Edition 2022

Emotion and Contemporary Music

Music It is already clichéd or hackneyed as of last century to consider contemporary music, at least that which has been derived by the evolution from or a break with the classical music tradition, as music incapable of transmitting emotion to the listener. Like any trite statement, it contains an obvious element of exaggeration, but, at the same time, some of what it posits may contain overtones of authenticity.

The two main reasons cited for this inability are the following:

a) On the one hand, it’s said that this music is made without heart, that it is music created more for and by the intellect than for the spirit and affect. As typically understood, that which targets or is produced by the intellect lacks the tremors of emotion and requires a cold and objective soul for its audience.

b) It is also said that once the tonality has been abandoned, music sails in a sort of indeterminate sea where memory can hardly find an island for its rest and satisfaction. If the memory cannot recall a twelve-tone passage, for example; if you can’t hum an atonal melody, how can you demand from the audience a loyalty to and taste for that music that doesn’t move them because it is not a part of their emotional spontaneity?

To these two main reasons, others of a social nature can be added: audiences prefer to keep listening to traditional tonal music, which has demonstrated its affective efficacy for centuries. Artistic promoters prefer not to risk their capital for output of dubious material gain. The understanding of the rules that could bring about an audience and a taste for new music are really complicated, and their introduction into basic music studies is therefore unfeasible. This is why education in contemporary music is non-existent, etc.

Obviously, it is possible to discuss individually and overall the reasons typically set forth, and for this it would be necessary to consider, of course, the undeniable fact of the existence of those who are moved by contemporary music. Indeed, how do we also define emotion in relation to the pure recognition, or lack thereof, of musical linguistic codes between different musical cultures? Can the same considerations be given to the inadequacy between emotion and the recognition of known codes? That is to say: Why is it that listening to the music of Himalayan bards can produce the same detachment as listening to Stockhausen’s Gruppen, depending on the listener, and their own sense of belonging and cultural memory? It can even be assumed, previously and in a more philosophical way, to ask about the nature of emotion: Is it something that can be understood unequivocally? Is it necessarily the task of music to produce emotion? Are there not musical modalities whose first function is not to move, but merely to signify, describe or make something known, be it the wishes of a god or human desires? Can’t music be understood as a discipline that tries to unfold the enormous possibilities of shaping the field of sound, be it “exciting” or not?

On the other hand, we talk about contemporary music and its inability to take root with the general public as if it were all the same species, but the type of music that can be included within what is called contemporary music is overwhelming: from jazz to rock, passing through blues, reggae, hip-hop, trap (to mention a variety of styles of the so-called music of the masses); without forgetting the reactionary musical movements and practices that emerged immediately after the birth of twelve-tone music at the beginning of the 20th century, (like branches of neoclassicism, folk, minimalism), or the practice and evolution of electronic music, etc.

The XVII Music-Philosophy Encounter: «Emotion and Contemporary Music» will try to offer a «state of the art» that will take into account not only some of the aspects mentioned here, but also many others that will open up throughout the Encounter via dialogues and debates that the seminar itself tries to raise and induce.

As a place for practical debate, the opera «Only Sound Remains» by the composer KAIJA SAARIAHO will be broadcast during the days of the Encounter, with a subsequent debate with the online presence of the composer herself and participants in the Music-Philosophy Encounter.

Gotzon Arrizabalaga.