Paraphrase

[From an article written Frankfurt July 1976 about Monkey Music 2: Paraphrase published in Feedback Papers 14, 1976]

The paraphrase is usually associated with the virtuoso piano music of the 19th Century. Popularly, its interest lies in its extravagance, not unlike the “spectacle of excess” Roland Barthes finds in all-in wrestling. But what for me is fascinating about paraphrase, and what distinguishes it from transcription and variation, is the dualistic principle on which it operates.

Whereas the transcriber subsumes his work as far as possible in that which he is transcribing, the paraphrast, if he exploits his art to the full, deliberately distances his own work from the original. The variation is a new work which allows comparison with the original in retrospect (successive comparison), while the transcription ideally begs no comparison (it is, so to speak, the original in translation). The paraphrase, on the other hand, involves both transcription and variation, but permits the simultaneous as well as the successive comparison of the original (which is usually transcribed) with an interpretation or elaboration of the original. A foreground and a background are set up, and the art of paraphrase lies in the exploration of the lines of perspective in this virtual space. The ‘perspective’ in paraphrased music is, however, a perspective in time. The original music takes on the quality of memory: it becomes a remembered event from a virtual past, (hence the accurate title of some of Liszt’s paraphrases: “Reminiscences”) and we find ourselves in a virtual present. But there is a further quality, which makes this analogy of perspective only partially helpful:

In two-dimensional perspective the relationship of the observer to the virtual space that confronts him remains fixed – the picture plane, which one could say corresponds with the ‘I’ of the viewer, cannot change. If we pursue our analogy we find that in the paraphrase we are able to move along the lines of perspective, that is, we may vary the distance between ourselves and the images placed in this virtual space – or rather, the reverse: we remain at the centre of things – our ‘picture plane’ is fixed – and it is the images that come and go, may be near or far off.

What I wish to imply by this description is that paraphrase, like electronic music, is related to film. The creation of a virtual present, the moving of images in relation to the observer’s ‘mind’s I’ are qualities shared by paraphrase, electronic music and film alike.

These qualities of illusion, Schein, virtuality, determine what Suzanne Langer calls the ‘poetic mode’ of the art. Electronic music and paraphrase are thus hybrid forms in that they share in the poetic modes of both music (described as virtual Time) and of film. The poetic mode of film Ms. Langer describes as the ‘dream mode’.

It is worth noting that Traeumerei, which played such a prominent role in Romantic piano music, has reappeared in electronic music (or electronically inspired music), which is after all, our equivalent of virtuoso soloist music. This is particularly evident in the ‘quotation’ pieces or paraphrases (often described by their creators as ‘NOT collage’ pieces) of the electronic music and later instrumental music of the sixties.

…Which is logical, because by establishing this dualistic relationship – a picture plane and a perspective – a Now and a Then – or, if I may push my thesis to its limits, an I and a Them – we create a perfect vehicle for nostalgia, an Olympic vision, and perhaps unwittingly for absurdity and bathos. And the same is true in reverse: without establishing an ‘I’ (or ‘We’ if you prefer), it would be impossible to present a coherent picture of “World music”, for example.

This may sound like little more than re-posing the old problem of subject and object, but it is my contention that whereas the ‘I’ is tacitly assumed in most musical forms, in paraphrase and in tape music it is often (if not generally) established within and formally projected into the music by use of several techniques (of which I may have noticed only a few).

I have already proposed that the images in film and tape music, by virtue of their movement, not only articulate a virtual space, but establish a psychological centre (that of the observer) in relation to which they move. This, of course, is realisable in film and tape by the moving camera and moving microphone (or equivalent techniques). It can only be suggested in piano music, some of the techniques of which are as follows; (I will give a few examples drawn principally from Liszt’s piano music, but which apply equally to Stockhausen’s electronic music):

Firstly, by overlaying the original music with a complementary music. In Liszt’s case this is usually in the form of scales, arpeggios or figurations, often suggesting flight.

With Stockhausen this principle is often combined with the overlaying of several “original musics”, although the classic example of this must be Kagel’s “Ludwig van”, where the simple cutting and overlaying of fragments of Beethoven is sufficient to distance the listener from the music.

Secondly, by the insertion of cadenza-like passages, that are often extended and of a dream-like quality, again suggesting flight.

By the elaboration of the original music – more like modulation than variation – with an attendant increase of virtuosity. [An interesting one this, involving a shift from Then to Now].

By the acceleration of the original music – both literally and figuratively [increasing virtuosity can suggest acceleration], often accompanied by pitch transposition (the faster, the higher).

There are other techniques, of course: the use of extreme registers in itself can suggest distance for example; but it is more interesting to note them as they occur.

All the observations above are intended simply to suggest a re-assessment of a still much-maligned form. It remains only to say that Monkey Music: Paraphrase is not a true paraphrase in that it lacks an original – it is rather a piece about paraphrase. Once the convention has been established it should be unnecessary to return to first principles.

FRANKFURT JULY 1976