Musicology / Muse-Ecology

“The blur from music-ology to muse-ecology was equally obvious, […] the constant interplay of inspiration, imitation, and incorporation that linked the flow of natural and human sound expressions. A way of hearing the world comes from interacting with it, but it also has to do with appreciating it, imagining it as one’s very own.”
–Steven Feld, Acoustic Ecology Institute, Essays

I think my attraction to the pun on ‘musicology’, one that contrives varied strata of associations, may even be a political response. If a social ecology should seek to protect the natural world in which it operates, as a component of a political framework, then a philosophical science (or ‘scientific philosophy’) that focuses on music – the word deriving from a Greek term that encompassed arts now long since formally dissociated – needs covetously to shield the treasure house of its obsession. But as someone attempting to become a musicologist, I need to be wary of being too precious regarding the object of my devotion: unexamined music is worth unveiling. More than that – we have to disassemble it to see quite how much more it is than the sum of its parts. And this is more than a taxonomical exercise. While a study of the natural (shall we say, ‘non-human’?) world gains much by way of its urgent appeal for regard, as our purview of its fragility broadens by the more detail with which it is embellished, so may music’s place be strengthened as its facets are unveiled by the care of all our work. For we have to work at it – archaeologically, or ecologically.

But I want to know how the animal Muse interacts with its context and kindred. If procreative force recalls itself then maybe expression and language, far from being sidelined, take centre stage in the theatre of thought and break free. Perhaps that is what is meant by the myth of Zeus’ and Mnemosyne’s (‘Memory’) parentage of the ancient ennead of Muses. The habitat, or environment, of the flock of the muses is not a museum (=’Museion’, from the Greek for temple to the Muses) and consequently some kind of petrified forest of frozen forms; it is rather the universe of imagination latent within all of us. A detailed natural history of the muses (which I am not even beginning to try doing here) would go through each of the Muses in turn – Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, etc – and show how their strengths, weaknesses, interactions and meaning are carried along by the currents of life’s river. They all represent aspects of each of our individual communicative and creative drives that, together, weave a matrix of waves – some of whose frequencies become swelled by the sapping of energies from unanticipated tributaries in the course of conversations and crises. The lyrical stream may, for instance, gain power – or that of dance – or may remain attenuated. The Muses are kindred, because, in the same way, no genealogy should come as a surprise – we all come from the same planet.

It is, therefore, Euterpe’s kindred to the other Muses that I ought to address. She is the Muse of music; and the river imagery is pertinent: she was impregnated by Strymon – a river god. Bring all the water back from the ocean (bring all the melodies back from the dissipated vibrations in the ocean of the air) and the same river will not flow again (the course of the music can be retraced, but the performance will be infinitely different). Euterpe’s relationship with her sisters is as theirs to hers. So much of contour, intonation, rhythm, colour, lilt and evolution belong to poetry, prose history, drama, dance and music, that the ecological balance can be all too obvious. Yet it is at this point, usually, that the problems begin. The only way that such problems may be resolved – primarily those that arise from defining without explaining – is by seeing human conscious decisions as being as much part of the natural world as is the natural world that we seek to sustain as an objective specimen. If we change another species’ habitat, and that species responds (hopefully without being destroyed – a wish that is itself speaking volumes for the inexplicable emergence of compassion) it is as a fume struck the forest, or a surge swept over the sea. The covert counterpoint of the world develops a disjunctive dissonance; yet with greater understanding, we may find a way of unravelling the rules of its part-writing and re-compose the consonance.


About davidlewistonsharpe
Composer, poet, harpsichordist and artist.

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