In his recent book A phenomenology of Musical Absorption, Simon Høffding provides us with an extensive qualitative analysis of his interviews with members of the Danish string quartet. Høffding analyses a rich tapestry of musical absorption, showing us the empirical variety of performative experience first-person research is bound to uncover. His thorough investigations of musical expertise dispel with the myth of the thoughtless genius, propagated by common (and sometimes even academic) opinions on the subject.
His analysis, however, is geared more towards describing an already constituted absorbed experience than to explicating its constitution; in other words: he tells us what it means to be a musical expert capable of being absorbed, but falls short from proving us with a well developed theory of becoming one. Apart from brief comments, that successful absorption requires a fair amount of experience, he largely leaves the question of the genesis of absorbed expertise unanswered.See Simon Høffding, A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption, Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018, p. 215. Out of this lack, my central research question arises: What is involved in the process of becoming an absorbed expert? Is it a simple accumulation of technical and musical experiences, or does it require a more complex structural shift of selfhood? While Høffding does not tackle this question directly, he seems to subscribe to the first option, in which years of practice are a necessary condition for musical absorption.See Høffding, Absorption, p. 215. In contrast, my analysis will try to show that a special relationship to the techniques used for performance enables one to be absorbed. While years or even decades of practice can indeed be of help along one’s journey into the absorbed state of mind, they are not a necessary precondition for absorption to take hold of one’s music-making.
In order to develop my thesis, we have to initiate a discussion about the necessary requirements for the constitution of musical absorption. Following the analysis done by Høffding, we are taking the embodied paradigm as our starting point. However, as has been pointed out by leading researchers in the field of cognitive science, contemporary discussions often lack conceptual flexibility needed to grapple with questions about the complex constitution of embodied experience.See Sebastjan Vörös, “Minding the Body. From Corporeal Mind to Minded Corporeality”, in: Phainomena – Journal of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics (2021), vol. 30, p. 5-35. Accordingly, we are basing our discussion on the very roots of embodied tradition, found in the works of Edmundt HusserlGerman philosopher and mathematician – father of phenomenology. He lived from 1859 until 1938 and raught at universities in Halle, Göttingen and Freiburg. See also Christian Beyer, »Edmundt … Continue reading, Martin HeideggerHusserl’s student famous for his existential critique of his teachers work, especially analysing the notion of equipmentality. He lived from 1889 until 1976 and taught at universities in Marburg … Continue reading and, especially, Maurice Merleau-PontyFrench phenomenologist famous for introducing scientific experiments and Gestalt psychology into phenomenological discourse. He lectured in philosophy, developmental psychology and anthropology at … Continue reading. For our case study we are going to take the genesis of Gregorian chant in the cantillation of psalms as its musical simplicity make it an ideal starting point. Of course we can only hope to create a reasonable hypothesis, which will have to gain its empirical confirmation in much the same way as the phenomenological discussion on selfhood gained mainstream traction by providing theoretical foundations for new approaches in contemporary psychiatry, psychology and cognitive science.For an example of this the reader should refer to Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen’s »Mysticism and schizophrenia: A phenomenological exploration of the structure of consciousness in the … Continue reading This paper is going to start with a brief exposition of the concept of musical absorption as set out in Høffding’s book. In the second chapter it will present a brief historical overview of the role of holy scripture in medieval monastic life and present the practice of scriptural meditation, which we will analyse in the third section with the help of the phenomenological tradition. Fourth section is going to present a highly personalised account of the Gregorian chant from the book by Dom D. Saulnier with a special focus on the role of three stylistic aspects of cantillation of psalms, which will be explicated in the fifth chapter as providing a necessary technique for the sublimation of the written text into a musical phrase. My discussion of the cantillation of psalms should not be considered from a musicological or historical standpoint, as this will miss the point I am trying to make. In contrast to a careful musical analysis present in musicological cannon, I will not focus on thorough categorisation and description of the myriad different musically important parts out of which the long tradition of Gregorian chant is constructed. My aim will be to expand on Saulnier’s personal conviction that focuses on the musicologically naive approach by which many monastic orders try to integrate the Gregorian chant into their everyday “in a quiet, hidden way, and without the least musicological pretension.”See Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant: a guide, McMinnville: Church Music Assotiation of America, 2010, p. 16. Only such a reading will enable us to use our own first-person case study, with which to enrich the phenomenological discussion of musical absorption.
After thoroughly examining the phenomena of speaking and singing, I will turn my attention to the phenomenology of listening. By building on the concept of intentionality I will outline four types of listening, with regard to the concreteness of their noematic object. The seventh chapter should be considered as a synthesis of the paper, as it will be advocating that the transition between different types of hearing introduces a rift between me as a singer and me as a listener, which breaks with the everyday interaction with sound, in which I fail to listen to myself ‘from the outside’, and attracts our attention as the vortex of musical flow draws us into itself. This will be achieved by introducing the concept of the minimal selfSee Dan Zahavi, Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. which has its roots in theoretical discussions of phenomenological psychiatry, but has recently been adopted in the explanations of mystical absorption.See Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism«, p. 84. This connection to mystic experience will lead us back to scriptural meditation, which will reveal itself as the quasi-historical root of musical absorption.
My thesis will conclude with a critique of Høffding’s understanding of musical expertise, necessary for a genuine absorbed state of performance. Contrary to his conviction that young children are not able to be genuinely absorbedSee Høffding, Absorption, p. 215., we will insist that they just might manage it – not by a simple accumulation of expert know-how, but rather thought a structural shift in the interaction with musical material. This structural shift will in turn provide a more detailed account of the constitution of intense musical absorption, in line with the analysis done by Høffding. In particular, it will explain what it means to listen to oneself playing a tense passage, without becoming tense at the same time, or to listen to oneself playing in a tragic way, without sheading a tear. In short: we will try to explain what would ‘stepping out of oneself’ mean, if explicated in phenomenological terms and using well developed concepts of enactive cognitive science.
What is musical absorption?
Phenomenology of Musical Absorption
Musical absorption refers to a specific set of experiences during musical performance. It is typically characterized by some kind of transformation of the normal experience of selfhood, often involving an intrusion of musical material into our innermost being. Høffding provides us with the following quote from a Danish bassoonist Peter Bastian, in which Bastian succinctly summarizes the experience of alien intrusion in which we become merely passive followers of music itself:
“The experience that the music plays itself is well-known to many musicians […] Do you know those Golden Moments when it suddenly takes off? You are standing there looking at the carrots [fingers] sprinting up and down the fingerboard. Dammit, I can’t play like that, but that is what’s happening. Who is playing, can you tell me that?”Høffding, Absorption, p. 2.
The main point of Høffding’s books rests on the discussion of the abnormal experience of the self, the body and their relation to the performance of music.See Høffding, Absorption, p. 248. We will turn our attention especially to two types of intense musical absorption, which he calls absorbed non-being-there and ex-static absorption.
Absorbed non-being-there is a state of absorption in which a type of amnesia occurs: after performing the performer seems to lack any clear memory about what has just happened.See Høffding, Absorption, p. 79. Høffding provides us with the following excerpt from his interview with the violinist of the Danish string quartet Frederik Øland:
“The deeper you are in, the less you observe the world around you…and I had this especially powerful experience…where I completely disappeared. I remember that it was an incredibly pleasant feeling in the body. And it was incredibly strange to come back and at that point I spent a few seconds to realize where I had been. I had been completely gone and with no possibility of observing…It was this intense euphoric joy.
Ok, but if you are certain of having played, you cannot have been completely gone, so you must have known that you were playing, or…?
Weeell…in this case I cannot completely answer you. You can say that it was easy for me to figure out that I had played at the time I was finished.
But how can it be that it was easy for you to figure out?
Well because there was still, you can hear a bit of resonance in the room and you kind of feel ‘Wow, now I have been playing’.”Høffding, Absorption, p. 81.
As seen in the conversation quoted, the extreme absorbed non-being-there is similar to simple mind-wandering during performance, when the reality of performing simply passes one by. However, there is an important difference: the experience “is entirely vacuous or without object: ‘I had been completely gone and with no possibility of observing’. This is a stronger claim than that one’s mind had merely been wandering or has simply had small snippets of fleeting intentional awareness. It is rather a categorical claim to a specific absence.”Høffding, Absorption, p. 81. While simple mind-wandering is still a wandering about something – perhaps about an upcoming meeting or about the food one is going to eat after the concert -, absorbed non-being-there seems to be characterized by a complete lack of this aboutness. (For a detailed discussion of the notion of intentionality refer to section 1.2.)
In contrast to absorbed not-being-there, ex-static absorption is characterized by an intense awareness, albeit of a different kind. Here a quote from one of the interviews will once again suffice:
“You are both less conscious and a lot more conscious I think. Because I still think that if you’re in the zone [i.e. absorbed], then I know how I’m sitting on the chair, I know if my knees are locked, I know if I am flexing my thigh muscle, I know if my shoulders are lifted, I know if my eyes are strained, I know who is sitting on the first row, I know more or less what they are doing, but it is somewhat more, like disinterested, neutrally registering, I am not like inside, I am not kind of a part of the set-up, I am just looking at it, while I’m in the zone. But if I’m not in the zone, I become a co-player, I become a part of the whole thing. And cannot look at it like a bird over the waters. I become conscious of things because I am not part of them to the same extent…It is not a primitive control. It is a kind of very deep control. Ur-control. You really feel like a commander deploying the troops and control it in a way and it gives a kick that you are just a kind of pure superiority and pure control.”Høffding, Absorption, p. 84.
There is a deep and seemingly unintelligible dynamic at play; it seems that the experience is at once more aware of everything and less aware of it in the normal, everyday way. While normal awareness seems to involve an inability to ‘look at it like a bird over the waters’ and remains locked in the activity at hand (‘I become the part of the whole thing’), the ex-static absorption invites what its latin root engenders – the experience of stepping out from the activity and at the same time looking at oneself performing it from above. (It should nevertheless be noted, that this ‘stepping out’ does not entail a break in the performance.)
Høffding pushes further on and concludes that “ex-static absorption and absorbed not-being-there inherently have the same experiential base, but given through two different perspectives.”Høffding, Absorption, p. 85. His evidence comes from a change that took place in the conceptualisation of Asbjørn Nørgaard’s understanding of intense absorption. In his first interview, Asbjørn – the violinst of Danish String Quartet – used to speak about a “mindless ragdoll wobbling in sound”Høffding, Absorption, p. 85., which evokes a passive experience, in which the music takes over performers’s normal experience. This is quite in line with absorbed not-being-there, as it explains why normal attention disappears and amnesia happens – the memories I made were not mine to keep. However, in a span of a year Asbjørn began speaking about a “commander deploying the troops”, which appears to signify an extremely active way of approaching music, in complete opposition to the first conceptualisation. In spite of the change in conceptual understanding the experience referenced by both metaphors did not change.See Høffding, Absorption, p. 86.
Throughout his book, Høffding argues for an intricate understanding of musical absorption, which includes both passive undergoing of different factors in musical performance (like emotions or motor-control) and active attention to them. Moreover, this opposition is characterized by an intertwining of both aspects, as passive aspects can become objects of active attention. The relational aspect of his theory affords it a double character of accounting for a complete passive undergoing of musical flow, while at the same time explaining active attention which attends the passive process from above, i.e. ex-statically. However, for a clearer understanding of what notions of passivity and activity really mean in this context, we need to examine Høffding’s theoretical starting point – the phenomenological theory of constitution of experience developed by the german philosopher Edmund Husserl.
The question of genetic constitution
Husserl was a trained mathematician, who crossed over to philosophy because of his interest for psychology and philosophy of mathematics. A major issue he tackles is to clarify the experience of understanding mathematical concepts.See Mirja Hartimo. “The development of mathematics and the birth of phenomenology”, In: Phenomenology and mathematics. Ed. Mirja Hartimo (Heidelberg: Springer 2010), p. 107-122. His philosophy which developed out of his early work is known as phenomenology and has been a critical bedrock upon which most of the continental tradition is based – be it in an affirming or critical way. It essentially tries to formulate what it means to experience anything at all and provides structural conditions for any experience whatsoever.See Edmund Husserl. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag GmbH 2009, p. 142. In this respect, Høffding’s work is a marvellous achievement of first-person investigation of musical absorption, providing us with a thorough description of the experience of expert chamber musicians, while at the same time applying the phenomenological theory only as a tool for elucidating what has already been empirically presented. To fully understand what this means, we will introduce a process Husserl called constitution and since his discussions are often long and not very well summarized, we will resort to manly using secondary sources with the hope of remaining brief. There are two different kinds of constitution: static and genetic.
Static constitution is nothing more than a “putting things in place together”See David Woodruff Smith, Husserl, Oxon: Routledge, 2007, p. 301.. The things it puts together are parts of the structure of intentionality, which is a fundamental concept of phenomenology at large.See David Woodruff Smith, Husserl, p. 301. (We have already seen its use in Hoffding’s presentation of absorber non-being-there, where he speaks about “intentional awareness”Høffding, Absorption, p. 81..) Intentionality denotes a unique property of mental states – they are always about something. When I think, I think about an object, about a thought or about a person; a rock or a river, on the contrary, can hardly be said to be about something. Hence we might think of intentionality as a distractedness of a mental act towards that, which it is about. This immediately provides us with two sides of the structure of human experience: on the one side there is the object, or noema, that toward which intentionality is directed; on the other side, there is the intentional act, or noiesis, which can be said to include all the mental states, which posses the intentional character of being about something. If I am looking at a tree, the act of looking is considered to be an act, a noiesis, while the tree I am looking at is considered to be its object, the noema.
However, the simple relationship between the act and its noema does not fully capture the constitution of an object. It lacks the space of possibility enveloping the actually acted noiesis and the actually intended noema. When I look at a tree, I am not simply locked into the intentional structure formed by the act of looking and its object of a tree. Quite to the contrary, every constituted phenomenon involves the possibility of changing either the act or the object of its constitution. After listening to a bird as an ornithologist trying to research the developmental dynamics of learning a bird song (intending the bird singing as scientific specimen), I might transform my noiesis into an artistic appreciation of the beauty of the weightless swirl of its phrases. On the other hand, I could remain within the scientific noiesis, changing the object intended; I could turn my attention to a different species of bird or compare what I have learned with the learning process of wolf or monkey calls. The space of possibility which affords a specific actual constituted intentional structure with vectors of transformation is called the horizon.See David Woodruff Smith, Husserl, p. 300. Much like the literal horizon, it enables the phenomenological researcher to venture to nearby, yet directly inaccessible experiential destinations. The concept of horizon presents us with a difficulty: what makes some transformations easier to achieve than others? Why does it normally seem, that an artist is more adept at attending to a phenomenon in an aesthetic way, while a scientist is prone to analyse it more thoroughly with quantitative methods? It seems that, we have to factor in diverse developmental paths that the artist and the scientist took to arrive to the situation in which we are juxtaposing them. What we have to analyse is the genetic aspect of object constitution.
In his later writings Husserl realized, that when one experiences an object, the object is not immediately given to oneself as a pure experiential object. This is so, because judgements we perform on and attitudes we take towards things tend to stick. Sokolowski summarizes the process made in respect to formal judgements:
“If, in an original judgment and on the basis of encounter, I judge that S is p, from then on S will appear to me as carrying the sense p. […] Sp can then become the subject of a further predication, Sp is q, in which the new predicate is a development or determination of the first one. The predicate q depends on the predicate p. If P had not been predicated earlier, q could not have been predicated now. The process can be continued indefinitely, and the result is an object with a multiple layer of senses, Spqrt …, each of which presupposes those which have gone before.”See Robert Sokolowski, The Formation of Husserl’s Concept of Constitution, Dordrecht: Springer, 1970, p. 170.
Thus, listening to a bird song with two different attitudes does not directly touch the underlying experiential nexus; quite the contrary: the act of listening depends on a myriad of previous attitudes and judgments done during one’s education. The artist listening to a birdsong no doubt intends it from an ability to hear it as Vivaldi did it at the beginning of the 18th century; passing through many other instantiations, he concludes with Stravinsky’s or Messiaen’s style. These different ways or representing birdsongs enable an artist to draw subtle similarities and distinctions between them and thus hear the musical quality of a particular birdsong in a more detailed way. The scientist, on the other hand, does not analyse the counterpoint of the second movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony before going to the forrest to analyse the birdsong. He, rather, refreshes his knowledge of other developmental patterns of animal acoustic communication, maybe that of the dolphins or the dogs. The above mentioned shift of perspective from an artistic to a scientific constitution is thus not only a simple transformation of judgement, but rather a complex procedure by which the person somehow manages to transform all the attitudes deposited in a specific form of constitution, be it artistic or scientific.
From the presented rudimentary scheme of genetic constitution we can now interpret Høffding’s understanding of the interconnectedness of active and passive aspects of musical absorption. In essence, what happens is, that the instantaneous activation of previous sedimented meanings and creation of new ones besides and on top of the previous ones. The passive constituted dimension is what enables us to play absent minded as it does not require an active creation of new ways of approaching music (new colours, phrases or articulation) while the active constitutive dimension always forces us to slightly adapt and change our already sedimented meanings, while looking at them as-it-were from the outside. These in turn become the passive already constituted meaning, which promote a new dance of the passive-active, constituted-constitutive oppositions. Suppose, a musician is confronted with a passage combining multiple technical difficulties; for example, a fast, diversely articulated passage, with a lot of trills. First, he is going to have to read every note by itself, which we will write as N. Next, he will actively add a trill to every note – Nt. After a while, he will not experience every note (N) separately from its trill (t), but rather a trilled-note, e.g. Nt, as a union. After completing the synthesis Nt, he will focus his attention to the articulation and thus to each Nt activelyadd an articulation (a) to produce Nta. The constitution of the Nta will require a stable copula of Nt, upon which active attention will append the a. The stability is a consequence of the synthesis Nt becoming passively given – available without any active and attentive effort. What is passive is easily achieved, naturally given (one could think of it as muscle memory, but this will becomes problematic, after the introduction of the phenomenological concept of the body); however this is possible only because sometime in the past there was a lot of active effort put into fitting together two things – a note and a trill – which do not necessarily include each other (e.g. a note can exists without a trill attached to it). After considerable effort the musician manages to master the whole passage, such that it comes to him naturally as a unity, without undue active attention – the whole passage becomes a passive given. Nonetheless, we would be gravely mistaken, if we thought this was the end of the story. After mastering a passage there await many other aspects which have to be actively attended to in order to successfully execute the passively constituted passage. Say, he finds himself in a problematic acoustic situation or playing with a particularly idiosyncratic chamber music partner – these problems will have to be actively dealt with, by adding novel (or adjusting existing) meanings to the passively constituted passage. Since there is always going to be something one has to attend to, Hoffding seems to be right in insisting, that a musician (almost) always reflects on his performance.See Høffding, Absorption, p. 81.
We have seen that Høffding thinks about absorbed non-being-there and ex-static absorption as two sides of the same experiential coin. This makes sense only within the theoretical structure just defined. On the one hand, taking musical absorption as only a passive undergoing of musical sensation would miss the important part of active attention and ability to adapt to new environments in which one has to actively figure out a way to construct musical meaning. A musician who is used to playing in great concert halls might find it difficult to adapt to either a very dry room, or a church with a big echo – his way of playing has to actively adapt to a new situation. On the other hand, a completely active account would miss the deeply passive experience of letting the music play itself, which is admittedly rare, but nevertheless the strongest feeling a musician can experience while performing. Høffding’s theory of musical absorption thus rests on what the musician has passively acquired when practicing and which moreover provides fertile ground for small, yet more or less constant, active adjustment. Ex-static attention is in essence an act of putting complete trust into the meanings one has passively mastered, yet at the same time monitoring them from the outside. Høffding makes the point a little clearer by juxtaposing controling and monitoring types of reflection. The former tries to immediately actively access what is supposed to be passively accepted, while the latter responds to what the passive constitution has offered up and adjusts it after the fact, respecting its intrinsic passivity; the former chokes a musician’s ability to perform, while the latter enhances it.See Høffding, Absorption, p. 202-4, 249. Regardless of the ingenious solution to the problem of conceptualising the two-sidedness of musical absorption, Høffding’s account presupposes an underlying experiential core – the object upon which the constitution is performed, i.e. a work of music – remains essentially the same regardless of the changes of constitution it undergoes. That is not to say, that the way one performs the music does not change, but rather that there is something almost platonically stable in the midst of the strife between the actively and passively given meanings that belong to a piece of music. This is the presupposition we are going to question in this paper, by investigating in what way the relationship with the human voice changes with the introduction of stylistic techniques of psalm cantillation. As we are going to show, at the moment of mystical absorption, the experiential core of the chant changes from the word cantillated, to the melody of the jubilus. The latter is what guides further musical development, although it would never have been able to arise without growing out of the word, which it in turn replaces.
History of monastic liturgy and the role of human voice
Before we deal with the structural change just mentioned, we should say something about the normal reading voice, which will serve as a starting point for the constitution of musical absorption in psalm singing; it is going to constitute the core which shifts under the absorbed act.
In medieval monasteries, for example, reading aloud was crucial for a full and correct understanding of the sacred texts. Jean Leclercq articulates the difference between medieval and modern reading as follows: “That is to say we understand only what we hear, or, as we also say, ‘to listen to Latin’ also means ‘to understand it’, in short, ‘to understand’.”Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen do književnosti in hrepenenje po bogu, Ljubljana: Avrora As, 2011, p. 12. Medieval reading is therefore more than a simple silent combination of syllables – it consists of listening to “words from the page”Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 12.. This reading aloud is nothing other than “the chewing repetition of God’s words” or “spiritual nourishment” that stimulates meditative “attachment to the sentence we are reciting, and thereby weighing all its words in order to arrive at the fullness of their meaning.”Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 12. Therefore, the medieval monastic reading should not be understood as a closed interpretation, for the explanandum and the explanans only operate within the circle of reminiscent exegesis: “a verse [is] explained by another verse where the same word occurs”Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 105., and this movement is only generally and objectively fixed by the use of linguistic manuals, which to a certain extent limit the pure associative, meaningless linking of words.Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 106. Thus, monastic exegesis can be summed up in two words: literal and mystical. The literal aspect denotes the objective-reminiscent interpretive practices just explicated, while the mystical points to the monastic exegesis as “a means of salvation, mediating the ‘salvific knowledge’, salutaris scientia.”Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 110. The most beautiful metaphor for this salvific kind of exegesis is Augustine’s comparison of the Bible with the mirror: “in it we can see the image which we ought to reproduce. While we read it, we can compare ourselves with what we ought to be, and try to achieve what is lacking in the image in order that it may correspond to the look.”Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 110. But since I also see myself in the mirror, this is not merely an empiricist rendering of my own appearance, as I see and read two images: myself as I am and the ideal image offered to me by the sacred Scripture. In fact, I do not see two images fighting for dominance in the apparition, but a dynamic relationship that the two images form. Each respective image is only a particular aspect of a relation to which they both belong. This dynamic foundation of mystical exegesis should be kept in mind as it forms the central motif of my thesis – we will use it both in understanding the phenomenon of the voice and later in explicating the experiential structure of the jubilus.
Mystical type of textual meditation still thrives in those monastic orders, where a special relationship with the human voice, god’s word and silence is maintained; one of these is no doubt the Carthusian order. This is especially well documented in the book by Janez Maria Hollenstein entitled Zgovorna tišina (The eloquent silence), in which he at one point describes a retreat into silence after an intense acoustic relationship with god’s word: “Theology of the word, theology of the name and, last but not least, faith flowing from the listening to the Word connects with a psycho-somatic meditative technique increasingly popular today.”Janez Hollenstein, Zgovorna tišina (The Eloquent Scilence), Pleterje: Kartuzija Pleterje, 1986, p. 30. Having described the relationship with the reading voice, we can go into the phenomenological framework with which we will place it and the singing of psalms in the life of an absorbed mystic. First, we will provide the phenomenological interpretation of the underlying reading voice, which will expose the central difficulty of husserlian phenomenology. The overt stability of its core will prove inadequate for the conceptualization of what it means to understand by listening. This will be done with the aid of Jacques Derrida’s famous critiques of Husserl’s use of the phrase ‘hearing oneself speak’.
Expression – hearing oneself speak
We have not yet mentioned the central methodological tool of husserlian phenomenology – the epoche. In order to truly approach our experienceon on its own terms and prevent it from being contaminated by inappropriate presuppositions, Husserl advocated for the performance of what he called the epoche: a bracketing of the existence of anything else but the experience itself.Edmund Husserl. Ideen, p. 65f. What Husserl mainly wants to put aside is what he calls the natural attitude [die natürliche Einstellung]: the everyday conviction that there is a natural world on the other side of our experiences which on the basis of which we evaluate what counts as true and untrue experience.Edmund Husserl. Ideen, p. 63. For example sometimes we interpret illusions as unacceptable experiences, because they do not correspond to what is there in reality. This attitude clearly privileges some experiences over others based on factors which are not experienced themselves, but are assumed to be beyond experience. Contrary to this, phenomenology tries to study experience by itself. However, as we shall soon see, the simple fixation of a core experience of the voice by the means of the epoche is harder than it seems. The experience itself does not allow itself to be captured – that is to say phenomenomenologically reduced. Jacques Derrida describes the special phenomenological significance of the experience of one’s own voice thusly: “If we look at the process of the word from a purely phenomenological point of view, within the reduction, its originality lies in the fact that it is already given to us as a pure phenomenon, because it has already bracketed the natural attitude and the thesis of the existence of the world. Operation ‘to hear oneself speak’ is an auto-affection of an absolutely unique kind.”Jacques Derrida, Glas in fenomen (Voice and phenomenon), Ljubljana: Studia Humanitatis, 1988, p. 85. This auto-affection, if we were able to reach it, would constitute the intuitively clear core of the experience of the reading voice – the underlying object S, which is normally couched into a myriad of differently passively constituted meanings in the form of Spqwy. According to this phenomenological starting point, the reciting monk is looking for nothing more than a fulfilled intention of the written word; that is, he longs for an intuitive presence of meaning within the word itself. Husserl, according to Derrida, trying to explain the nature of the presence of that meaning, would no doubt imagine a reader, who utters a word so that he can hear himself speaking it at the same time [im Augenblick]. After the utterance disappears into the past, he can recall its sound only incompletely and – with its help – interpret a biblical verse associatively. However, without an original presence found in the moment one hears oneself speak, their secondary associative character would never have been able to arise in the first place. Only on the basis of the pure self-affection of’ hearing oneself speak’ are we able to form the complex interconnected character of language – according to Husserl, that is.
Derrida’s main objection to Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is of course that this pure auto-affection remains hidden to the phenomenological investigator, since – at the very moment of his approach – it disappears.Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 102-3. “In contrast to what phenomenology has […] tried to convince us of, in contrast to what our desire cannot help but be tempted by to believe, the thing itself always eludes us. Contrary to the assurance which Husserl gives us a little further on, the ‘view’ cannot ‘settle’.”Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 111. The phenomenological method tries in vain to capture this fundamental event of hearing-oneself-speak, upon which all other derivative meanings depend. Moreover, this only goes to show, that the naive way of understanding the monastic reading experience as hearing what one has just read – as a simple S –, is from Derrida’s point inadequate. Said with the help of the augustinian metaphor of the two images: the monk does not see two self-sufficient images (I as I am and the ideal I); rather it is their relation which grounds their interdependent appearance – they exist in a dynamic contrast, devoid of a stable foundation for each one separately. This dynamic way of understanding also appears in what we called the literal aspect of textual meditation, in which every sentence is understood only in relationship to other sentences in which the same words appear. The word is never closed up onto itself, it always needs an outside factor to make it intelligible. In order to properly characterize the role of this dynamic foundation in the monastic experience, we first have to develop a more sophisticated conceptual tool for grasping the understanding of spoken (and later sung) word.
Technique – the genetic plasticity of the phenomenal body
The need to overcome the static and theoretical character of Husserl’s phenomenology was the main impetus which propelled later phenomenologists to transform the ideas first proposed by him. The main contribution of Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, for example, lies in revealing the pre-reflective foundation of human existence, which Husserlian phenomenology, with its theoreticism often obscures.See Martin Heidegger, Bit in čas (Being and Time), Ljubljana: Slovenska Matica, 1997, p. 105. Heidegger’s analysis of the pre-reflective sphere is more precisely, scientifically expanded by Maurice Merleau-Ponty who develops the so-called embodied approach, which has become increasingly popular in recent decades of cognition research. The most important way in which this new approach differs from Husserl’s is that the reduced experience, at which the phenomenologist arrived by using the epoche, is not an abstract and ideal space of possible experience, but a down to earth structure called the transcendental body.Sara Heinämaa, “Merleau-Ponty’s Modification of Phenomenology: Cognition, Passion and Philosophy” In: Synthese, 118 (1999), p. 57. It enables him to exclude the option of a self-sufficient phenomenological core to which we could reduce any possible experience: “The most important lesson of the reduction is the impossibility of a complete reduction.”Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Oxon: Routledge, 2014, p. xxvii. This is in line with Derrida’s critique, but in order to fully understand what it entails, we should try to delve deeper into his theory of embodied cognition.
The use of tools assumes a key role in this respect, as they help us to extend the basic bodily perception: a blind man feels with his cane and not merely through the vibrations that travel along it.Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Structure of Behaviour, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, p. 153f. The notion of the tool plays a central role for Merleau-Ponty, as in his work The Structure of Behaviour, he grounds the difference between animals and humans precisely in the ability to use them. A monkey uses tools as a directly given ready-made objects, which can occasionally be used to overcome obstacles. However, it is not able to use the learned pattern of movements on similar objects which are materially different, yet functionally the same: even if the monkey knows how to use a manufactured stick, it does not reach for the banana with one of the branches of the bush, which has dried up at the edge of the cage.Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Structure, p. 118. Unlike their phylogenetic cousins, a human can immediately think of something as simple as that, if he has already mastered the technique of hand extension. However, man’s peculiarity does not consist only in incorporating diverse tools into his bodily scheme, but more importantly, in that he symbolizes his functional movements by using a tool as a kind of embodied abstraction of the functional properties that a particular thing can support. To put it differently: for man, objects have their own specific dynamics, which can support learned movements and thus enable the implicit mastery of diverse techniques. In man the interconnected movements, which constitute a specific technique, are capable of being transposed between different material objects and as such constitute a more abstract approach to material objects considered as tools. The monkey – as we have seen above – is simply incapable of this, just as it does not understand that it has to push a banana away from time to time in order to be able to pull the banana towards itself later – the only meaningful gestures are those that are directly connected to their respective goals.Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Structure, p. 117. Technique, taken as a relational structure of interconnected gestures, is susceptible to manipulation by man precisely because it can be considered apart from its direct result and the object with which it works.
The conclusion to be drawn from Merlau-Ponty’s analysis is not simply a matter of cognitive psychology of animal cognition, as it is nothing less than the principle with which Merleau-Ponty later formulates his interpretation of the human condition. Unlike animals, man can – by virtue of the diverse ways of approaching things – see the object from a multitude of perspectives: I might use the stick for a fight on one occasion, the as a support for a table on another, and on some third occasion for drumming. The passage from one technique to another is what constitutes the intuition of an ‘objective’ object, which exists independently of our specific interaction with it. The techniques of handling objects (what Merlau-Ponty would call gestures) are therefore central to man’s relationship with the material world, for they enable him to converse with it in different ways and thus gives them diverse meanings. Nevertheless, the technique has to be able to integrate into the structure presented to it by the material object, once applied directly:
“I engage myself with my body among things, they coexist with me insofar as I am an embodied subject […] The movement by which I lend myself to the spectacle must be recognized as irreducible. […] The sense of the gesture […] merges with the structure of the world that the gesture sketches out and that I take up for myself. The sense of the gesture sketches across the gesture itself – just as signification of the fireplace in perceptual experience is not beyond the sensible spectacle nor beyond the fireplace itself such as my gaze and my movements find it in the world.”Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Structure, p. 191f.
The irreducibility mentioned in the quote is of immense importance as it is exactly the same as saying that the multitude of meaningful techniques by which one can approach a thing does not depend on a specific core to which they would be reducible. Hearing oneself speak is not a singularly stable experience which founds any act of speaking as such, rather it is dependent on the acoustic and stylistic structure of the situation in which we are speaking or reading. Each of the techniques exists only in relation to the situation it constitutes a gesture with and is thus reducible only to the meaningful connection between our vocal ‘gestures’ and the structure of the situation. Speaking-as-such is thus nothing more than the ability to switch between public speaking, recitation of poetry or silent whispers in relation to their respective situations. If one shouted at an intimate interlocutor or inaudibly whispered in a large shopping mall, we could confidently say, that he does not fully understand what it means to speak well. This is what Derrida’s phrase ‘the thing itself always eludes us’, quoted above, really means: speaking itself – as the thing of interest – shifts every time we speak and it is impossible to catch what speaking as such is. We are equipped with conceptual tools for the understanding of the dynamic nature of phenomena. Let us now explore what stylistic techniques of singing are (as constitutive-affective gestures) linked to the meaningful cantillation of psalms. That is, which techniques are employed by the monk in his quest to make himself understand the words he sings by adapting himself to the situation in which he cantillates them. We will see, that there is an intimate connection between the latin work and its sublimation in jubilus, that characterizes the transition from celebratory cantillation of words, to the singing of the melody of the jubilus. This transition does not try to capture some essential musical characteristic, which connects its two extremes, but should be considered from the point of view of artistic experience. Since our research interest lies in musical absorption we are more interested in understanding the shift from the point of view of an experiencing subject.
The word and its melody – the stylistic and technical core of psalm singing
It is the resonant echo, which characterises most closely the specific acoustic milieu in which god’s word is read aloud. This resonant echo serves as a temporal reflection of the readers’s own voice, as it escapes the direct experience of pure auto-affection. It thus places itself between the speaking and the hearing subject and with this justifies scepticism towards pure intuitionism of the directly present meaning of the word im Augenblick. This displacement deprives the reader of the naive phenomenological density of the building blocks of the phenomenological mosaic and replaces it with a flood of unclear associations. It is precisely at this moment that the linguistic manuals come into play, as they limit the pure associative play of words during reading of the sacred texts. It is my conviction, that the unique technical style of singing plays the same role in cantillation of the sacred word. With the term ‘technical style’ we mean a collection of diverse forms, which melodic gestures can take in order to prevent the words from becoming an unintelligible mess in the echo. Since “these musical ideas are neither themes, nor motives, nor concrete melodic outlines”, Slovenian specialist for medieval music, Jurij Snoj, calls them archetypes of chant melodics.Jurij Snoj, Gregorijanski koral: Glasboslovni prikaz, Ljubljana: Založba ZRC, 1999, p. 89. This notion falls in line nicely with our concept of technique, where what is learned is not locked into an unbreakable relation with a particular thing (for example a specific motive). A technical style enables one to approach many different words and psalms in a similar way, as to immediately achieve an effect that might have been hard won when first trying to apply it to a psalm. In what follows, we will aesthetically thematize three of them and show how they touch the sense of the Latin word and prevent a solemn recitation from turning into a confused jumble of unintelligible sounds, while at the same time opening the singer up to the unpredictable dynamics of the experience of the echo.
In our discussion we will discuss a text about the tradition of Gregorian chant which should not be considered through a historico-musicological lens. Since we are analysing musical absorption, explication of structures of consciousness is more important than rigorous musicological analysis. This is why Saulnier’s text is the most appropriate for our interests. Its abundant value judgements and expressive language distinguish it from more canonical musicological literature. The decision to focus on this text is a consequence of the fact that we have to use a specific personal account as our case study, which should be at least in part independent from the musicological tradition. As Høffding says in an article discussing the phenomenological interview: in phenomenological analysis overly theoretical viewpoints should be discouraged in favour of well structured experiential accounts.Simon Høﬀding, Kristian Martiny and Andreas Roepstorff, “Can we trust the phenomenological interview? Metaphysical, epistemological, and methodological objections” in: Phenomenology and the … Continue reading That is precisely what we are going to be doing here. All talk of historical and musicological topics should be considered only as quasi-historical and quasi-musicological talk, expressing first-person and existential attitudes towards everyday singing of psalms, instead of pear-reviewed scientific knowledge. I hope that the personal approach of his book will provide us with a fruitful starting point for the discussion of first-person investigations into the singing of psalms. At the end of the day, the presence of a specific text proves the existence of a specific first-person experience of the Gregorian chant. Thus, though unorthodox with respect to the traditional third-person musicological discourse, it still remains empirical, albeit in a different sense. In accordance with the general character of Saulnier’s text, I will also not be providing any close musicological analysis of specific stylistic aspects. Space normally reserved for them will be given to philosophical explications preparing the ground for the answer to my research questions. I assume that reader has a basic grasp of the most basic musical vocabulary and rudimentary knowledge of Gregorian chant, and will thus be able to clearly follow the brief descriptions of specific stylistic techniques. With this out of the way, let us proceed to the application of the concept of technique, that we have developed in the previous chapter, to the stylistic aspects of cantillation. Saulnier situates the historical origin of the Gregorian chant in cantillation of psalms – a form of stylized recitation, which assumes a solemn sound that distinguishes it from everyday speech. “[Cantillation] designates a style in which the speech has the quality of music, but in which this quality plays the roles of regulator and of a kind of solemn vesture.”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant: a guide, McMinnville: Church Music Assotiation of America, 2010, p. 29. This is already one of the techniques by which the act of speaking tries to adapt to its particular situation. However, this style of speech is only a partial solution to the problem of intelligibility, to which the Christian priest, in contrast to the ancient orator, is exposed to: the speed of ordinary recitations slows down the words read and makes them more comprehensible in the resonant echo of the cathedral. However, in order to truly capture the shift from music being subservient to the words giving it a meaning to music transcending the words, we have to follow Saulnier’s path through three processes of cantillation: accentuation, punctuation and the jubilus.
Expressive recitation connects the words recited to their sound in a novel way: the melodic form merges with the natural sound of the articulated word. The melodic shape of a latin word, the so-called cantus obsucum, remained dormant until the words were forced to explicitly confront its existence in cantillation.Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 33. It is precisely the desire for a greater intelligibility of the text, which forces one to imitate its melodic characteristics. Especially due to the solemn rhythm of cantillation, articulation of the acoustic shape of the word occurs not so much rhythmically as melodically. As a consequence of this transformation the most important syllable becomes melodically the highest: “The accented (or tonic) syllable lifts itself upward, while, correlatively, the final syllable rests on an architectural note.”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 33. The process of accentuation is therefore a technique, by which a word is pronounced in the appropriate way with respect to the acoustics of the church.
The section on punctuation seems to serve as a transitional discussion which connects the processes of articulation to that of the jubilus. On the one hand, the process of punctuation seems to help the intelligibility and make performance easier by allowing the singer “to take breaths and, in the process of so doing, of momentarily interrupt the sung delivery.”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 33. This role of punctuation also harkens back to the history of Gregorian chant, as Saulnier reminds us: “several centuries before the invention of musical notation, the first signs that appear in manuscripts are related to those of punctuation.”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 33. On the other hand, the pauses it introduces give space to the to silenceDom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 34., which introduces an important phenomenological shift in the experience of singing: whereas the technique of articulation helped the relationship between the speaking and listening subjects, in the silence of a punctuation the former seems to disappear in favour of the latter. This forces the singer to listen to his auditory reflection after the utterance of his last word. While the experience of overcoming the acoustic situation of the church was solved by merely mastering a technique of accentuation and thus once again almost achieved what Husserl would call ‘hearing oneself sing’, the silence of punctuation involves the exact slip of auto-affection about which Derrida was warning us: the word itself – its acoustic reality – always eludes us.
Let us reinvestigate the quote with which we introduced Derrida’s critique of Husserl: “If we look at the process of the word from a purely phenomenological point of view, within the reduction, its originality lies in the fact that it is already given to us as a pure phenomenon, because it has already bracketed the natural attitude and the thesis of the existence of the world. Operation ‘to hear oneself speak’ is an auto-affection of an absolutely unique kind.”Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 85. Pure speech, would entail the ability to cancel out any intrusion of the outside world, especially by the means of an acoustic reflection of one’s own voice, which eludes the temporal coinciding of the hearing and the speaking subjects. Yet, this is exactly the opposite of what happens in the process of punctuation – the singing person does not hear himself directly, butratherhis auditory reflection. In short, we have two opposing structural forces, which up until now constitute the singing of technique of cantillation: on the one hand there is accentuation, which we understand as a technique of responding to the specific auditory challenges posed by the echo; on the other, there is punctuation, which provides small pauses, indicating “to the reader the less important, normal and more important punctuations”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 34., however at the same time exposing him to his temporal reflection. The latter cannot be appropriated directly, as it has a character of happening after the act which tries to control it.
In the next chapter, we will take up the phenomenological-hermeneutic theory of art, which will point us in the direction of appreciating this duality of any of artistic experience. But for now, we can keep in mind that in cantillation of the psalms, there is a tension between singing, which tries to make the cantus obscurum and other meaningful textual elements as clear and intelligible as possible, and hearing, which is exposed in the silence introduced by punctuation. The echo, resonating within the silence of punctuation, is something which we are incapable of controlling directly, proved by the fact that it merely responds to the act by which we are trying to grasp it. We are always either too early or too late to control it – it eludes us by its very nature (contrary to intonation, dynamic or pitch which can all be controlled at the same time as it is produced by a simple shift in one’s vocal technique). In order to dissipate the tension between singing and hearing – which we will do by introducing the process of jubilus – we first have to supplement our discussion of active sense-making (e.g. the techniques of singing) with passive sense-making in the dynamics of hearing.
Beyond intentionality – four ways of listening
David Espinet divides the phenomenological dynamics of listening into four types: aufhorchen, horchen, hinhören and zuhören. These modes of listening follow each other with respect to the degree of their intentional relation to the world. Zuhören is a fulfilled intention of the auditory phenomenal field, hinhören unfulfilled. Horchen represents the complete openness of the auditory field, while aufhorchen points to some basic ability of hearing to suddenly expand and encompass a purely possible sound only a few moments ago ignored. If a sound surprises us, the temporal shape of succeeding experiences looks like this: with aufhorchen we experience an expansion of the auditory field, as the field regulated by the horchen opens up; then, in hinhören we look for a sound object, which we find with zuhören.David Espinet, Phänomenologie des Hörens: Eine Untersuchung im Ausgang von Martin Heidegger, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016, p. 135f. With this apparatus, we are now ready to introduce the famous heideggerian concept of the strife between the Earth and the World, with which the famous student of Husserl characterizes great works of art: the World always exists within the meaningfully delineated intentional relations to the objects as depicted in the artwork, while the Earth appears as that which grounds them, yet is itself hidden.Martin Heidegger, Off the beaten track, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 35. Heidegger describes this in the following way:
“The world grounds itself on the earth and the earth juts through the world. […] The world, in resting upon the earth, strives to raise the earth completely [into the light]. As self-opening, the world cannot endure anything closed. The earth, however, as sheltering and concealing, tends always to draw the world into itself and keep it there.”Martin Heidegger, Off, p. 35.
Though complex in its core, the main point of the opposition between the World and the Earth is actually quite simple: every artwork is first perceived in terms of what is easily accessible through the appropriate artistic style to which it belongs – the (cultural) World, yet at the same time the artwork works by turning our attention to what lies beneath what appears to us at first glance – the (material) Earth. Heidegger gives us a particularly lucid example of a greek temple, in which the strife between the World and the Earth presents itself. Due to the genius composition and its connection to the notion of the usefulness of technique, we will quote this passage in its entirety:
“To the work-being [a tool, for example,] belongs the setting up of a world. Thinking of it from within this perspective, what is the nature of that which one usually calls the ‘work-material’? Because it is determined through usefulness and serviceability, equipment takes that of which it consists into its service. In the manufacture of equipment – for example, an axe – the stone is used and used up. It disappears into usefulness. The less resistance the material puts up to being submerged in the equipmental being of the equipment the more suitable and the better it is. On the other hand, the temple work [, e.g. the artwork], in setting up a world, does not let the material disappear; rather, it allows it to come forth for the very first time, to come forth, that is, into the open of the world of the work. The rock comes to bear and to rest and so first becomes rock; the metal comes to glitter and shimmer, the colours to shine, the sounds to ring, the word to speak. All this comes forth as the work sets itself back into the massiveness and heaviness of the stone, into the firmness and flexibility of the wood, into the hardness and gleam of the ore, into the lightening and darkening of colour, into the ringing of sound, and the naming power of the word. That into which the work sets itself back, and thereby allows to come forth, is what we called the earth.”Martin Heidegger, Off, p. 35.
In our discussion of the concept of technique we have seen that mastery over a word consists in adapting to a specific acoustic situation. Although the situation at hand affords the speaker the materialThe concept of ‘acoustic material’ should be considered as the sound out of which words are sculpted; this material is obviously lacking in a vacuum for example. – e.g., the acoustic sound of the word – with which he can try to sculpt his pronunciation, the acoustic specifics of the situation necessarily hide themselves and allow the word’s meaning to appear clearly. If we follow Heidegger, this is what happens in normal verbal communication, when we simply speak and use words as tools for communicating with each other. However, the same cannot be said about abnormal performance spaces such as theatres, concert halls and churches – it is not a simple coincidence that music is often tied to these acoustically abnormal sites in which a change of diverse parameters of speech is necessary. Think of an actor over-pronoucing his words, with as clear an articulation as possible; shifting his voice into a timbre which projects out into the hall, while at the same time exaggerating his gestures (or a lack thereof) in order to express what the words by themselves cannot. Words’ ineffectiveness is not a consequence of their meaninglessness, but rather an expression of the surge of the earth, which normally hides behind simple communicative meaning. It is precisely these exaggerations which put forth what normally remains hidden, yet is intrinsically tied to words themselves – articulation, gesticulation and timbre. Or as Heidegger puts it: “the ringing of sound”.Martin Heidegger, Off, p. 35. It has been noted, that Heidegger unfairly ignored music as an art form and besides short commentaries never really attempted to analyse it to the same extent as he did poetry or painting.See Julian Young, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 168ff. However, we will not be discouraged by this. In fact, we will approach the musical strife between the Earth and the World with the aid of the phenomenology of hearing we described above. The World of music can show itself only as a clearly structured melody, in which the acts of listening posses a clear musical noema, or at least expects one – in the mode of hinhören and zuhören. The well structured world of the chants melody is presented clearly by Leo Treitler in the 16th chapter of his book With Voice and Pen, in which he echoes our insistence on the close connection chant melody has with language, saying that “melody, then, may be seen as a medium of recitation, an adjunct to language in the elocution of sacred texts.”Leo Treitler, With Voice and Pen, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 455. The Earth, on the other hand, lets itself be heard only through aufhorchen and horchen, which open our gaze not to a meaningful sound figure by itself, but rather to the field in which it is yet to receive a meaning – the sound in its resonance. The acoustic Earth is – quite obviously – inaccessible to strict musicological discourse, as there is nothing to speak about, nothing to argue about, nothing to prove or disprove.Heidegger would even go so far as to say that besides the intelligible work of art there is nothing and this nothing is the earth itself, though this would require much more complicated conceptual … Continue reading The Earth, according to Heidegger, is completely useless; the process by which it appears is entirely beyond explicit articulation, just as the artist’s greatness is not a necessary consequence of his analytical eloquence. Nevertheless, he has to interact with the Earth – how can a musician realize the strife between it and the World?
This is precisely where the jubilus steps in. The jubilus, as Saulnier describes it, “is a moment of pure music that interrupts the syllabic recitation and contrasts with it, while employing ‘a vocalise’ on a single syllable.”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 34.This is a grave musicological simplification of what jubilus normally refers to (e.g. Alleluia melismas), but – as explained above – for the purpose of our discussion we will follow Saulnier’s … Continue reading To that effect Saulnier’s insists that jubilus is not a simple melody “from which the words have been removed”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 35., but rather “a song beyond words, beyond the somewhat narrow concepts that the words evoke.”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 35. During a chant, sung in accordance with the words using the techniques of accentuation and punctuation, the self-evident conclusion of a word is preceded by a passage, which does not have a clear word-melodic form, because its form is not bound to a known word (i.e. it is not shaped according to the accentuation technique). A person listening to a chant changes from a clearly constituted intentional experience – in which the words heard take on a clear noematic reference – to a phenomenologically open one – in which the time horizon is opened up as we await the conclusion of the expanded word, which has unexpectedly lost coherence with itself. In phenomenological terms: the jubilus has the temporal shape of an acoustic surprise.Of course, the jubilus itself can indeed possess a motivic structure, by which it is formed, but the attention to it entails the change of the technique with which we are singing and listening. When … Continue reading However, in contract to simply exposing the hidden acoustics of the Earth as an echo (as does the technique of pronunciation), the jubilus nurtures the expansion of the word into this echo, by not simply letting the sound echo, but also interacting with its resonance. This interaction leads us to admit that a cantillated psalm is not only listened to by the monk, but also sung and so, in conclusion, let us turn our attention to this dynamic, which is formed in the interrelation of the monk’s hearing and the technical appropriation of his own voice, which has been somewhat alienated by its resonance within the echo.
Singing to myself, as someone else
All the described technical processes make for unusual dynamics which a singer cantillating a psalm experiences. Since these are the extension of the experience of the self, I will thematize them through a conceptual structure of the minimal self developed by the Copenhagen school of phenomenological psychiatryJosef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism and schizophrenia: A phenomenological exploration of the structure of consciousness in the schizophrenia spectrum disorders«, in: Consciousness and … Continue reading, which Høffding also used to explain certain part of his theory of musical absorption.See Høffding, Absorption, p. 161-173. However, Høffding’s treatement of this concept does not possess a well-developed notion of technique, which I will try to make central to our discussion.
The minimal self is said to not be a mere part of the perceptual field, but its most basic structure. Contrary to experienced objects, which are merely a part of our experience, the minimal self is a formal prerequisite for any manifestation of perceptual phenomena, as it refers to what Husserl called null-point.Dan Zahavi, Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 18. The concept of the null-point tries to formalize the experience of the central aspect of one’s existence – I always experience myself as being in the midst of things: things exist around me as geometrical points lie around the centre of the cartesian plain. However, this formal structure is only partially responsible for the unity of human experience, as the embodied structure of human perception is plastic – the self, or one’s own body, and even ordinary objects with which I am in contact, can become a part of the experience of myself as a subject. Therefore, in addition to a purely formal minimal self, the human perceptual structure is also grounded in an affective minimal self, which enables a balanced relationship with myself and the tools that I use.Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism«, p. 84. This crucial duality of the phenomenal body underpins our notion of technique, which either extends or diminishes the affective minimal self, through which one feels his body, as his body. It is in this sense that a hammer, a billiard stick, a bow or a keyboard become ‘parts of my body’ when I master them with a certain technique.This mastery is of course dependent on the technique I use: I can use the violin for music making, or as a hammer – the affective self is going to include in itself either way, as long as I manage … Continue reading One, of course, cannot perceive the world from the point of view of a bow, as the formal minimal self cannot change positions. Nevertheless, it is quite normal for the affective minimal self to regularly expand and contract in order for our actions to remain ours. Nonetheless, the affective part of minimal self can become pathological in schizophrenia, when mental events and bodily parts (i.e. thoughts, hands, fingers), which normally remain part of the affective minimal self, involuntarily exclude themselves and become alien to the person experiencing them. That is where schizophrenic delusions about one’s thoughts, actions and body parts not being one’s own stem from.Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism«, p. 84.
Using the presented conceptual scheme, we can clearly see that the singer does not at first hear himself as himself, but – because of the echo – he hears himself as someone else. The self-affectivity expected in the phenomenon of the voice eludes him quite similarly as a patient, who experiences his own voice as alien during a psychotic episode. In this evasion of his own voice, the singer has to find what he wants to say anew, otherwise he falls into the incomprehensible overflow of his own words. To put it differently: suddenly, intelligible pronunciation becomes very important, because the singer’s own voice is lost in the echoing church. In the situation he finds himself in, he has to prescribe a technique to himself by which he can master the words (and thus the intelligibility of his own voice) as a tool, e.g. without experiencing himself as someone else because of the alien echo of his own voice. But what he is trying to master is not a mere object, but his own voice, which – phenomenologically speaking – has become the voice of someone else. It can be reappropriated by the singer, but it becomes a part of his phenomenal body (and thus the part of the affective self) only indirectly; his own voice is at first alien to him, but eventually he manages to master it through technical appropriation. This enables him to reclaim his initially alienated voice as an ‘extension’ of his own body, which is now not directly present, but is understood only indirectly through an affective, constitutive, and above all technical gesture. This is where the jubilus assumes a central role. As it is quite clear now, the most important part of psalm singing is not the singer’s own accentuation of the words cantillated, which he has technically mastered and made intelligible, but its slip, which occurs precisely within the relationship between the word and its sound. Together they are joined intro a strife between the intelligibility of the Wor(l)d and the echo of its sound in the Earth. Through this relation, one does not hear himself any differently from the way he experiences himself in mystical experience, of which the key element is precisely the transformation of the affective self. Mystical experience does not expose the self merely as other – as happens in schizophrenia – but rather shapes a dynamic in which the mystic voluntarily masters the relationship between the healthy constitution of the self and its mystical extension into the other.Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism«, p. 85. The boundary between the World and the Earth does not collapse, but softens precisely when the latin word, frozen in the jubilus, shifts out of its own presence, without at any time losing the trace by which it tries to reach its conclusion. This trace is formed by a technique that presupposes the unattainable fully present intelligibility of the chant; when it eventually slips, we witness the pure ex-static nature of experience. This ex-static nature is characterized by me singing as myself, yet at the same listening to myself as someone else. It involves a starting point, where every word is supposed to be understood by being heard in its fulness, yet by trying to do so, the resulting lack of a clear accentuation pushes one into a mystical state. This state is characterized by the fact, thatone hears himself accentuating the words, without ever being able to completely finish them the way he wishes to. In essence, he steps out of himself, without breaking his performance of the chant – the singer is in the state of ex-static absorption, since the very fact that his accentuated steps are not completely controlled, forces him to look ahead and monitor for any possible disturbances of the echo. The achieved absorbed state is not a balancing of two distinct opposites, nor a solution of their tension through the absorption into the incomprehensible mystical oneness of music; it is a strife between singing and listening, the World and the Earth, between the word (or rather technique) and its sound. It is the musical embodiment of the augustinian scriptural mirror, in which one sees one’s imperfect self and its possible sacred ideal at the same time.
I am sure it is difficult to find a better summary of my thesis other than a quotation from Derrida’s relentless critique of the static nature of Husserl’s phenomenology. Derrida uses Husserl’s metaphor of the Dresden gallery in which each picture is supposed to represent a word pointing to a more original givenness, he puts it this way:
“Before this position [in the gallery] there was without doubt nothing. And certainly nothing will remove it. This position is not, as Husserl would have it, a captured-understanding between intuitions or presentations. No perception of a bright day of presence outside the gallery is given to us, and certainly not promised. The gallery is a labyrinth which itself contains its own exits: we have never fallen into it as into some special casus of experience, the one that Husserl then thinks he is describing.”Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 85.
This is directly followed by the exposition of echo as a phenomenon of phantasmatic presence:
“It then remains for us to speak, for the voice to echo down the corridors, to replace the glamour of presence. The phoneme, the acumen, is the phenomenon of the labyrinth. It is the casus phone. It rises to the sun of presence, but it is Icarus’ way.”Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 85.
No doubt it can be objected that in my discussion I have overlooked the long literary and musical tradition of the Catholic Church; but I can respond by saying that we have tried to find the very essence of the experience of the augustinian mirror in the sacred text – a mirror in which man experiences himself in a continual becoming towards the fulfillment of the accentuated word. In terms of the affective self, I am unified with my voice, which I managed to appropriate technically, although I never catch it and am therefore necessarily different from it. I try my best to achieve the pure presence of the word accentuated, yet repeatedly fail because of the specifics of the acoustical space in which I am cantilating. Out of this structure flows the experience of absorption described by Høffding. We can clearly see the relationship between active attention and passive sedimentation of musical meaning in the structure just described. In the context of cantillation of psalms, we can say that the constituted passive meaning of an accentuated word is essentially intertwined with the constitutive active gesture of the jubilus. However, a naive reduction of all musical meaning to latin vocabulary would miss the most important point of our analysis: the underlying object – the cantus obscurum of a latin word –, upon which multiple layers of meaning can be placed, does not restrict the layers of meaning themselves to radically restructure the underlying object itself. In fact, the addition of diverse layers of meaning often address factors which lie outside of the underlying object we are experiencing; in the context of Gregorian chant these are undoubtably many motives which are of utmost importance when one tries to understand the musicologically well developed concept of the jubilus, but at the same time do not subscribe to the rudimentary technique of accentuation we described above. Or as Saulnier insists: jubilus is “a song beyond words, beyond the somewhat narrow concepts that the words evoke.”Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 35. In this way the introduction of Heidegger’s concept of Earth showed us that jubilus, which seems to transcends the words, at the same time goes deeper into that onto which the acoustic specifics of the accentuated words are placed.
Furthermore, our concept of technique as one of the ways of creating the layers of meaning, radically redirected the focus of what we have been calling genetic constitution: the technique itself – in so far as it deals with the underlying object – also determines the existence of the underlying object: singer monk controls his singing, an instrumentalist controls the phrases his instrument produces. The ability to be in close contact to the melody one produces, also enables one to slightly shift out of the most obvious ways of interacting with acoustic material; we have found an example of this happening in the jubilus, in which the postponement of the end of the word enables one to interact with one’s echo and thus build a productive relationship with what prevents him from completely mastering his performance. By slightly shifting our experience of listening, the acquired techniques the artists touches the material Earth that normally remains hidden as the slight deviation from what was expected invites disorganized, yet not unpredictable dynamics of the material used. The contact with the Earth allows us to overcome the difficulty described at the very beginning of the paper: it is not enough for a musician to simply master his instrument – he has to actively search for this kind of structuration to unfold. He has to put his own already mastered constituted meanings and abilities in situations in which they will be subjugated to novel unstable factors (for instance new acoustic venues) which will provide the musician with new challenges to overcome and develop new techniques of incorporating novel phenomena in his body schema. Once these have been mastered the strife between the Earth and the World will begin dying off again, until a new challenge is met and within it the strife resumes its dynamic. Contrary to Høffding, I insist that technical mastery is anything but a simple accumulation of experience; it is an open-ended structuration.
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*featured image: Technical drawing of unknown magical music. Made with MidJourney AI, 2022.
|↑1||See Simon Høffding, A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption, Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018, p. 215.|
|↑2, ↑11||See Høffding, Absorption, p. 215.|
|↑3||See Sebastjan Vörös, “Minding the Body. From Corporeal Mind to Minded Corporeality”, in: Phainomena – Journal of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics (2021), vol. 30, p. 5-35.|
|↑4||German philosopher and mathematician – father of phenomenology. He lived from 1859 until 1938 and raught at universities in Halle, Göttingen and Freiburg. See also Christian Beyer, »Edmundt Husserl«, In: Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, Version of Nov 18, 2020, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/husserl (15.5.2022).|
|↑5||Husserl’s student famous for his existential critique of his teachers work, especially analysing the notion of equipmentality. He lived from 1889 until 1976 and taught at universities in Marburg and Freiburg. Due to his membership in the Nazi Party his philosophy remains controversial, excused only by its innovativeness. See also Michael Wheeler, »Martin Heidegger«, In: Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, Version from Wed Oct 12, 2011, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/ (15.5.2022).|
|↑6||French phenomenologist famous for introducing scientific experiments and Gestalt psychology into phenomenological discourse. He lectured in philosophy, developmental psychology and anthropology at universities in Lyon and Paris. He also gave courses at the Sorbonne and was the youngest chair of philosophy at Collège de France. See also Ted Toadvine, »Maurice Merleau-Ponty«, In: Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, Version of Wed Sep 14, 2016, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/merleau-ponty/ (15.5.2022).|
|↑7||For an example of this the reader should refer to Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen’s »Mysticism and schizophrenia: A phenomenological exploration of the structure of consciousness in the schizophrenia spectrum disorders«, in: Consciousness and Cognition (2016), vol. 43, p. 75-88.|
|↑8||See Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant: a guide, McMinnville: Church Music Assotiation of America, 2010, p. 16.|
|↑9||See Dan Zahavi, Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.|
|↑10||See Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism«, p. 84.|
|↑12||Høffding, Absorption, p. 2.|
|↑13||See Høffding, Absorption, p. 248.|
|↑14||See Høffding, Absorption, p. 79.|
|↑15, ↑16, ↑25||Høffding, Absorption, p. 81.|
|↑17||Høffding, Absorption, p. 84.|
|↑18, ↑19||Høffding, Absorption, p. 85.|
|↑20||See Høffding, Absorption, p. 86.|
|↑21||See Mirja Hartimo. “The development of mathematics and the birth of phenomenology”, In: Phenomenology and mathematics. Ed. Mirja Hartimo (Heidelberg: Springer 2010), p. 107-122.|
|↑22||See Edmund Husserl. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag GmbH 2009, p. 142.|
|↑23||See David Woodruff Smith, Husserl, Oxon: Routledge, 2007, p. 301.|
|↑24||See David Woodruff Smith, Husserl, p. 301.|
|↑26||See David Woodruff Smith, Husserl, p. 300.|
|↑27||See Robert Sokolowski, The Formation of Husserl’s Concept of Constitution, Dordrecht: Springer, 1970, p. 170.|
|↑28||See Høffding, Absorption, p. 81.|
|↑29||See Høffding, Absorption, p. 202-4, 249.|
|↑30||Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen do književnosti in hrepenenje po bogu, Ljubljana: Avrora As, 2011, p. 12.|
|↑31, ↑32||Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 12.|
|↑33||Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 105.|
|↑34||Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 106.|
|↑35, ↑36||Jean Leclercq, Ljubezen, p. 110.|
|↑37||Janez Hollenstein, Zgovorna tišina (The Eloquent Scilence), Pleterje: Kartuzija Pleterje, 1986, p. 30.|
|↑38||Edmund Husserl. Ideen, p. 65f.|
|↑39||Edmund Husserl. Ideen, p. 63.|
|↑40||Jacques Derrida, Glas in fenomen (Voice and phenomenon), Ljubljana: Studia Humanitatis, 1988, p. 85.|
|↑41||Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 102-3.|
|↑42||Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 111.|
|↑43||See Martin Heidegger, Bit in čas (Being and Time), Ljubljana: Slovenska Matica, 1997, p. 105.|
|↑44||Sara Heinämaa, “Merleau-Ponty’s Modification of Phenomenology: Cognition, Passion and Philosophy” In: Synthese, 118 (1999), p. 57.|
|↑45||Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Oxon: Routledge, 2014, p. xxvii.|
|↑46||Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Structure of Behaviour, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, p. 153f.|
|↑47||Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Structure, p. 118.|
|↑48||Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Structure, p. 117.|
|↑49||Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Structure, p. 191f.|
|↑50||Jurij Snoj, Gregorijanski koral: Glasboslovni prikaz, Ljubljana: Založba ZRC, 1999, p. 89.|
|↑51||Simon Høﬀding, Kristian Martiny and Andreas Roepstorff, “Can we trust the phenomenological interview? Metaphysical, epistemological, and methodological objections” in: Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 2022, vol. 21, p. 36.|
|↑52||Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant: a guide, McMinnville: Church Music Assotiation of America, 2010, p. 29.|
|↑53, ↑54, ↑55, ↑56||Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 33.|
|↑57, ↑69||Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 34.|
|↑58, ↑81, ↑82||Jacques Derrida, Glas, p. 85.|
|↑59||Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 34.|
|↑60||David Espinet, Phänomenologie des Hörens: Eine Untersuchung im Ausgang von Martin Heidegger, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016, p. 135f.|
|↑61||Martin Heidegger, Off the beaten track, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 35.|
|↑62, ↑63, ↑65||Martin Heidegger, Off, p. 35.|
|↑64||The concept of ‘acoustic material’ should be considered as the sound out of which words are sculpted; this material is obviously lacking in a vacuum for example.|
|↑66||See Julian Young, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 168ff.|
|↑67||Leo Treitler, With Voice and Pen, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 455.|
|↑68||Heidegger would even go so far as to say that besides the intelligible work of art there is nothing and this nothing is the earth itself, though this would require much more complicated conceptual exposition. The interested reader can consult Martin Heidegger, Was ist Metaphysik?, Bonn: Verlag von Friedrich Cohen, 1929.|
|↑70||This is a grave musicological simplification of what jubilus normally refers to (e.g. Alleluia melismas), but – as explained above – for the purpose of our discussion we will follow Saulnier’s conceptual scheme, as it plays an important part in his experience of Gregorian chant. For a more factually correct analysis of the jubilus the interested reader should consult David Hiley, Western Plainchant: A Handbook, Clarendon Press, 1993, p. 130-137. Saulnier uses a confusing relationship between concepts of melisma and jubilus, as he seems to use them interchangeably. This clashes with musicological use of the terms, as it is customary for the name of jubilus to be reserved for the melismas belonging to the Alleluia. However, since we are analysing Saulnier’s experience of psalm cantillation, we shall use the term jubilus to refer to any and all melismas throughout the tradition of Gregorian chant.|
|↑71, ↑72||Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 35.|
|↑73||Of course, the jubilus itself can indeed possess a motivic structure, by which it is formed, but the attention to it entails the change of the technique with which we are singing and listening. When we listen to the motives within the jubilus, we automatically relegate the accentuation of the cantus obscurum to a mere motive. In our analysis of the notion of the technique, we have showed that the process of accentuation is a unique way in which the cantillating monk copes with the specific environment in which he is reading and singing a psalm. This is quite different from a mere motivic construction of the jubilus – it includes an intrinsic connection to the word chanted.|
|↑74||Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism and schizophrenia: A phenomenological exploration of the structure of consciousness in the schizophrenia spectrum disorders«, in: Consciousness and Cognition (2016), vol. 43, p. 75-88.|
|↑75||See Høffding, Absorption, p. 161-173.|
|↑76||Dan Zahavi, Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 18.|
|↑77, ↑79||Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism«, p. 84.|
|↑78||This mastery is of course dependent on the technique I use: I can use the violin for music making, or as a hammer – the affective self is going to include in itself either way, as long as I manage to appropriate it.|
|↑80||Josef Parnas and Mads Henriksen, »Mysticism«, p. 85.|
|↑83||Dom D. Saulnier, Gregorian Chant, p. 35.|