Transcendentalism and Materialism: Classical Music and Improvisation in the United States Ryan Tanaka

In general, the materialist aesthetic of Free Improvisation sides with jazz against the transcendental idealism of fine art and its fetish of product over producer. (Watson, Derek Bailey and the Story of Improvisation, 169)

From Ben Watson’s perspective, the relationship between composition and improvisation tends to be an uncompromisingly antagonistic one. Derek Bailey and the Story of Improvisation portrays the music world as being divided into class-sects – the institutional bourgeois and the proletariat working classes – two groups fighting against one another over control of resources and power. Composers, due to their affiliation with the “high” arts, are depicted as serving the special interests of the elite, while improvisers are hailed as revolutionaries seeking to dismantle the evils of the modern capitalist machine. Within this scenario, “free” improvisation, in its rejection of notation and stylistic idioms, becomes the ultimate and most radical defiance against the status-quo. Frederic Rzewski notes that, while composition and improvisation are instinsically related, they can be “quite different, even contrary, mental processes.” (Rzewski, 379) Rzewski, having been heavily involved in both activities, had spent much of his career trying to reconcile the two approaches toward music-making. However, he eventually came to an acknowledgement that composition and improvisation often fulfill very different functions and require a switch in mentality when moving from one to another. A composed piece can be said to be a theoretical idea (or series of ideas) written on score – often through a learned language such as the Western notation system. The idea is passed onto the performer, who is then expected to “render” it into its physical form, i.e. sounds. The notation itself, however, does not contain the experience of actually going to a liveconcert. Composition is, in a sense, a product of knowledge a priori, independent of experience. It may provide instructions or information about the sound-to-be, but lacks the tangible quality that the sound itself provides. Improvisation, on the other hand, can be said to be an activity where the experience itself becomes the focusof the music-making process. Greater emphasis is placed on the personal expression of the performer, the instrument, the environment, the audience – what exists within the material world – rather than lending one-self to the pre-constructed ideas of the composer. Where composition attempts to transcend, improvisation attempts to stay rooted within the environment in which it unfolds. The sounds themselves, however, cannot exist without the will to make them manifest – the idea that one should perform. Composition and improvisation, despite their apparent dichomatic nature, are instrinsically related and are ultimately reliant on one another to survive. Like the chicken-and-the-egg scenario, an inquiry into the matter raises numerous questions but ultimately provides no definitive answer – issues and arguments bleed into one another, contradicting yet complimenting, often mirroring each other in their similarities and differences. Although Watson’s statement is an overgeneralization of the issue (one which he freely admits), it manages to frame the issue in a succinct manner, serving as an useful model for explaining the divergences between the processes of composition and improvisation in music. Watson’s assertion is significant in that it ties materialism with improvisation, while connecting transcendental idealism with that of the “fine arts” (i.e. classical music). While there may be no

definitive answers to the problem, taking a closer look may lead to a greater understanding of how the issue is conceptualized and applied within musical contexts. Improvisation thrived as a common performance practice within jazz, blues and rock mediums during the 20th century, and still remains an integral part of these music-making processesto this day. Within classical music idioms, however, the activity gradually disappeared as both composers and performers became reliant on notational specificity during the Romantic and Post-Romantic eras. As Watson implies, the divisions between the two could be a reflection of what has now become a stratified society – having labeled itself as the “high” culture of Western civilization, classical music may have developed the perception that it was necessary for the medium distance to itself from the practices of the more common and popular idioms. This article will attempt to explain these connections (materialism-improvisation, transcendental idealism-composition) in terms of their historical and philosophical origins, using music as exemplifications of these streams of thought. Materialism tends to side with notions of realism in its emphasis on the tangible and empirical, often advocating down-to-earth, worldly perspectives. Transcendental idealism, on the other hand, promotes thinking of an idealistic nature, striving towards a state of absolute perfection. The divisions between improvisation and composition can be seen as a variant on this age-old dichotomy – the realism of sensory experience versus the idealism of the printed score – which becomes a form of a recollection of the dialogues between Aristotle and Plato.1 As a way to focus the scope of the topic, this paper will primarily draw upon arguments of musicians and philosophers who have resided or studied within the United States. The notion of the “transcendental ideal” was originally formulated by Immanual Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) as an attempt to reconcile some of the arguments that were happening between the rationalists and empiricists during his time period. During the 19th century, however, Ralph Waldo Emerson reformulated the German philosopher’s ideas and pushed for an intellectual movement which would later be known as New England Transcendentalism. The forefather of musical modernism within the United States, Charles Ives, would come to closely align himself with this philosophy, using their ideas as inspiration and guidance for his own works. The third and final section of this article will feature propositions and methods of addressing the problem, posited by American thinkers who have attempted to come to a resolution between the practices of composition and improvisation. Many of the arguments presented by musicians (who have done considerable work in both fields) resemble ideas posited by those of the American pragmatist school, in its utilitarian yet humanistic approach towards the act of creativity – notably, John Dewey’s idea of art as a “signpost”, explained in his oft cited work, Art as Experience. Idealism – Transcending Reality
What is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism; Idealism as it appears in 1842. As thinkers, mankind have ever divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class founding on experience, the second on consciousness; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, and say, the senses give us representations of things, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell. The materialist insists on facts, on history, on the force of circumstances and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and

of Will, on inspiration, on miracle, on individual culture. (Emerson, The Transcendentalist, 18)

The dichotomy between composition and improvisation draws many similarities to the dialogues between Plato and Aristotle – the philosophical discourse between rational thought and sensory experience. The former tends to emphasize the power of thought and will, providing internalized perspectives into how the human mind works. The latter tends to place greater emphasis on the tangible and material – what is empirical, what can be seen, touched, felt, experienced – things which satisfy the demands of the senses. Western culture often stands in contrast with the rest of the world’s philosophies in that it creates (and at times, demands) a separation between the mind and the body; a contrast that is also reflected in the music that it creates. Transcendentalism emerged partly as a reaction towards the second industrial revolution, believing that the mechanization of economy and culture greatlythreatened the quality of life in the United States. As a result of new inventions – railroads, steamboats, turnpikes, and canals – civilization rapidly expanded into untainted territories, creating an influx of opportunities for residential, business, and industrial settlements. While society made leaps and bounds in terms of its technology and materialistic wealth, the Transcendentalists began to question if humanity’s capacity toward higher ideals were becoming submerged in its quests for easy riches and creature comforts. Their rejection of the materialist aesthetic was also a rejection of capital, as economic goods provided what was needed to satisfy the whims of the senses.2 The founder of New England Transcendentalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson, pledges his allegiance to the cause of idealism in 1842, contrasting his point of view with the materialist aesthetic:
These two modes of thinking are both natural, but the idealist contends that his way of thinking is in higher nature. [...] Every materialist will be an idealist; but an idealist can never go back to be a materialist. (Emerson, 18)

Transcendentalism would eventually come to influence a multitude of thinkers and artists in American society, including Henry David Thoreau, Sarah Margaret Fuller, and Nathanial Hawthorne. Among musicians, the philosophy left a particularly great impact on Charles Ives, who would in turn influence many of the American modernist composers that came thereafter. Ives’ involvement with the cause is made clear in Three Places in New England [1903-14] and Concord Sonata [Piano Sonata No.2] (1920), where he makes specific references to names and places affiliated with the movement. 3 Ives can be seen echoing Emerson in his rejection of materialism, citing Thoreau as an example:
[Thoreau] sang of the submission to Nature, the religion of contemplation, and the freedom of simplicity -- a philosophy distinguishing between the complexity of Nature, which teaches freedom, and the complexity of materialism, which teaches slavery. (Ives, Essays Before a Sonata, 51)

This lineage can be traced all the way up to the works of John Cage, who was an avid admirer of Thoreau’s writings and eventually joined the Thoreau Society as a life member in 1968. Thoreau’s highly ideological demeanor, anti-institutional outlooks, and his appreciation for nature would all find itself well-received within Cage’s anarchistic leanings.4 Two years later, Cage writes Mureau (1970), a text-based work that borrows phrases from Thoreau’s diaries, applied through the chance processes of the I-Ching. With its heavy emphasis on

individual liberty and freedom, Cage’s experimental music tradition can be seen as a revival of Transcendental ideologies – the ideal of human independence from all forms of servitude, rooted in the Founding Father’s ideas of “all men created equal.” Gavin Bryars, a British bass performer and composer who had studied with Cage during the 1960s, speaks of his ideological opposition to improvisation:
Later, after going to America and studying with Cage, and returning [to England] and joining in, on live electronics, etcetera, some of the playing that was going on around 1967 and 68’ I was becoming more and more ideologically opposed to improvisation. I began to find improvisation a dead end. I could only get out of improvisation what I brought into it. […] It was not possible to transcend the situation I was playing in. Now on the other hand, I foundthat by composing, I could. (Bailey, 114) My position, through the study of Zen and Cage, is to stand apart from one’s creation. Distancing yourself from what you’re doing. Now that becomes impossible in improvisation. When I write a piece I don’t even have to be there when it is played. They are conceptions. I’m more interested in conception than reality. (Bailey, 115)

Transcendentalist notions of “progress” emerge as a result of distancing one’s self from the past – transcending time, and, as a result,reality itself. As such, history and factual information were de-emphasized in favor of creating utopian visions as means of progressing towardsthe future. These ideals helped to mobilize abolitionism and women’s suffrage during the 19th century, while facilitating movements toward civil rights, gender equality, and religious tolerance during the 20th, pushing America closer toward its ideals of equality. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cites Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (1849) as an important influence in his own quest for racial and social justice within the United States. The philosophical movement, however, inevitably raised controversies and objections, many of them also coming from liberal and left-wing thinkers. Emerson, in his dismissal of the materialist aesthetic, regarded facts, history and circumstance as being unimportant – for some, this outright rejection was not an acceptable clause. Composer/improviser George Lewis comments on Cage’s musical aesthetic:
The elimination of memory and history from music, emblematic of the Cageian project, may be seen as a response to postwar conditions. Seen in historical terms, the decline of improvisation in European music in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would seem to preclude any identification of exclusively or even primarily European antecedents for Eurological improvised music. In such an atmosphere, the postwar modernist emphasis of musicians such as Cage on “the present,” deemphasizing memory and history, would appear to be a natural response to the impossibility of discovering such antecedents on the part of those from whom the preservation of European purity of musical reference would be a prime concern. On the other hand, the African-American improviser, coming from a legacy of slavery and oppression, cannot countenance the erasure of history. (Lewis, 233)

Lewis argues that the Cageian aesthetic has a tendency to become exclusive due to its dismissal of history, which includes that of the African-American experience of slavery and oppression. Due to its heavy emphasis on ideals and perspectives oriented towards individual subjectivity, the philosophy develops a potential to create a dehumanized perspective:
Mind is the only reality, of which men and all other natures are better or worse reflectors. Nature, literature, history, are only subjective phenomena. (Emerson, 19)

The peculiarity of Cage’s ideology lies in its advocation of non-action and noninvolvement – to be free of obligations and ties to any established order – while at the same time, giving individual the mobility to gowhere they may please. The aesthetic can be seen as an evocation of the pioneering front: experimentation in music being equated to the idea of exploring new lands, the search for new territory becomes that of freedom in itself. Lewis argues that Cage’s experimental music tradition pays respect to the “quintessentially American myth of the frontier, where that which lies before us must take precedence over the ‘past’.” (Lewis, 233) Exploration was not without consequence, however. With American expansionism resulting in the decimation of the Native American population, an in-depth look into the philosophy reveals a darker, destructive side to its conceptualizations.5 With its ability to do both extremes of good and bad, Transcendentalism’s ideological double-edged sword ultimately contributed to the bests and the worsts of American history, with its conflicts and resolutions often springing from the same source. While Emerson idealized the “genius” of the American rugged individual, the solitary lifestyle of the pioneerreveals feelings of paranoia, anti-social behavior, self-centeredness, and alienation. Genius came at the expense of everything else:
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. (Emerson, Self-Reliance, 46) I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. […] Expect me not to show cause for why I seek or why I exclude company. (Emerson, 48) …do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they mypoor? (Emerson, 48) What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. […] It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. (Emerson, 49)

As such, Emerson’s writings can be seen as a prelude to the psychological conflicts of 20th century Americana, touching on subjects and themes related to the existence of human kind within the modernized world. Through juxtapositions of styles and quoted materials, these clashings manifest itself through the music of Ives, in his attempts at coming to terms with his eclecticism, experimentalism, and individualism within his work. The subsequent dissonances that emerge as a result exemplifies the paradoxes that emerge from the “American experience” – the unresolved tensions between liberal ideals of social progress and the right toward individual autonomy.

As Marxism began to grain traction within the intellectual spheres of the 20th century, Marx’s dialectical materialism served as a critique of the idealization of the individual by pointing out society’s obligation toward the proletariat working classes.6 The American experimental music tradition, due to its heavy emphasis on individual liberty, often found itself at odds with serialism’s socialist undertones as well as the populism of the Neo-Classicists and Neo-Romantics, due to the latter’s acceptance of formal systems and the musical vernacular. Improvising musicians, on the other hand, disagreed with classical music on a broader, more fundamental level – against the idealism of the notation in itself. Materialism – Facts, History, Circumstance
Because improvisation resembles ordinary real life in its precariousness and unpredictability, it contains a necessary element of realism, with which many people can immediately identify, even if the musical language is strange to them. […] Because improvisation resembles real life, it can illuminate this real life. It can make us aware that the surfaceof rationality that covers this reality may be only an illusion. This reality that seems to flow smoothly along familiar lines, behaving predictably in accordance with familiar casual patterns, may be only a small part – that part that I choose to percieve – of a greater reality in which most things happen without cause. (Rzewski, 383)

Audiences will sometimes remark about how music has moved them emotionally, and the word they might use to describe their feelings is that the experience was somehow “real”. In many cases the feeling is a matter of recognition – in works of narration, the audience’s attention is captured by creating characters that they can identify or empathize with, and this allows them to immerse themselves within the plot and act as if they were part of the story. In music, particularly in popular and folk idioms, this function is often provided by its lyrics. The listener identifies something as being “real” when the words speak of something that they believe to be “true”. The lyrics found in many blues songs, for example, speak of the hardships which are often encountered in the day to day toils of existence – the resonance with its audience being that of a commonality in experience. In instrumental music, defining “realism” is more difficult, but several things can be pointed out immediately by observing the context of the concert setting itself. By interpreting the word “materialism” in more or less literal terms, one could point out the “materials” that exist in any given performance – the space, the instruments used, the performers, and whatever else may happen to be there. Each can be said to have their own history and background based on the materialsthat have allowed them to exist in that particular point in time. Performance spaces provide information about the environmental surroundings, instruments reflect what sorts of resources are available in the area, and the performer carries with them the connotations based on their physical appearance and experiential history. The ideas that arise out of an improvisation then becomes the result of the accumulation of all of these things, focused into a singular “event” – the act of performance. The aesthetic of “free” improvisation can be said to be a strong dedication to these types of materialistic notions – in its purest forms, idealism is avoided as much as possible. There are no themes to be developed, no agenda to be followed, no preconceptions of what the results of the performance may end up sounding like. The focus then becomes only on what is there, at that particular point in time and space – what exists in the moment. References to the past are

limited to only that of what the performers bring to the table – a personal, but not a systematized type of history. As Emerson bluntly puts, the materialist aesthetic often concerns itself with “facts”, “history”, and other forms of tangibles. While Transcendentalism believes that the mind construes meaning through the individual’s subjective interpretation, the materialist believes that substance is derived from the world itself, understood through the acts of observation and experience. During the 17th century John Locke posited the tabula rasa – the notion that human beings are essentially born as “blank slates” to be inscribed upon through sensory experience. Kant’s Critique was, in many ways, written as a reaction against Locke’s empiricist leanings. While Kant’s formulation of the “transcendental ideal” attempts to reconcile aspects of rationalism and empiricism, it leans toward the rational in its attempt to explain sensory experience as a form of a priori categorization. In Kant’s view, the mind creates established categories prior to the act of experience – therefore what humans experience sensationally first exists as a representation of their own mind. Emerson, impressed by Kant’s celebration of the human will, cites the philosopher as the “only modern thinker who in point of originality is worthy to be ranked with Plato and Aristotle.” (Hubbard, 5) Not surprisingly, many of the tenants of Transcendentalism have a tendency to be anti-Lockeian in its rejection of empiricism and the materialistic world, despite the fact that both thinkers were highly influential on the development of American liberalism.7 From the Romantic period onward, notation in classical music became much more detail oriented due to a greater emphasis placed on the “vision” of the composer, which generally meant having to include more and more instructions on the written score. Articulation markings were used to specify types of attacks, “hairpin” dynamics were created in order to give greater control over dynamic contour, and precise metronome markings were employed as a way to standardize the rate of the beat. What used to be general speed indications gradually became emotional and evocative (allegro grazioso, dolce tranquillio, molto expressivo, etc.) – as if to induce the performer into feeling a certain way when they play. Even as graphic and aleatoric notation attempted to rebel against the notational practices of its day, the composer retained their position of the “mastermind” of the musical experience, enforcing the notion that meaning was something to be derived from the abstractions a priori. While language may have been altered or even destroyed, classical music’s formalities and performance practices remained in tact, reaffirming the hierarchies and social structures of Western society. By deducing musical concepts into its basic formalities, Cage’s 4’33” (1952) used silence as a way to dissolve the spectacle of the concert experience, exposing it for what it really was. In improvised musics, however, notation plays a fundamentally different role in how it is applied. Although harmonic progressions, melodic cells, fragments of ideas, conceptual schemes, and formal constructions are often used to guide the process of improvisation, substance is derived primarily from the performer rather than the composer. Notation is treated as an aid to one’s memory rather than an object to be revered – a useful, but not necessarily sacred, tool. This mentality generally comes from the belief that what speaks the loudest is what comes from within – the experiences and history of the performer – which results in the “realism” that comes out of the performance process. Improvisers talking about music often reveal materialist leanings when talking about their relationship to their work, placing an emphasis on the importance of experience:

Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. (Charlie Parker quoted in Levin and Wilson 1994, 24) (Lewis, 243) Over all, I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things that he knows of and senses in the universe. . . That’s what I would like to do. I think that’s one of the greatest things you can do in life and we all try to do it in some way. The musician is through his music. (John Coltrane quoted in Simpkins, 151) One important aspect of Afrological improvisation is the notion of the importance of personal narrative, of ‘telling your own story’. […] Notions of personhood are transmitted via sounds, and sounds become signs for deeper levels of meaning beyond pitches and intervals. (Lewis, 241)

Realism and the improvisational idea of “being in the moment” share an intrinsic relationship in that the performer’s attention shifts to that particular point in time and space. The gradual breakdown of abstract thought creates contexts where the performer no longer reminisces of the past, while at the same time preventing them from projecting their ideas too far into the future. Some see it as an acknowledgement of what is merely there – what is – the reality of the performance space, performers, the instruments, the audience, and the sounds. The musical experience of improvisation, however, cannot simply be reduced to the idea that it is an act of realism. Improvised sounds are often captured on recordings and have becomethe primary means in which improvisers document their work. This, however, has lead to situations where learning musicians will attempt to imitate what they have heard in recorded mediums, creating copies or duplicates of a previously done work. This dilemma creates an apparent contradiction in the materialist aesthetic, since it seems as if the recording, originally meant to be a form of documentation, becomes used as a form of ideal.
Every materialist will be an idealist; but an idealist can never go backward to be a materialist. (Emerson, 18)

While seemingly a pithy statement by Emerson, it is not without some merit – while Marx’s dialectical materialism emphasized the “realism” of the proletariat working-classes, in the end it had also created similar utopian visions of its predecessors, in which one would strive towards as an objective. Philosopher Hans Robert Jauss refers to this contradiction as the “idealist embarrassment”, which poses a large problem for the materialist aesthetic in its apparent negation of the philosophy’s emphasis on realism. In theory, improvisers should not be trying to imitate any of the past greats, but speak directly from their experience in order to create a “true” vision of themselves. But as most artists would admit, art does not exist in a vacuum and inspirations are drawn from previous “ideals” all the time. Even in cases where recordings are absent, a musician is inevitably influenced by their family, teachers, and peers – abstract ideas which are stored in the form of memory. Although the people themselves may be real, one’s depictions, recollections, and expressions of them happen purely within the realm of the abstract, leaving one to be influenced by ideas a priori. The plausibility of realism in itself then becomes very dubious. It may be that the idea of “real music” is a misnomer in itself – after all, something could be said to be “realistic” or contain aspects of “realism”, but it will never be able to fully replicate what is actually real. While the materialist aesthetic has the capability to reproduce or represent something which had existed previously, it is still reliant on the idea that an abstraction might

contain elements or resemblances of the tangible world. Music being something that dissipates as soon as the performance is over, one could argue that it is something that has no real physical manifestation – therefore it is something that doesn’t actually exist. Music, therefore, is something that cannot possibly be “real”. Music as a Map
The fabric of existence weaves itself whole. You cannot set art off in a corner and hope for it to have vitality, reality, and substance. There can be nothing exclusive about substantial art. It comes directly out of the heart of the experience of life and thinking about life and living life. (Ives, qtd. in A Life With Music, 207)

Despite Ives’ embracement of Transcendentalism, many of his written sentiments on music contain ideas derived from the materialistic aesthetic – to write music from one’s perspective and experiences. On the other hand, improvising musicians will often speak of their performance experiences as being transcendental, even while emphasizing the need for personal expression. Upon closer inspection, one finds that neither the Transcendentalists nor the materialists were able to stay 100% true to their own ideological conceptions – as a result, many musicians eventually turned towards the other end of the spectrum in search for inspirations and ideas. Though both aleatoricity and improvisation contain elements of chance and “unforeseen”-ness, the two share an inversional relationship in regard to their direction – the former starts with the abstract and attempts to render the idea into a material form8, while the latter starts with the material objects then attempts to generate ideas out of the process. For the former, randomness is the objective while direction is an incidence; for the latter, creating direction becomes the objective while randomness is a natural by-product of what emerges from the chaotic nature of its realism-inspired process. As a social application, abstractions have, at least historically, fulfilled two types of functions – instruction and documentation. Written laws, technical manuals, guidelines, and moral doctrines provide an instructional purpose for the perceiver; recordings, photographs, and witness accounts on the other hand, serve a documentationalpurpose. To some degree, all forms of abstractions can fulfill both purposes depending on what kind of perspective is used – laws and religious texts can be looked at from a historical perspective, while documented information can suggest future courses of action based on its relationship with its context in the present. The subjectivity involved in the interpretation of abstractions often come down to a personal decision of what to do with the information provided – as an example to imitate, or as an example to be acknowledged as representing something that existselsewhere. Even with shades of grey in between, in ordinary life there is a tendency for abstractions to strongly lean in one direction or another. One example: “Do Not Cross” vs. “30 Miles Until Boston.” Art more often than not blurs the boundaries between the two polarities, as its function is categorically ambiguous in regards to this issue – instructional artmay be found in the act of composer-to-performer instructions or within narrative works which preach a moral code or lesson of some sort. Documentational art, on the other hand, may include recordings or untampered photographs which attempt to display or represent something in the world in an objective fashion. As with idealism and realism, the two types of approaches may oppose one another, but at the same time are inseparable due to the fact that artworks have the capability to fulfill both functions simultaneously.

American pragmatism has dedicated part of its efforts in attempting to resolve the idealism/realism dilemma, proposing a number of solutions to the issue based on the idea of practical application. John Dewey, in Art as Experience, explains his concept of art as the “expressive object”:
The instance of the signboard may help. It directs one’s course to a place, say a city. It does not in any way supply experience of that city even in a vicarious way. What it does do is to set forth some of the conditions that must be fulfilled in order to procure that experience. [..] Statement sets forth the conditions under which an experience of an object or situation may be had. It is a good, that is, effective, statement in the degree in which these conditions are stated in such a way that they can be used as directions by which one may arrive at the experience. (Dewey, 89)

Experiences, in other words, are not acquired through the artwork itself, but through the actions of the individual living in reality. Notation, however, can point the individual in a direction which they may acquire newer experiences: not as a replacement of life itself, but as a signpost that provides guidance toward something that exists elsewhere. This analogy has strong resemblances to the idea of “music notation as a map” by composer/improviser Stephen Nachmanovich:
Korzybski, a philosopher in the early part of the last century, was famous for the important epistemological statement that the map is not the territory. The menu is not the meal. If you were to go downstairs to one of the restaurants that surround Carnegie Hall, and sink your teeth into the menu, you’d be spotted as nuts. So the map is not the territory and the notes are not the music. They have great usefulness, as do all maps, but they are not music. (Nachmanovich, On Teaching Improvisation)

As with the “30 miles to Boston” example, the signboard is a documentation of something because it points toward something that exists in reality, yet at the same time it can also be instructional in the sense that it provides directions for the traveler should they place faith in the idea that the message is trustworthy. Improvisers’ treatment of notation often resemble that of travelers using a map – while there may be certain locations people may want to travel to, the journey itself is largely determined by the will and methods of the performers. Conclusion Dewey states that while art can serve the type of functions described above, its powers will always be suggestive since it cannot force people to take actions in of itself. The journey – the creation of music – requires the voluntary participation of the performer and audience in which they become a necessary part of the process. New maps become in demand in order to better reflect the environment which is in constant shift – as the world’s social and political landscape begins to change, as does the music along with it. While Ives’ embracement of Transcendentalism and his idea of writing from experience may initially seem self-contradictory, it is not necessarily so. Early pioneers wrote diaries and maps in order to document their travels – while these mediums are initially derived from the material world of sensory experience, for its observers, the abstractions contain a transcendental quality that allows them to see beyond their own existence.

Works Cited
Bailey, Derek. Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music. Ashborune: Moorland Publication, 1992. Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: The Penguin Group, 1934. Emerson, Ralph W. "The Transcendentalist (Lecture Reading, Jan. 1842)." The Transcendentalist Revolt Against Materialism. Ed. George Whicher. Boston: D.C. Health & Company, 1949. 18-28. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays: Self-Reliance. Cambridge: Houghton, Milfflin and Co., 1876. Ives, Charles. Essays Before a Sonata (1920) and Other Writings. Ed. Howard Boatwright. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1962. Jauss, Hans Robert and Peter Health. "The Idealist Embarassment: Observations on Marxist Aesthetics." New Literary History 7.1 (1975): 191-208. Lewis, George. "Improvised Music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives." Black Music Research Journal 22 (2002): 215-246. Love, Andrew. "Improvising Their Future: Shamanic Hope in Ives, Schoenberg, Cage, Cardrew, Rzewski and Messiaen." Tempo 60 (2006): 24-32. Nachmanovich, Stephen. On Teaching Improvisation. 24 Feburary 2005. 12 November 2007 <>. —. The Discipline of Improvisation. January 2007. 15 November 2007 <>. Parker, Theodore. "Transcendentalism." Christian Register (1840): 66-67. Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise: Listening to 20th Century Music. New York: Farrar, Staus and Giroux, 2007. Rzewski, Frederic. "Little Bangs: A Nihilist Theory of Improvisation." Current Musicology 2002: 377-386. Saunders, Frances S. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New York: The New Press, 2000. Simpkins, C.O. Coltrane: A Biography. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1975. Swafford, Jan. Charles Ives: A Life with Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Watson, Ben. Derek Bailey and the Story of Improvisation. London: The Bath Press, 2004.

1At times, this article may use some terms interchangeably: “idealism” with “rationalism”, or “materialism” with “empiricism” or “realism”. While the terms do not share exact definitions, they are closely related in that the former tends to emphasize ideas in the abstract, while the latter on the substance of the world itself. 2Emerson, in The Transcendentalist, explicitly uses the phrase “the capitalist” in relation to materialism. 3Three Places in New England: I. The “St. Gaudens” in Boston Common; II. Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut; III. The Housatonic at Stockbridge Sonata No.2 for Piano (Concord, Mass.: 1840-60): I. Emerson; II. Hawthorne; III. The Alcotts; IV. Thoreau. 4Thoreau became famous for the phrase: “That government is best which governs not at all,” in which Cage would later come to quote as a statement for his political anarchism. 5Cornelius Cardew had argued that Cage’s appreciation of silence and emptiness became compatible with “imperialist fantasies of a depopulated world.” 6Within the music community, the most famous example of this type of criticism comes from Cornelius Cardew, who criticized Cage as serving capitalistic interests in his book, Stockhausen Serves Imperialism.

7John Locke is generally credited for conceptualizing modern-day liberalism, which in turn would come to influence
prominent historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Despite their apparent opposition toward another, American interpretations of Kant and Locke have both helped to progress liberal ideologies throughout the United States as an accepted social norm. 8Examples of this can be seen in the Avant-garde’s attempts at turning the concert experience into something physical – through imitation of physical objects, such as Morton Feldman using Persian rugs as inspiration for his works, or through the idea of a prolonged concert experience. Feldman’s Viola and String Quartet (1985) lasts roughly 2 hours, and his String Quartet II (1983)lasts for nearly six. John Cage’s most famous example of prolongation is found in his Organ²/ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible) [1987], currently being performed in Halberstadt, Germany and is scheduled to last 639 years. In many cases, especially in the later conceptual works of Cage, the idea of duration is eliminated from the music as a way to turn the music into an autonomous object.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful