is particularly interesting that his later performance receives the accompanying notation.

For a performance of the Rover (16.653) the partial lyrics for which are on pages 543-44 of the Gifford, here’s the link to a version by the Dubliners (named after the book) and the Pogues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au30c9ZMIPg Oddly enough, I’d seen this video before I started the book, and can remember hearing this song when I was younger.

Bloom continues to view (or at least consider) everything through an economic lens.  At the end of Eumaeus he considers basically taking on Boylan’s role as promoter of concerts where Stephen would perform.  He states: “. . . it often turned in uncommonly handy to be handed a cheque at a muchneeded moment when every little helped” (16.1845-47).  While part of his goal is to break up the monotony of the Dublin music scene, his main goal seems to be the exploitation of talent for a financial gain, hence the fact that he has to continually reassure Stephen that: “. . . he would have heaps of time to practise literature in his spare moments . . .” (16.1860-61).  This of course implies that writing is somehow a more refined art, and perhaps what Stephen, or artists in general, should pursue.  However, as this is just one of the many cases during the two episodes in which Bloom’s mind entertains some odd fantasy, it’s hard to say anything definitive about his statements.

I also stumbled across this website if anyone’s curious: http://www.james-joyce-music.com/ulysses.html and while it doesn’t seem particularly scholarly, it does have clips of some of the more frequently mentioned songs in Ulysses.

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Music and Song in Circe Part II

Tuesday, November 3, 2009; 11:39 pm Leave a comment

Performance: 11111

Opera: 11111111111

Song: 11111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

Music: 11111

Composer: 11111

Instrument(s): 1 (plus numerous minor references)

As per usual, and mostly just out of habit, my counting system is above. Musemathematics at its finest. Nearly all of the songs referenced in Circe follow the general structure of the episode in that they draw on previous occurrences and thoughts experienced by either Bloom or Stephen.

Notably, the frequency of music or song references was not quite as lacking as I had originally stated on Monday. A quick glance at my post for episodes 10-12 revealed more or less the same amount of occurrences (over the course of roughly 100 pages) as Circe, which although it is 50 or so pages longer, was not a considerable difference.

Oddly enough, in this confusing and lengthy episode, the sentiments expressed in the music seem to accurately echo the themes or experiences of the characters, perhaps to a higher degree than in earlier episodes. A conversation between Virag and Bloom about choosing women, for instance, references John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (How happy could you be with either, 15.2351), reflects both Bloom’s lacking sexuality and his desire for such acts (Gifford 493).

A little bit of research on the pianola (first mentioned at 15.1991) yielded some interesting results. According the Oxford English Dictionary, it was an extremely recent device: “The prototype of the piano-playing device which came to be known as the pianola was constructed in Detroit in 1895 by Edwin Scott Votey (1856-1931).” (http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50178470?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=pianola&first=1&max_to_show=10) Why then, would it show up in the red light district of Dublin only nine years later? That aside, the Pianola raises some interesting questions with regard to some of my earlier posts. The concept of detachment from the authentic or complete performance of something and what can be captured on a page (a play, sheet music, etc.) is not relevant here; the Pianola is both script and performance (as is the gramophone for that matter).

Another interesting feature of the episode is the interior/exterior concepts, which are strikingly similar to the beach/temperance meeting of Nausicaa. The gramophone playing “The Holy City” outside stands in stark contrast to the occurrences within the building, yet both are at hand in the presentation of the scene.

15.2664-67: As the Gifford points out, Joyce cites this verse as the one most quoted by his father (199). This further cements the idea of the household as a place of song, and perhaps as the place of strictly Irish song, as several secondary sources I’ve read have indicated. The fact that no such text has been found could imply a few different things: the obscure nature of household songs or perhaps that Joyce’s father actually wrote a few songs himself. Whatever the case may be, this passage certainly stood out.

15.400ish: The re-appearance of “My Girl’s A Yorkshire Girl” represented roughly ten of the fifty or so song references in Circe. The numerous lovers in the song obviously draw a parallel between Bloom and, well, everyone else. The “girl” is of course married (Molly), though neither of her two other lovers seem to be aware of this until they attempt to go to her cottage (similar of course to Boylan).

I mentioned in my last post that I would have more on the abundance of music and noise on page 422. However, I don’t really know what to make of it other than framing it as some kind of coincidence or maybe as a climax of the noise and and sound of the city in general.

As a quick note, the concept of empty fifths is described here: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_fifth) under the heading “Use in harmony.” It’s a fairly basic description and part of it is not applicable, but I figured I’d include it in case anyone was curious. Somehow I also managed to overlook Blamires’ comments on this concept, which are on pages 168-169.

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Music and Song in Circe Part I

Monday, November 2, 2009; 05:31 pm Leave a comment

Apologies for the late post, I read the assignment too quickly the first time.

The beginning of Circe marked some of the most barren pages for music and song, perhaps due to the combination of the new form (much less internal) and the breakdown of the family unit which Stephen and Lynch witness.  It is puzzling then, why the conversation between Bloom and Rudolph is also as devoid of references, but perhaps this serves to drive home the broken domestic unit of the Bloom family.

Again, the lack of music and song must be a result of the dramatic form, and thus only really bears significance when music itself is the topic of discussion.  A notable occurrence of this is Stephen and Zoe’s conversation at roughly 15.2070-2090 (pages 410-411) where two important concepts are presented: the notion of music without identity in the “series of empty fifths” which Stephen plays on the piano (lacking the third, the progression lacks minor/major identity), and the importance of the authenticity of authorship and in music—a point which Stephen asserts really does not matter, as long as the work has some larger significance.  Closely related to this is Philip Drunk’s concept of musical transposition (the same song played in a different octave) as a “Reduplication of personality” (15.2523).  As an early speculation, maybe this relates somehow to concepts of nationalism and Bloom’s concept of Irishness or his lack of nation.

Later on, for the first non-Sirens time, an abundance of music and performance overwhelms the scene on page 422.  More on this later.

Ways of Listening

Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 03:04 am Leave a comment

Clarke, Eric. Ways of Listening: An Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Eric Clarke’s Ways of Listening: An Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning represents the first positive step towards my better understanding music and song in Ulysses as a function of the senses.  Since Bloom’s presentation of the illuminating concept of “Musemathemetics” in episode 11 (Sirens), I’ve been working with that idea, trying to define and draw the line between music as merely vibration (wavelengths, physics, etc.), and music as telling of nationality, identity, and emotion.

While some considerably long parts of the book, including those dealing with specific songs (when not illustrating a specific principal) such as Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” and Beethoven’s “String Quartet in A Minor,” much of the book was useful.

Clarke defines his ecological approach to the subject in terms which are extremely relevant to the references of music in Ulysses, where the reader is obviously not hearing the music first-hand: “Ecology is the study of organisms in relation to their environment, and the approach to perception presented in this book is characterized as ecological because it takes as its central principle the relationship between a perceiver and its environment” (5).  As the function of song in the text has thus far almost exclusively been an internal (and thus mental) experience, it makes sense that an ecological approach would be an effective lens with which to view the text.

Another key concept was the relationship between the senses and environment, in which it is described that: “Actions lead to, enhance, and direct perception, and are in turn the result of, and response to, perception.  Resonance is not passive: it is a perceiving organism’s active, exploratory engagement with its environment” (19).  This concept has a clear relationship with sense and Bloom in two related ways.  First of all, his reaction to characters such as the blind stripling and the bat, and secondly in his general exploratory thought process.

As a last idea, language also figures into the nature of perception and understanding, where in the face of seemingly large differences, there exists a universality: “Speech also demonstrates another very general characteristic of perception: the environment is usually perceived as comparatively stable despite widespread and continual physical variations.  A native speaker/listener perceives the speech of others as being identifiable and comprehensible despite dramatic differences in the physical signals (vocal range, speed, accent, loudness, etc)” (34).  Although this may be true in practice, the end of Oxen in the Sun (albeit different than audible speech) certainly challenges this notion.

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