The Sound Tracking of the Times


Presentation Title:

  • The Sound Tracking of the Times



  • In an interview in 1981, the pianist Glenn Gould commented to his interviewer that one of the things he found most moving about the final Contrapunctus in The Art of the Fugue was that J.S. Bach was writing this music against every possible tendency of the time.’ This rigorous observation suggests something at work in the way in which we now think about music, and as a consequence, about sound, that bears directly on the question of art’s relation to technical processes, to industry, to economy, and also, to thought. Raising the aesthetic and political spectre of “the times,” Gould forces us to consider the degree to which our claims for, and fetishism of, the new communications media as a revolution in art, and therefore, of life, actually function to undermine the very possibility for the invention of a radical art of sounds.

    Bach wrote The Art of the Fugue at the end of his life during a period when the structure of Baroque musical thought was undergoing a transformation from a polyphonic modal or horizontal plane to the mechanical or orchestral imperatives of a vertical harmonic order that saw the fugue as an increasingly redundant form. It is of no surprise then, that Bach should abandon, or withdraw from, the new musical order, proceeding instead with, what might be called an “idealized world of uncompromising invention“. For, according to Gould, there was always“… a constant proximity of fugue in Bach’s technique. Every texture he exploited seems ultimately destined for a fugue“.