Do I fear forgetting?

I envisaged blogging to be a rather impersonal venture: I would not mention anything other than my creative pursuits and evade commentary on me and my personal experiences. Now my PhD is coming to a close and I complete the necessary amendments before the final submission I am struck by how important a concept of memory is for me. All of my portfolio of works focuses on a recollection of the past, albeit a musical past, and it does make me think that in my non-musical life (if such a life exists!) that am I equally obsessed with a sense of nostalgia. I wonder where this started, particularly my pre-emptive nostalgia. Much of the literature I have read – that which did not directly form part of my writing – also concerned itself with memory, be it Borges or Julian Barnes ‘A Sense of an Ending’. It is the perception of the past that fascinates me; a perception that alters. Reading Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’ was particularly influential more recently with regards to the difference between memories and photography. Films such as Memento and Rashomon fascinate me with their manipulation of memory.

‘…in music, that has communication as its goal, the structure of the music must take into consideration the structure of memory – even if we want to work against that structure.”

Bob Synder, Music and Memory (2001)

What interests me less in the psychology of memory. Bob Synder in his 2001 book skilfully summarises the process of the raw data gathered from an auditory experience, which is then gathered into larger units (what he calls ‘perceptual binding’) that he calls ‘auditory events’ that are then subject to comparison with other auditory events. A process of comparison with the prior memories takes place whereby these newly acquired auditory events are connected with past experiences. The cognitive psychology of the memory process is not relevant to the portfolio but it is the process of comparison with past events within a work and outside of a work that forms a structural concern in much of my works in the portfolio. Whether or not a listener experiences the sense of nostalgia I do when I hear references to earlier works is less important for me; perhaps it should be a greater concern if I am to connect to the listener and allow them to experience the nostalgia I feel is important in my writing.

“We have tended to make two assumptions: that the structures we see are the ones we experience, and that the structures we experience can be seen in the notation. For the most part, these assumptions are serviceable… There are structures in notated or sounded music … that are not experienced by the listeners, and there are structures in experience … that do not exist in the notated or sounded music.” (99)

David Brian Huro, Sweet anticipation: music and the psychology of expectation

I wonder if I make too much assumption of the listener. Huro is right in saying that the structures we see are not necessarily experienced and this must be even more so for the composer: I might spent a great deal of time crafting a structure, developing a musical figure yet whether a listener perceives these is questionable. Does it matter? If I consider what Synder says about how much is retained during listening I might feel even more disparaging about whether such craft in my writing is worth it but then again I think it is. I do have to acknowledge that the experience of the listener cannot be controlled by me. I create the instructions that performers use to create a performance; alongside the venue and various other factors beyond my control. It was interesting to see that several concerts I saw in 2011 had lights dimmed at the end of performance – as if the curator knew the audience might not appreciate when the ending of a work would be so they needed to give them a clue. I found this odd; is the music not convincing enough at the end that the listener could perceive its finality or did the curator what to put parentheses around the experience of the performance? Connecting with the listeners’ experience is something I aim to focus on in 2012.

All very contrasting; my interest in memory and the perception of musical structures. Somehow I feel there is a connection here yet I am yet to articulate it.


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