Music and the Dilemma of Mediation

Music is common to all; but language, the immediate recourse to the word, is more common. Does this make poetry a ‘halfway house’ when faced with the need to communicate?

With this aphoristic statement, and this question, I know that I may seem to have set a trap for myself. As a composer, I can see how there is much in what we commonly refer to as ‘language’ that is lacking, and that it is necessary for certain expressive aims to be attempted through the relay of music’s too-often-considered abstract framework, contour and gesture. As a poet, I can see that the vernacular throw-away, amid whose exchange all speech is interwoven and enmeshed (within the broader pool of prose), is likewise deficient.

We must begin to search for words, and sequences of syllables (the elusive ‘utterance’, perhaps), that by their shape, colour and connotation – rather than denotation (to appropriate Barthes) – allow a deeper, more precise, less of a ‘best fit’, range of meanings to be recovered. In short, language must become more musical.

It is at this point, that the dilemma of mediation rears its head. I have a confession to make at this point too – well, perhaps a half-confession: poetry has become, sometimes, a halfway-house activity in my mind. And simply because language is ‘more common’. The commonality that music lacks engenders the need for an interpreter, a promissory intervention, in which guise the performing musician stands.

This would seem to elevate the composer – whose ‘message’ is entrusted to a performer – somehow to stand before the musician, in some kind of misapprehended hierarchy. This would, however, deny interdependence; and even poetry’s trophy must at its beginning stand before Babel.


About davidlewistonsharpe
Composer, poet, harpsichordist and artist.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: