Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 6#4 Thomas M Macho 1 Jan 1992

The Art of Pause

a music-ontological meditation

Ein großer Kunstgriff der Natur war es, das Leben durch den Schlaf gleichsam zu unterbrechen.

Diese Unterbrechung ist beinahe eine Erneuerung und das Erwachen wie eine Wiedergeburt. So hat auch der Tag seine Jugend. Dazu kommt die große Vielfalt, die dadurch entsteht, daß die fortlaufenden Unterbrechungen aus einem einzigen Leben unzählige Leben machen. Und die Trennung zwischen den Tagen ist ein Vorzügliches Heilmittel gegen die Eintönigkeit des Daseins. Es konnte nicht abwechslungsreicher und verschiedenartiger werden als dadurch, daß es zum großen Teil gleichsam durch sein eigenes Gegenteil gebildet ward, durch eine Art Tod.

Giacomo Leopardi Das Gedankenbuch, Aufzeichnungen eines Skeptikers,Winkler, München 1985, p.89

Our attention shifts effortlessly from a passing automobile or humming of electronic equipment to the inner voice. Yet, in between the constant switches from inner to outer, there are minuscular pauses. Those are the existential moments.

Our life is composed as a frequency, as a collusion of polarities: as the rhythm of being-present and being-absent, of devoting and averting. Being in the world therefore means: sometimes being in the world and sometimes being out of the world. It means: constantly disappearing and returning, to put it metaphorically: being born anew and repeatedly dying. At all events, unobtrusive forms of 'rebirth' (such as opening one's eyes or awakening) can be distinguished from the striking manners of 'return' (e.g. after a drug-induced euphoric state or following an initiation ceremony). We experience 'smaller' and 'greater' deaths: almost natural separations or 'hellishly' painful partings, imperceptible or terrible losses of consciousness, marginal jumps or the deepest falls. As has already been said: it is not a matter of the amplitude but of the experience of oscillation and that of rhythmics itself. We occasionally sway in the extremes of a manic depression, however mostly in the more gentle frequencies of commonplace polarities.

The question of the rhythmics of existing can be interpreted more generally than the question of Being and Time. And, indeed, hardly any 20th century philosopher has placed such importance on thought concerning differences and polarities than Martin Heidegger. From the polemics against the scientific-technical world order - indeed, against 'imagining thought' altogether, - he pleaded for 'abandonment', for 'being-absent' which he unwaveringly strove to expose as the 'real' undistracted state of 'being-present'. Heidegger therefore favoured an overturn of values in that production and activity-oriented epoch which he perceived as the epoch of the 'oblivion of being'. That which we at first experience as 'being-absent' - the pause, averting from all possible objects of concentration and active occupation, fear and boredom - is described by Heidegger as the forms of 'real' existence, as 'being to death' and as 'being held into oblivion'. On the other hand, he characterised that which we would call 'being' - the scope of alternating attentiveness, activity and devotion, - as 'unreal' routine, as the expression of 'oneself' and as an existential state of 'being-absent' from the decisive experiences of living.

In short, that which up to now we have called 'presence' was regarded by Heidegger as 'absence', and that which up to now was called 'absence' he considered to be 'presence'. Heidegger's thought was to some extent directed against the 'the world-enslavement' of an acosmically composed subjectivity. It is in this sense that we read in the paper Beiträge zur Philosophie (vom Ereignis) (Contributions to Philosophy (From the Event)) - published for the first time on his 100th birthday: If, namely, being-present is experienced as the creative foundation of human existence and it thereby becomes known that being-present is only moment and history, usual human existence must be determined from this as being-absent. It is absent out of the composition of being and complete only in the being as the existing (oblivion of being). The human being is the absent. Being absent is the more original title for the unreality of being-present.

Martin Heidegger Beitrage zur Philosophie(Vom Ereichnis), Klostermannn, Frankfurt am Main 1989, p. 323

Inwards and Outwards

This polarity of our 'being in the world' can possibly be seen in no time or place more clearly than in hearing. For in our hearing we constantly live between two worlds, without this fundamental dualism appearing to stand out particularly. We continuously hear inwards and outwards at the same time: whilst we lend our ears to any sound event, dialogues and conversations are being carried out in our heads. Sometimes we are involved in intellectually stimulating discourses, then again in a hopeless jumble of voices. Descriptions on record, these inner comments on the world, become mingled with day dreams and the numerous sentences which were once spoken to us. Autohypnotic commands become quite naturally associated with the noises of our own bodies which we mostly perceive without need for reflection: our heart beat, our breathing, our coughing and sneezing, our stomach-rumbling and our intestinal wind. In the process of hearing, the alternation between being-present and being-absent takes place almost imperceptibly and without transition. We were present a moment ago, now we are gone again. We have just heard the street traffic, and now yet again we have disappeared behind our inner background noises; we have just been listening to our friend's story, and now again we are immersed into the world of our inner reports; we have just heard the daily news bulletin on the radio or read a page, and we have already returned to the cosmos of our inner comments and associations. But inner hearing is also permanently interrupted; e.g. by voices and noises coming from outside. Somebody shouts at us, something falls to the ground, the kettle begins to sing or the telephone rings. Whilst, following a time-limited process of habituating, we slowly learn to ignore constant background noises - traffic and machine noise, the chaos of voices in the supermarket, the acoustic environment of a city - (which, by the way, simply means that we adapt this permanent auditive accompaniment to the arrangement of inner hearing), we are regularly startled by sudden, unexpected and surprising noises; as if we were being wakened from sleep. For a moment the two worlds, the boundaries of which we usually cross effortlessly, seem to drift apart; the continuum between inner and outer, between being-present and being-absent, disintegrates, and for a few seconds we are seized by a strange horror. We are unexpectedly reminded - and be it in a brief shock - of that difference which compositionally pervades and structures our life - as rhythm of the 'small' deaths and rebirths, as the frequency of vibration of being-present and being-absent.

The masters of initiatory techniques have made use of the frightening effect of sudden sounds just as much as the effect of a suddenly occurring silence - sometimes no less alarming. Those who are not helped by meditation, are perhaps plunged into 'enlightenment' by the unexpected sound of clapping hands (or a box on the ears); in turn, another person is driven to the revelation by the silence (or paradoxical response) of his master. Those who concentrate their attention on the world of objects must be drawn into their inner cosmos: Two monks were observing a flag flapping in the wind above the monastery. The flag is moving said one of them. No, replied the other, it is not the flag which is moving. The wind is moving it. At this moment the sixth patriarch came past. Neither the flag nor the wind is moving, he said, Your hearts are moving! The monks were startled.

Aussprache und Verse der Zen-Meister, Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1964, p.10

Yet those who have grown too accustomed to the inner sphere of their contemplation, must, as it were, be outwardly touched and 'awakened', - e.g. by a sudden sound or by a resounding box on the ears. For it is only those who fall into the rhythm of existence, into that synchronisation of being and time which no longer requires or admits secrets, who gain 'enlightenment': Master Yün-men stepped before the assembled monks and held his stick before their countenances. At the same time he asked What is this? I will not allow you to call it a stick, however if you do not call it a stick it is incorrect. So what are you going to call it?Nobody dared to answer, then Yün-men explained himself:// The uncultured naively consider it to be that which it is: a stick. Buddhists of the two vehicles will analyse it and then claim that it does not exist. The Buddhas call it apparent being. The Bodhisattvas would say it was a stick but that it was empty and not filled with being. When the Zen masters see a stick they say: That is a stick.// When they go, they go. When they sit, they sit.

id. p.36. Vergel. ook: Hans Peter Duerr, Sedna oder Liebe zum Leben, Suhrkampf, Frankfurt am Main 1984, p. 261

One who sits when he sits and one who goes when he goes; one who eats when he is hungry and sleeps when he is tired,

Wu-wen Tsung visited master Ching. Ching asked: Who goes there? Tsung answered: Neither I nor another. Upon which Ching asked: If not I or another, who is it? Tsung answered: Someone who eats when he is hungry and sleeps when tired. (Aussprache und Verse der Zen-Meister), p. 19)

- such a person also hears when he hears, outwardly and inwardly at the same time, without becoming confused about the polarity between being-present and being-absent. He hears - according to ancient Zen saying - the way as the 'roaring of the river' without tormenting himself with the question as to whether he is now hearing a 'real' current or merely the river of his own blood.

Music too can be experienced in such a way, as the medium of an existential rhythmising. It was not without reason that the Australian medicine men made use of their whirring sticks; not without reason that the north-American shaman made use of his drums and rattles in order to send the tribal dependents into a healing trance and ecstasy. Music can function as the motor of interruption:// with regard to the acoustic chaos of the world, but also regarding the inner noise of voices, commands and association fragments. Even in the modern temples of ecstasy – the discotheques – heads are swept clean; and, vice versa, every Walkman is a protection against the acoustic inferno of contemporary sound-environments. Music, in its classical-occidental form did not, of course, fulfil such aims by means of methodical shocks or by paradoxical interventions. It has rather, up to the modern age, cautiously attempted to bring inner hearing successfully in line with outer hearing: music has made possible a synchronisation between the inner and the outer sound worlds. Not only composers, conductors, singers or virtuosi heard music first with their 'inner ear' before they obtained the real-acoustic 'transmission' of the sounds heard in advance; the auditorium, the listening public too, enjoyed that which could be inwardly anticipated. The contamination of repetition and innovation guaranteed an aesthetic pleasure which, in its existential quality, melted with sacral feelings into indistinguishability. It was not until the Romantic establishment of a 'music of religion' that the old coalitions between music and church were forced open, - not, however, without implicitly attesting their epiphanic value of truth. Music basically heralded the 'Good News' that the outer world sounds no different to the inner one – and vice versa; that it is accordingly worthwhile being repeatedly born and repeatedly dying, – as we will be constantly moving in the continuum of a reliable arrangement of rhythms, harmonies, intensifications, pauses and cadences. Music behaved, as it were, as a liberal-minded acosmism,// as the promise of painless deaths and happy rebirths.

Music, in its classical-occidental form, was a sublime system of the ascertaining of existential polarities, - an artistic ennobling of the ecstasies and the pauses. Are we still able to imagine how the promise of both a liberal-minded and acosmic time-experience was kept? Are we still able to discern what it may have meant that the audience as well as the composers heard the most important works of sound-art no more than once, possibly in a technically deficient performance? That, and how, the sounds spring from a primary stillness which must not be confused with the tense nervousness of a contemporary audience awaiting the appearance of a prominent virtuoso or conductor? Even the most successful interpretations and gramophone recordings can hardly let us forget that the spirituality of that musical meditation of life, the objectivations of which could constantly remain outward in individual works, has become thoroughly alien and incomprehensible.

Human consciousness alone, when it feels good, is the pause of the matter. Where does it belong? It can not only endow peace, it can also stir up confusion. It seems not to obey any order known to us. It is the only power which can offend against itself and every law of nature. The only power which (at worst) is more powerful than the rest of nature altogether. And yet it emerged from nature. Possibly the only power which can never be explored by human science. Is that the open zone of creation? The beginning of the Totally Different amidst our biological identity?

Botho Strauß Niemand anderes, Carl Hanser, München/Wien 1987, p. 142.

translation ANN THURSFIELD

This text is part of a series of articles on Das Ohr als Erkenntnisorgan, which will be published in 1993 in Paragrana, a magazine from the Research Centre for Historical Anthropology in Berlin.