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The Muse and the Myth: Musical Manifestations

31 August 2017


‘Ancient or not, mythology can only have a historical foundation, for myth is a type of speech chosen by history’ Roland Barthes Our current history is shaped by media machines that have perfected and accelerated the creation of modern myths as well as re-employed well-established ones to control and tame the masses. Barthes attests that ’what causes mythical speech to be uttered is perfectly explicit, but it is immediately frozen into something natural; it is not read as a motive, but as a reason.’ 

Here, we can see a clear similarity with music. Musical forms and idioms more often than not denote this tendency we have for hanging on to certain ways of seeing the world, certain ways of representing ourselves. We hang on to what we believe, to what the accepted values of the time being. Most of us listen to what the mainstream judges acceptable. But like nature itself, music as a form of expression can only survive through changes that manifest themselves through subtle but endless mutations, the manifestation of our gradual quest for discovery. In Greece, the dangerously seductive sea nymphs lured the sailors with songs that were so beautiful that anyone hearing them would die. In Germany, the Pied Piper of Hamelin used music to fool rats and free the children. 

Throughout history, music is either seen as a way to eliminate violence or as a fatal attraction. The omnipresent sounds of human-produced music have affirmed itself as one of the major tools we ever had to communicate our most intricate joys, fears and mysteries. Claude Lévi-Strauss proposed that music in modern societies has become a substitute for myth, that the major musical works have replaced the myths and symbols of ancient times. Jacques Attali argued that ’music was ’not only a modern substitute for myth; it was present in myths in their time, revealing through them, its primary operationality as a simulacrum of the ritual sacrifice and as an affirmation of the possibility of social order’. If ’the code of music stimulates the accepted rules of society’, it is equally clear that those codes keep evolving, mirroring the social and cultural changes of the times. 

This presentation will shed some light over some of the thinking behind the musical explorations presented during the Symposium’s performances, looking at the various musical aesthetics that form our program as expressions of our inner imaginary (or real?) mythological selves.

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