Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gann on Angst

In a recent post Kyle Gann says:

There is nothing I work so hard on as ridding my life of angst. And I do it first in my music, in hopes that that will teach me how to do it in my life….

I asked in the comments:

This makes me wonder if you like/appreciate angst in the music of others, and whether you have any thoughts on catharsis via music.

He responded with:

Interesting question. There is certainly music I like of which angst is a well-handled component, for instance Wozzeck. But I think in general, music that exudes a free-floating, unmotivated angst is music that I grow bored with easily. I can love sad, and angry, and especially depressive music, because there are always things at hand to be sad and angry and depressed about. But to express undifferentiated worry and apprehension is boring in people and I find it boring in music. Catharsis seems like a very different thing. I think about it mainly in terms of Mahler, especially his Sixth, one of my favorite works. Wouldn’t try it myself, though perhaps there’s a little of that in the finale to Custer.

My feeling is that since, "there are always things at hand to be sad and angry and depressed about", I don't need music to get me to those places. There was a time I "enjoyed" listening to music that mirrored various interior turbulences, but these days I want to play and listen to music that, on balance, evokes positive rather than negative emotions. Because of that, I find myself hesitant to give myself over to the negative emotions needed to precede and set up the catharsis mechanism.

I should add that one of the reasons I'm so taken with Gann's The Planets is that the music doesn't map to emotions in ways I'm used to. There are lots of places it just sounds new and different and very engaging, but where I'd be hard pressed to say what emotion it's expressing.

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