Image, Music, Text
Roland Barthes, "The Grain of the Voice," in Image, Music, Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), p. 157. Translated by Steven Heath.
The Grain of the Voice (267)
Language and music
"Language" meaning words, sentences, paragraphs.
Language is inadequate as a system for the description, interpretation of music.
- "translated into the poorest linguistic category: the adjective" (267)
"Are we faced with this dilemma: the predicable or the ineffable?" (268)
Barthes' response (limited to music in which "language encounters a voice" (269)):
- rather than change the language in use
- change the understanding of music, the "musical object"
- embedded in both:
- theory: pheno-text, geno-text (Kristeva), and
- listening to favorite singers: Panzéra, Fischer-Dieskau
Grain: of the voice in double posture:
- of music AND of language
A Russian bass
Listening to a Russian bass (270):
- hearing "directly the singer's body"
- not personal, not expressive, not original in voice
- yet individual, a body without personality, identity
- conveying significance, over intelligible or expressive
Theorizing the song
Pheno-song: all that derives from sung language
- at the service of communication, representation, expression
Geno-song: material, signifying, embodied
- volume of speaking + singing voice
- a signifying function alien to communication/representation/expression
- the diction of language
- "never transcends culture"
- "it is the soul ... not the body"
- criticizes an emphasis on breath control (soul)
- throat, facial mask as signifying instruments (enjoyment)
- Dominant in the industry of recorded music at the time of this writing
- "if you like Schubert, don't like FD, Schu is inaccessible to you." (273)
- "positive censorship (by repletion) of mass culture" (273)
- Skating over the consonants (those signal producing interventions)
- Emphasizing the "admirable vowels"
- Less "functional", more signifying
- Resisting "expressive reduction" of culture
- Show "traces of signifying", escape "tyranny of signification"
Not only timbre
- the friction between music and "something else", language (not message) (273)
Mélisande "dies without any noise ... in its cybernetic sense: nothing comes to disturb the signifier, and hence nothing compels redundancy." (275)
- a music-language whose function is to prevent the singer from being expressive
- singing voice
- writing hang
- performing limb
Barthes' critical declaration:
- "I will not judge a performance according to the rules of interpretation, constraints of style" (pheno-song) (276-7)
- I will judge "according to the image of the body which is given me" (277)
Auto-tune aside: "all [piano playing] is flattened out into perfection: there is nothing left but pheno-text"
- how familiar to the crit of rent soundtrack using autotune (or country singers.)
- rappa ternt sanga
Does musical "grain" lead to "another history music than the one we know"?
- Pheno-geno instead of pheno-textual
"In Schumann's Kreisleriana ... I hear what beats the body, what the body beats, or better: I hear this body that beats" (299)
Schumann does not produce lengthy works:
- (I like this aside: "A repressive criticism: what you refuse to do is what you can't do." (300))
- "the Schumannian body does not stay in place ... not a meditative body." (300)
- Intoxicated, distracted
- Disruption, functionally not distraction but displacement
- Renewal, refresh
- Interruption - the break
- Never allowing a discourse to settle, harden
- a second text is heard
- in addition to anagram ???
The Beat and the Body
- The Beat aka the accent
- "the body must pound, not the pianist" (303)
- "makes any site of the body flinch ... stretches, distends, extends" (304)
- Body "enunciates (musically)"
- It strikes, collects itself, explodes, divides, price, stretches out, weaves, speaks, declaims, doubles its voice, (says nothing)
- Never the the sign of a sign
- the "anagrammatic network" (303)
- beats are "executed" by the listener
- disolves distinctions among composer, interpreter, auditor
- "Ecstatic recurrence" = "origin of the refrain" (303)
Note: intermezzo is the rupture, beat is the return
Figures of the body
- Texture forms musical signifying
- "No more grammar" (307)
Music is a field of signifying and not a system of signs
- Referent is unforgettable, referent is the body
- Musician is transgression, madness, unbound from meaning
- Writing can never be so mad as he is "condemned" to meaning (308)
And what about Tonality?
- Language in two dialectical, contradictory roles:
- to serve the beats
- "to articulate the body not according to its own beats (articulations) but according to a known organization ... deprives subject of any possibility of delirium." (309)
Services performed by tonality:
- Dissonance permits the beat to toll, tilt
- Modulation (and return): to complete the figure of the beat, give it form
- Ascent/Descent: necessarily embodied sensation (climbing stairs, approaching orgasm)
- "by traversing this scale ... beathlessness, haste, desire, anguish, approach of orgasm" (309)
Tonality can have an accentual function
- participation in the paragrammatical structure of the musical text
Timbre: disappearance of tonality
- assurance of the richness of embodied beats
- beats then provide "transhistorical continuity" (310)
- how has the body uttered beats before?
Body and the written composition
Schumann extends the Italian code (presto, allegro, etc) for vernacular, e.g.,
- Bewegt: "something stirs without direction"
- Rasch: "directed speed, exactitude, precise rhythm, ..., the movement of a serpent through leaves." (311)
Two realms of signification:
- semiotic: order of articulated signs each of which has a meaning (311)
- semantic: order of discourse no unit of which signifies in itself, although the ensemble can signify
Music belongs to semantics
- sounds are not signs
- no sound in itself has meaning
- music is a language with syntax, without semiotics
Music demonstrates the meaning of "signifying" w/r/t Text