Phenomenological Reviews

Journal | Volume | Article


dedicated to Giovanni Piana

Carlo Serra (University of Calabria)


In this paper, I discuss one of the most complex themes in Giovanni Piana’s philosophy of music: how the material apriori can be applied to musical time and acoustic depth. Piana begins his analyses by asking what it means to be aware of an element which pulls the beholder or the listener out of himself towards a visual or a sound configuration. Answering this question, Piana’s attributes depth and differentiation even to the regions of sound space or to the rhythmic impulses in temporal subdivision. Piana’s studies concerning acoustic depth are compared with Steven Feld’s research about the connection between perception, imagination, and the environment in a grammar of sound overlaps among Kaluli people. In Feld’s anthropological studies, Kaluli people’s imaginary brings to the fore structural nexuses of listening within a grammar that is completely different from the one Western listeners are familiar with. Yet, ‘different’ doesn’t mean ‘opposed’ or ‘alien’. In fact, Feld’s analyses precisely show how common structural nexuses articulate culturally differentiated models of musical experience. Accordingly, comparing Piana’s phenomenology of music with Feld’s ethnomusicology is particularly fruitful in order to capture the imaginative components of listening on at least two levels: on the general phenomenological level of the structuration of the experience of listening and on the level of more specific anthropological reflections, showing how such structuration is articulated in relation to cultural differences.

Soundmark(s) (Dedicated to Giovanni Piana) Carlo Serra Master XML, sdvig press Patrick Flack February 27, 2020, 3:46 pm ( )

11 Philosophical styles find justification in how they account for the meaning of an issue, while following a different path, which can be grasped in the inner folds of its articulation. To follow a path means to get inside it more and more, in full solitude, with no dispersal in infinite bibliographies, and allow a context of questions to get through to you, with such an intensity, that one might have the feeling of getting lost in them. The digging starts, then, as soon as one starts looking, clear-headed, for a way out of theemphasis of the questions. This is what I have learnt along many years of work side by side with Giovanni Piana. And I would like to illustrate what I have just said, while providing an account on the shape and evolution of a philosophical problem in his thought. My ambition is to bring it one tiny step forward.

1 | Emergence and Structure

2My contribution begins with a short text written by Piana in 1992–93, Una passeggiata sulla collina di Loretto [A Stroll on the Hill of Loretto]. This essay belongs to a series of texts drafted during the preparation of a cycle of lectures devoted to the interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenology of passive syntheses, which have been successively collected in an independent volume (Piana 2013c).

3To a large extent, the text develops as a commentary to the autobiographical anecdote included by Husserl in his Analyses Concerning Active and Passive Synthesis (Husserl 2001, 202). Walking at night, fully engrossed in his thoughts, the philosopher observes the twinkle of one light in a distant row emerge from the indistinct opacity of darkness.

4All of a sudden one light emerges from the row of far away lights, while the hill is fully immersed in the calmness of the night landscape. From there—from that forgetting of the world that darkness in the countryside begets—something comes up intermittently.

5It is not unimportant to wonder how it emerges, whether it emerges from or in, since what is really at stake, there, is the interference between levels, which produces a difference. In one split second, something takes centre stage in our thoughts in the mid of what was previously only obscurely present; a tiny aspect reorganises simultaneously the whole perceptual field and the narrative. Needless to say, what is interesting in all of this is notably that the row of lights, while being statically immersed in the darkness, had already emerged as a contrasting element, but remained unnoticed, silent.

6As soon as the light starts blinking, the whole landscape acquires a new meaning. The pulsation, as rhythmical phenomenon of discontinuity, simultaneously opens an internal landscape and a turning towards, in other words, a level of affection. From a landscape of close and distant things, a gradation comes about, that aims at approaching, from the most remote indistinguishability, the antechamber of the I, producing something that tastes like radical shaking, a jolt.

7As the shaking takes place, the row of lights is apprehended as unitary configuration, as having, that is, a strong enough internal bond of resemblance within the compound to emerge. The blinking mode has modified the internal organisation of the group, that is to say, the mode of being of that Gestalt.

8Piana points out that:

In our narration, however, there is an important detail. In this indistinct landscape something starts differentiating itself: that row of lights on the valley floor. It hardly strikes us: it hardly introduces itself to the threshold of my attention: it does have in itself something that can attract my attention, but this potentiality is maybe not yet able to be brought to actuality. The actualisation is connected to one further element, that is, to an internal variation in the configuration—the pulsating of one of the lights draws attention on itself, and finally my observational interest goes exclusively to that configuration (Piana 1993, 5).2

9Certainly, the starting point is provided by Husserl, although the account included in the Analyses Concerning Active and Passive Synthesis differs in some respects from Piana’s. What is important, however, is what happens afterwards, how Husserl’s hint is developed and soaked once more in the topic of affection. Husserl applies to this latter a specific perspective, which moves from the hardly noticed to awareness, from the obscure to the consciously acknowledged. The same transition is of great interest for Piana, but in reverse direction. There is clearly a hidden, non-transparent aspect in the phenomenological approach, which is connected to the potential generalisation of notion and process, concerning the periphery of the I. Granted the same, rich determination of sense, is a phenomenology of the obscure possible?

10Already tackled by Husserl in the lectures from 1921, the issue is particularly prominent in the conclusive remarks to Una passeggiata, where one reads that it would be desirable to open, at least, the dimension of passive synthesis to the obscure dimension of the subconscious (Piana 1993, 25). This topic has substantial consequences also for a theory of listening, and on this path, Piana makes headway, as usual, well beyond Husserl’s intuitions.

11Following this path leads to reconsider the coming together of the scene perception, while trying to identify the type of Gestalt there at play. From the narration emerge notably strong tension-based features, which push expectations along dynamic directions, thus constantly reorganising the levels affecting the perception.

12Where does dynamism emerge, though? Dynamism is embodied in the changing relations developing on stage, producing a differently-oriented field. While perturbing our expectations, the flickering outlines a new hierarchy in the levels of the visible, thus opening a new, possible narration, and a potential intersection between event and value.

13Piana sums up the issue by means of an image, from which others will ensue, and which emphasises to what extent the contrast interferes with and contributes to the unification—yet another of Husserl’s ideas, differently developed by Husserl himself.

14What does the image show? The formation of a group, with big circles in the foreground, and the row of lights on the hill with its intermittency. In the spirit of the narration, we are advised with no further ado to look at the background (Piana 1993, 26). This latter gradually takes or loses consistency according to chromatic nuancing, in the progressive thickening and darkening of the colour. It is the gradation of chromatic nuance which provides depth, and thereby space for perceptual dynamism. This implies that space is a dynamic notion; it is generated and differentiated by the chromatic gradient, which, depending on its variations, can be a factor of contrast or cohesion.

15It is clear why one can refer here to synthesis. The two emerging groupings are concerned by at least three synthetic trends: form similarity; colour similarity; and direction similarity. However, it would be a mistake not to remark how at the same time some counter-trends emerge with equal strength. The brightest light, which is also the one of a different colour within the row, on the one hand, draws attention on the row itself, that is to say, on the unitary configuration, and, on the other hand, acts as a non-grouping counter-trend and stands out as singularity out of a row, but as such, since its colour has the same intensity of the one on the background, is more weakly defined.

Figure 1

16How to define, then, the series of transformations developed in the scene? Piana would have referred to a structure which is able to display internally the transformation of its articulations according to specific rules. Said structure can make display of continuous variations, within a series of constant relations that tighten them up, thus determining interaction realms that are independent of the subjectivity that turns to them and recognises their functions.

17One could call the variation of internal relations—for instance, that below a given degree of intensity, the row disappears in the background and loses significance—an eidetic variation which establishes the margins of the internal articulation of relations; in other words, it outlines them and gives shape to the possible variations of sense in what we see. Needless to say, said articulation lends itself to the playing of imagination.

18How does this happen? What triggers playing mode? What triggers the actualisation, understood as internal variation of the configuration, which modifies the scene setting and draws attention on itself? It is worth emphasising this issue by means of another image of depth, this time taken from Winterreise by Roberto Masotti. There, the coming to the fore of a glistening fluidity—reflection, more than light—is blinding. While looking at the image, one sees the branches reaching out towards that point in the centre, an almost polarised place, where depth—in the continuity between figure and background—leans out from the bright hole (cf. Masotti 2017, 17).

19One may then wonder in what respect the hole from which light comes out is also the background. As soon as the irruption opens up, it is there that one perceives in its clearest form the contrast between vertical and horizontal, as well as the alliances between curvilinear and peripheral. A hole can be a particular place, in other words, a horizon of provenance. This image does not only display depth variations, as the previous one, but also the squeezing out of intensity elbowing its way through the shrubs. The elbowing through is just a colour touch of imagination, which sheds light on the dark regions of the turning-to.

Figure 2

20One could agree, then, that what in the image is elbowing its way through goes in the direction of sound. In the twinkle the background climbs over the figure; it gets through to the I. Since the emergence of depth looks like an overcoming and a leaning towards, one would almost say that, although it maintains the same chromatic temperature, from the hole light is coming towards us, and it forces us to turn to that direction, as a sound that startles us, or morbidly attracts us to itself. These answers are, clearly, already under the grip of imagination.

21The whole analogy is developed based on the many shades of incisiveness pertaining to affection. This latter articulates a field of variables, in which the psychological element of something going through us results from the surrounding as condition. Although impregnated of imagination, anyone’s remark that the light spoke to them or touched them, with a clear reference to the original level of impression, would certainly make sense. What’s more, it would suitably describe the grip of any psychological modelling, whenever the translation of the plane of experience in terms of intensity of impression is attempted.

22The reflection is impressed and almost dematerialises the branch bathed in light at eye level. One would even say, pushing and gently forcing the description to its limit, that the ray of sunlight almost produces a sound; that its voice has given a distinctive colour to the scene. A ray of sunlight that squeezes itself out—as Steven Feld writes in his delightful essay on the perception of the depth of sound in forests—and stands out as reverberation (see Feld 1988, 88-89).

23The twinkling of light shares some elements with the emergence of sound. Whenever a sound is heard, it means that it is made relevant out of a whirling sound crowd, often unnoticed at first, that points to us. Granted that the form of the phenomenon is ex-pression or ex-pressing, here the expression of something emerges from the matter transported by the sound flow.

24Ray of light and sound meet in the intensity of the reaction they trigger. Clearly, that is the only thing they have in common. One substantial difference exists instead between the picture that has captured the light, that is, has stopped it, and the attractive features of sound that flows while one listens to it.

25In Masotti’s photograph, light is blinding and it has been argued above that one should picture the impression as such, as something that goes through us, that one feels etching inside, underneath. Moreover, during a seminar,3 Masotti himself remarked that the eye is less defenceless than the lens. Since nothing contracts to protect it, the lens makes the going through especially tangible in its non-intentional, non-reflected relation to the light stimulus. The going through shows in the lens the re-emergence of an archaic form of experience, that is to say, an original phenomenon, as Goethe would have it. In it, space is charged with tension; in it, space is generated. Something similar is detected by Piana in how sound is given in time. Let us delve deeper into how Piana provides a transition from one form to the other.

26The detour through photography teaches us something about the differences between temporal forms in sound and image perception processes. Naturally, variations of intensity in light are seen; we grasp the process as a variation in intensity within a field, but this is different from an experience of sound: the time form of sound is flowing, it is a temporal tension; sounds follow one another, whereas we can follow the details of an image or the trail of light (Piana, 1991, 156). And a process also happens in a single sound perception process, different from what Judith Lochhead argues in The Temporal Structure of Recent Music: A Phenomenological Investigation. For Lochhead (1982, 168), whom Piana extensively quotes, the temporal object is a structure that we grasp as a successive whole moving on a temporal extension. This account comes close to Husserl’s conception of the temporal object in On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (Husserl 1991). Piana, instead, has another model in mind, a model in which temporal phases interpenetrate, in which they are welded one to the other: sound is a flux in which time-flow creates a temporal fusion between every single sound-phase. In such a way, even a single sound is a process, where every phase runs through the others; it exceeds, as if it was crossing a threshold. In a later text, Piana writes:

In music, the chain of time is broken primarily because a musical piece develops in an ongoing present which is, in turn, closed, and hence, deprived of an authentic future. And thus, it goes in a kind of present moment wedged into a real current time with which it has no relationship (Piana, 2013a, 174).4

2 | Out of murmur—bringing sound into focus

27In the light of what has been said so far, I would like to read the introduction to Filosofia della musica [Philosophy of Music]. Written two years before the lecture on re-awakening, the text deals with an issue for which Husserl’s figural synthesis is used as springboard to widen up a topic in need of new articulation, that is to say, the relation sound–silence.

28As the reader might already know, Piana refuses from the start to establish an antithetical relation between the bursting through of sound and silence, as effectively conveyed, for instance, by the image of a cut on a piece of paper, like one of Lucio Fontana’s works (Piana 1991, 73). Although it is true that sound might burst through, it is also possible to nuance its emergence and set it within the flow departing from a murmuring silence. Sound takes place in the incessant exchange edging the whole auditory dimension. From this latter the acoustic mark produced by the vibration of matter literally detaches itself in accordance with thousands possible ways of manipulation. It happens as voice as well as sound objectivity and as sound among others. This aspect is often overlooked, although a review by Roberto Miraglia (1992) many years ago made it a prominent point.

29Sound detaches itself by contrast and said contrast is as tense and dynamic as that pertaining to visual perception. It should be added that it detaches itself, notably, from a surrounding, accompanying context of whispering voices. It qualifies then as interference even when it occludes them all and peremptorily abides in listening. The sound matter is spread in a sound-space that is never fully transparent, but rather trembling with untraced corpuscles.

30The tension of sound thickness detaching itself from an always partially covered background led Piana to prefer the expression ‘emergence’, rather than ‘figuration’. When one speaks of emergence, the acoustic phenomenon is correctly understood as the bringing into focus of something coming to the fore from a field crowded by small and big interferences. The turbulence regimen makes it so that the listening dimension faces extremely complex tension phenomena. Connected to this aspect of the emergence, in fact, an extremely complex differentiation takes place directly in the sound fabric, hence in the matter, as differentiation of sound levels. This is how one can reorganise a descriptive fabric which is honestly suited, for instance, to soundscapes.

31Since Piana would rather quickly review it, it is crucial to pinpoint the turning point, stated but never shouted. In order to do this, one might even want to slightly force the discourse. It is not a coincidence that this point runs across most of his production on music, in sections such as ‘Symbol’ and ‘Time’ in Filosofia della musica, on which he would rarely linger during his lectures.

32Nevertheless, this subtle and very sophisticated aspect is worthy of further investigation. Generally speaking, in the great history of the philosophy of music, the topic of listening is immediately connected to the clear surfacing of the figure. In other words, the source appears as already into focus, as if each form of listening could be likened, out of exaggeration, although not so much, to the prothesis of an ear horn which brings the object into focus. This is what happens, for instance, in the Second Book of Aristotle’s De Anima [420], where the sound metaphors of high and low pitch are introduced in analogy with the sense of touch, and taken as imagination-based relations where the power of language has to surrender to the strong resistance of sensibility. The same happens as well in the accounts on vibration and on the relation high and low pitched concerning tonality, on the tonic and the subdominant, in the texts of musical theory masterfully analysed by Piana in the striking essay on the origins of tonality (Origine della tonalità), where the harmonics are envisaged as airy detachment from a vibrating figure in the foreground (Piana, 2013a, 9).

33The issue finds an extraordinary translation in the topic of the threshold as what emerges as focused differential at the beginning and at the end of the listening, when the game is over, according to Herbart’s refined psychology, as well as, more recently, according to many analytic philosophers. It would be false to claim then that the issue of detachment has been traditionally ignored. More correct it would be to point out that the identifying tendency has been traditionally more prominent than the genetic one. At any rate, sound qualifies as contextual experience, as provenance from something or even better from the interferences between layers.

34Since the background of sound is the murmuring of the small sounds of the world of life, one could immediately dive into the topic of the existential context. Clearly, this is also what Piana has in mind when he draws a comparison between the function of the murmuring silence and that of the theatre backdrop, as determining the space–time coordinates of narration. And yet, reading the text one would think that the argument goes further, in the direction of the topic of the identification of the dynamics of sound, in the very moment in which the sound detaches itself from the surrounding context. Such a differentiation is not a simple given, but something that is shaped within the movement of convergence between sound states and silence. Needless to say, said convergence is made irreversibly cloudy by the opposition between states at semiotic and empirical level.

35One may then wonder, why was Piana, a distinctively free author, so cautious? The answer lies, in my opinion, in something that will come to the fore only many years later, thanks to the theory of sound flows.

36I will here attempt a brief explanation. In order to get hold of such a rich topic two aspects pertaining to the perception of sound have to be taken simultaneously into account: the aspect of the sound mass, which defines its receptive dimension in terms of bodily shapes—we perceive sound and we talk about it by relying on the pragmatic and tactile level based on which sounds can be heavy, light, yielding, piercingly high pitched, heavily low pitched—and the time aspect, which is internal to the sound process. The perceptual aspect of mass usually captures the process at its end, when the soundmark has already made its presence clear. However, as Piana writes few years before Filosofia della musica, in the essay, ‘Colori e Suoni’, included in the collection La notte dei Lampi (The Night of Lightnings), the incidence of matter on sound is continuous:

When one says that the sound comes from something, one does not simply imply a possibly perceived causal link, but one also means to say—on the way towards a form of productive abstraction on the cognitive level—that the sound mainly starts from here, from the thing, inside of it, and then comes to the fore, radiating all around (Piana 1988, 219).5

37The soundmark has mass features because it comes from a ‘trembling’ body, ‘crossed by’ movement and radiating mass all over. One may wonder, then, whether it would be possible to establish a genealogy of what is before, of the moment, that is, in which the sound—as light in Loretto—starts pulsating and attracting the tension of listening, or, in other words, of the moment it starts activating a phenomenological length, which drags the attention of the listener. Where does the material and temporal trace which makes a sound detach itself from the others and thus prevail on something else take shape? Although shocking, these questions are not without sense. They all aim at the configuration of the sound-scene, or, as Orazio Vecchi would say, of the Theatre of Hearing.6 This topic is included in the notion of soundscape, a clearly promising expression, although an extraordinarily confusing one.

38To this topic, Piana has first attempted to provide some clues through an account of the time-bound form of sound as well as through the referencing of the structural traits of the listening form in its taking place. On this point, he presents an idea of listening as chasing, which encompasses the temporal understanding of the sound flow processes. One remarks then that the experience of time is included in the experience of sound, inasmuch as with sound the consumption of time is given.

Sound does not only have length, but it is first and foremost length. Sounds are not made of time. Temporality relates to sound like space extension to color: it represents an empty schema that the sound quality must fill. What’s more: it is maybe totally inappropriate to talk about a schema, since the word hints to some articulation. We should rather say that, compared to sound, time is formless form, an unarticulated form, with no internal differentiation. The differentiation of time is performed by sounds in virtue of the particular features of their content, that is, of the concrete sound substance. By resonating, sounds shatter the homogeneous continuity of time, and from this shattering a rhythmical re-composition is presented. This should not be taken as pure and simple arithmetical subdivision of time, but as the true shaping of temporality. Through sound, through the differences among sound substances and the relations establishing sound configurations, through the reciprocal relation among lengths and all the other moments qualifying the processuality of sound, the simple flowing of time, that is, its abstract becoming, is structured and articulated, as to now take upon itself a great variety of forms. Through sound one can act upon time; one can achieve a true manipulation of temporality (Piana 1988, 226).7

39Rhythm runs between event and pattern, but the point of attack of sound—that is, its emergence as process—is connected to how sound accentuation reshapes time and makes its continuity crumble. The fracture defines the way sound immediately pops up in our perception. The idea that time is not even a schema anticipates the formal activity of articulation. Yet, one should be careful here: when we enter in a relation to sound, the articulation is not only a formal principle; it is the form through which we intuitively represent time to ourselves.

40This hurdle is what Piana relentlessly digs up in absolute solitude. The groups or rows of sound are rhythmically connected in a way that is very different from the pulsating of the Loretto’s light. If that group is length, in fact, that length supports a temporal form, or better, it gives shape to time, and this more-than-becoming movement makes perception turn in its direction. This happens however within the intertwining of several elements, where timbre-related aspects, the matter features of sound, and the abstract nature of temporal schemas reciprocally expose each other. A process subsists based on energetic, accentuating intensity.

Between rhythmical differentiation and difference in intensity there is some important form of relation, as testified for that matter by the fact that an ‘intensive’ accent can strengthen a ‘rhythmical’ accent or it can clash against it, in both cases fulfilling an important rhythmical function. In order to embark on such a reassessment of the matter, one should first of all emphasise as much as possible something that, for reasons pertaining to the structure of my account, has received until now little attention. This is the double nature of percussive sounds, which are authentic sound substances, full sound aggregates with a great variety of material differences, but also, precisely thanks to their materiality and concreteness, the perfect representative of an abstractly temporal mesh. A similar double nature will surely affect also our issue. When the strength and weakness of sound are presented as deciding factors for the difference between accent and lack of accent, precisely in relation to the rhythmical dimension, we should be able then to see not primarily a pure difference in intensity, but its representational meaning. In strong sounds one should then see an emphasis laid on sound, while in weak sounds a hinting to silence (Piana 1991, 199).8

41Saying that percussive sounds are authentic sound substances—i.e., full sound aggregates with a great variety of material differences—Piana has two ideas in mind: on the one hand, the phenomenological notion of material apriori and, on the other hand, his own conception of timber, understood as sound coming from a material body crossed by motion, vibrations, generating an acoustical print. Thus, percussions shape rhythmical movements, schemes, patterns; but, at the same time, they are perceived like sound masses, with their own different timbres (Piana, 1991, 118-119). As we will see, the idea of a material origin of perceived sound masses from movement across a body, comes close to Feld’s conception of structural densification.

42Rhythmically accented sound is intensity. And intensity is the staging of the modes of provenance. A weak stroke and a strong stroke have representational value inasmuch as they bring one’s focus closer to or farther from the sound-scene. This is a powerful idea. The intensity of the strike makes a thickness-endowed sound step on stage. And the emerging of sound can be finely tuned. It can be hardly perceptible or take centre stage in the sound-scene, according to the intensity differentials accenting it, which fall under a potentially infinite progression.

43Sound consistency is also connected to time, permanence, and flight. In the alternating of weak and strong tempos one finds confirmed the provenance of sound from a row of timbre-related, dynamical, and phonetic affinity criteria, which produce sound layers around the listener. We should therefore picture a process of densification originating from provenance. Silence and loss of intensity stand, therefore, for a distancing, and not for a slowly graded remoteness. Articulations start operating in this temporal section.

44The alternating of beats amounts to the chromatic background we found in the dotted image. It moves though. It moves with the intensity of a wide-angle re-emerging from deep down to full presence. It is something fully three-dimensional, not a painted background, not the mere index of saddening or nostalgic feelings in the distance, as it happens in visual representations. While the timbre introduces differentiation, from this standpoint, that is to say, from the movement of layers and from the taking shape of an accentuating phenomenon, the rhythmic time of the articulation makes itself felt in the beaten body.

45Hence, the tautology uncovering a logical structure pertaining to listening: the emergence of beat entails perspectivism; this is connected to the accentuating factor; also the notion of intensity must therefore change, from merely quantitative parameter to qualitative form running through the production modes of sound and playing with the deepest corners of our perception of sound. Matter, or, in technical terms, the material apriori, must then qualify as something carrying rather stringent rules. It is indeed difficult to make a gong sing; it is even more difficult to make the inert mass of a concrete block richly resonate under the touch of a drum stick. Each type of matter touches upon the great richness of manipulation forms, but these forms are not unlimited. These remarks concerning the perceptual relations go well beyond the theoretical reach of merely quantitative intensity. As this key point starts to unravel, one transitions here from the level of measured data to that of the genesis of the structural relation.

46Configurations are attractive also on a plastic ground. What is here at stake is the plasticity pertaining to the sound flow. This very original topic is systematically dealt with in Barlumi per una filosofia della musica [Inkling for a Philosophy of Music], a text which has never been properly reviewed, possibly due to its misunderstood title.

47This book collects some inquiries prior to, as well as following, Filosofia della musica. However, these accounts outline a phenomenological field that is even more sophisticated and piercing. Their starting point is the medium, that is, the machine, which allows the construction of sound flows.

48The theoretical tension is instead developed also around the topic of the perceptibility of the interval, in other words, once more, around the myth of Marsyas and of musical measurability. What can one discover in the text then? I would say, repeating a joke that used to make Piana laugh, that even when one can dwell in the sound flow, that is to say, in the continuous, one is never short of good reasons to flay Marsyas. Once the logics of the continuum is accepted, if too small segments of the sound-space are isolated, our perception is no longer able to detect specific differences between their pitches but discovers only differences in luminosity. In other words, if two sounds are too close to one another, I identify them only as a variation in intensity of the same sound; I’m not able to tell the difference between one and the other; I no longer can detect the position of sound in space, that is to say, its individuality. On this ground, in our mathematics-based tradition, Apollo has Marsyas flayed, as to send the aulos’ glissando sound into exile. The gliding sound has a strongly seductive power and creates a system of discrete and recognisable sound grains, never overstepping the quarter tone.

49In the flow, or in the minimal interval, however, the same sound bends and stands up; it gets lighter as it goes up and darker as it goes down, but the movement between different positions is undistinguishable. In other words, I find myself in what we should call the region of pure sensibility. This is the region of the continuum which displays the interesting feature of including structural values, implacably graded by experience itself. Failing to acknowledge this means, to put it simply, lying to oneself.

50When the same sound, in the flow, is lighter or darker, this entails that its thickness changes, as it happens in response to the pressure of the pencil tip, when one traces a segment. This aspect should not be explained by means of the measuring process, but acquires prominence, literally, on the perception level.

51The musical space is no neutral structure, as gathered in listening when one speaks of mass. In the low-pitched region sound has a viscous, cumbersome thickness; it is no metaphysical synthesis, but a siding condition of the listening, on which no interpretation holds. It is as it is; I cannot do much about it; and no linguistic given can decompose it.

52As it goes up, sound thins out. The sound flow has a three-dimensional character, that graphs fail to describe, inasmuch as they are simply visual structures like the sonograms. They can provide a map, but they are unable to account for the changing thickness in the increasing or decreasing motion of the cent. At best they can trace it, whereas hearing lives within it. Whether we like it or not, already on the level of the most sublimated space form, that is, in the regional articulation of pitches, listening incurs immediately in this difference. This entails that the accent, as pre-forming agent of any form of articulation, or the ictus as turning on of rhythm—along the lines of Gregorian concepts—is implicitly a matter-based event, not only a formal one, and that the realm of musical formal setting is already pervaded by said material nature.

53These fecund ideas underpin the development of the whole late investigations of my mentor: from the essay on tonality to that on chromaticism, a rich approach to sound is outlined, where the bodily aspect of what is perceived is what allows a new phenomenological reading of the whole realm of the musical, from form to timbre (Piana, 2013d, 144-146). In this respect, the articulation has not only formal goals, but it also engenders the process influencing the thickness of sound matter; on the other hand, space is flow, and its moments change in density and thickness.

54Now, the inner sense of Piana’s approach should be clear. While obsessively following the articulation of an issue, he changes its meaning. It is not enough to say that time and matter entertain a deep perceptual relation, or that matter fills out time; the real achievement is to acknowledge that through the intensification of beat on sound matter, that is to say, through accent, time takes shape. The atmospherical perception, since constantly crossed by contrast and unification, refers us back to the line traced on a sheet of paper. As synthesis of points, and as the configuration of material traits with an extension, the line is not at all abstract, but, rather, a very concrete incidence, just like the sound is matter-based and wide-spread.

55As one sound steps out of the contrast with the other surrounding sources, the emerging of noticing acquires thickness for us also on a symbolic level. It certainly takes shape in the original, bodily, matter-based nature of sound, but it is also connected to the fact that sound can be neither in nor out, but it is rather an expressive, transitive property, floating around us. The following passage in Barlumi explains this matter:

The feeling without subject. One usually takes a feeling as something that is inside us. On the contrary it is around us. A description of fear should be a description of how things look like in fear […]. Yet, one could even say: like a face expression, a melody spreading throughout space while resonating in it, enriches it of a feeling that is neither mine nor yours, of a feeling without subject, that is, I would dare to say, a feeling that belongs to the space around. A face expression is not something printed on the face of someone and staying there. It has instead an expansive feature. Think about what happens in the surrounding space when, on the door, suddenly pops in the laughing face of a kid (Piana 2007, 163).9

56It would be nice to pick up the writings of a composer, who Piana admired and criticised, such as Luigi Nono, and discover, in the Note sul Prometeo (Notes on Prometheus), a large account on the thickness of sound, on the temporal differentials, developed, mostly, in this direction. Also, Nono had difficulties with musical formalism (Nono 2007, 139-145); he was looking for a way to develop a discourse on the symbolic in music, routed on the enlightening of sound from within, despite the rigidity and the uneven quality of Prometheus.

57Needless to say, given that the perception of sound pays the heavy price of the incidence of matter, the use of metaphors is legitimate. They are indeed the only way to describe the impression left on us by sound, said impression constantly slipping from the level of perception to the level of imaginative valorisation. Said valorisation is clearly not open on all sides, but, rather, it attentively weighs the perception result. Needless to say, also this is part of the emerging, which establishes a relation between both levels and tightens them together.

3 | From the hills of Loretto to the rain forest

58The solitary direction taken by Piana can well interact with that of others. I namely believe that a close comparison, to a great extent, can be established between the notions of murmuring silence and acoustemology (see Feld 2015).

59In the second half of the 1980s, Steven Feld publishes a memorable text on the conceptual category experiences by the Kaluli population living in the rainforest in Papua New Guinea. The text, Aesthetic as Iconicity of Style, following the book Sound and Sentiment, is soon translated into Italian, and deals with, among other things, the descriptive category employed in the linguistic expression, dulugu ganalan.

60The essay starts off from the human world, focussing on the very delicate shift signified by the concept of groove, as the lived form of a musical structure shared in listening, which is known, manipulated, appropriated, as in the case of a musical piece that we like and of which we progressively learn to recognise, and intuitively anticipate, the features. The piece then becomes a model of listening, something to which we refer similar and dissimilar forms, anticipating their outcomes. Similarly, as it affectively colours up our life, it indicates a mode of being and preludes to the concept of style.

61By connecting various definitions provided by Leonard Meyer, and binding together value attribution, musical form, and the meaning of music, Feld builds up a remarkable grid:

62style constitutes the universe of discourse within which musical meanings arise (Meyer 1967, 7). More precisely: a musical style is a finite array of interdependent harmonic, rhythmic, timbral, textural, and formal relationships and processes. When these are internalized as learned habits, listeners (including performers and composers) are able to perceive and understand a composition in that style as an intricate network of implicative relationships or to experience the work as a complex of felt probabilities (Meyer, 1967, 116, emphasis added).

63In simple terms, the education within a groove is a sentimental education. The inter-dependency of melodic factors, timbre factors, and formal factors leads the listeners to make anticipations of their own and develop expectations concerning a musical form they are familiar with, and that is used as litmus test while approaching other forms. The groove not only pre-shapes the listening, as it happens when we learn how to recognise the structure and development of a piece, but it is also a means of contrast, used to learn how to recognise emotional differences and affinities between us and the world. This is why a groove, in the light of this affective constellation, is, as Feld writes efficaciously, a place where “one feels very comfortable” (Feld 1988, 75).

64The two aspects are embedded in one another, as if the groove was a place of comparisons; a structure so familiar to be felt as ours; like a form of life rooted in listening. Said form of life is constantly reactivated by sound perception, to the point that one can hardly disagree with Feld’s claim that styles are so deep rooted in cultures to be like grooves on vinyl records.

65What was a microgroove record? Something you could carry around to listen to your music independently from media- and environment-variability. I would have it not only in me, but also with me, maybe to have friends listen to it, to dance together, to share emotions. These latter are surrounding us, as Piana would say, and the spreading features of sound are the cohesive force of humans. Also, cultures can regenerate and re-build themselves up. There is no original element that bars the way; each exchange, rather, grows together upon itself, on small but deciding aspects of experience. In short, I believe that the notion of groove would have been met with enthusiasm by the author of Vita Activa, Hannah Arendt.

66We are now entering an extremely intimate and challenging context with many connections to Husserl’s life-world, although through a less mythological and way more minimal mediation. Since we cannot follow all the traces irradiating from Feld’s text—pointing to the anthropological depth of the topic of listening—while summing up, and certainly losing something of the work’s meaning, I would like to linger a little longer on the relationships between sound source and sound overlapping within the framework of the dulugu ganalan metaphor.

67Dulugu ganalan means, literally, ‘lift up over sounding’, and it is, among other things, an acoustic-visual metaphor which, as Feld says, refers to

‘lift-up over sounding’ feels like:—continuous layers, sequential but not linear; non-gapped multiple presences and densities; —overlapping chunks without internal breaks; a spiraling, arching motion tumbling slightly forward thinning, and thickening back again […].‘Lift-up-over sounding’ is always interactive and relational. By calling attention to both the spatial (‘lift-up-over’) and temporal (‘sounding’) axes of experience, the term and process explicitly presuppose each sound to exist in fields of prior and contiguous sounds (Feld 1988, 79).

68Feld’s is clearly relying here on the concept-system developed by Peirce (in particular, on his account of iconicity). The issue he is interested in concerns the level of detachment from the material background of provenance. Piana would have been delighted to learn that said moment would become a model of listening, where sound is brought into focus through progressive emergence. As contrast comes to the surface, the metaphor describes an emergence with emotional implications. It is not by coincidence, I believe, that, among the several definitions of metaphor available, Feld chooses one related to taste (Feld, 1988, 78). The essence of ‘pure content’ is good to think about; it is an imaginative, delightful figure and ground perception. Also, he refers to Paul Ricoeur, who claims that metaphors should be seen as:

[…] a rapprochement of thinking, sensing and feeling, a model for changing our way of looking at things, of perceiving the world (Ricoeur 1978, 150).

69What is at stake is a clearly bodily and pervasive listening form. Also, in the metaphor, one feels very comfortable. However, within the conceptual forms mobilised by the metaphor inspired to a listening practice, Feld notably connects Roy Wagner’s symbolically rich anthropological inquiries to Howard Becker’s essay on art as collective action, and he remarks that:

When what we call metaphors (like ‘lift-up-over sounding’) are felt to be naturally real, obvious, complete, and through, then they become iconic, that is, symbols that stand for themselves (Wagner 1986), images that are feelingfully synonymous from one domain or level of image and experience to another. In more sociological terms, from Howard Becker, ‘[…] people do not experience their aesthetic beliefs as merely arbitrary and conventional; they feel that they are natural, proper and moral (1974:773)’ (Feld 1988, 93)

70Metaphors are able to so naturally convey the realm of sound inasmuch as they qualify as most appropriate tool to project the perceptual dimension of contrasts and unification, in other words, of the individuating differentials of phenomena, onto an image expressing the resistance of the sensible material to language. They translate experience; they are born in experience; their experience is already floating over the symbolic.

71The dulugu ganalan metaphor establishes a relation between highly differentiated listening grids:

(a) relations within an instrumental sound among its own acoustical strata, and/or relations of this sound to other surrounding sounds intentionally or non-intentionally co-present;
(b) relation of deliberately coordinated or simply co-present voice sounds, song, and talk;
(c) relation of any vocalizing to accompanying rattle instruments or work tools, whether the same or different actors are involved in both activities;
(d) relation of any of these to surrounding co-present environmental sounds (e.g., thunder, rain, birds, animals, insects, etc.) (Feld 1988, 70).

72As to the first point, one should take into account that on a technical and musical level it is important to assess the intentionality or non-intentionality of the relations, inasmuch as they touch upon an extremely complex level of contextuality. One comes here very close to instrumental sound and the acoustic context of reference.

73A good reference could be here precisely the emergence of colour in the figure presented by Piana. Clearly, one is only partially impressed by the performative level, which reacts on the background, in a complex form of interactivity, where the environment is explicitly thematised and at times brought back to the level of musical stylisation, inasmuch as these phenomenological aspects, after all, have been already widely pre-sensed.

74As to the second point, concerning the difference between the relations among vocal sounds and singing sounds a significative aspect comes to the fore. Based on the examples taken into account by the two texts by Piana, the same vowel has obviously a different sound whether sung or spoken. In both cases, the different forms of accentuation fall onto the sound thickness, the matter and the sound attack, which arranges the musical sounds according to a distinctive articulation.

75The concept is therefore malleable, in movement, eluding taxonomies. It expands in ripples, from the level of simple co-presence to the forms of participatory rhythmical discrepancy. A method of progressive incorporation comes then to the fore, to the aim of taking directly into account the connection and difference between the sound in the foreground and what is intertwined with it, in other words, between contrast and unification. Around the sound we listen to, there is a singing forest, which is edging its provenance.

76Halfway between style and groove, dulugu ganalan is elusive and determining, but it is also a phenomenological structure anticipating a mode of being and a mode of listening. The examples selected by Feld account for a type of sound whose model is the resonating of a forest full of mythological and real elements melted together, where the voices of the dead, in the form of bird singing, call me not to feel lonely, not to make me feel alone. What Feld means by ‘sentiment’ comes close to Piana’s idea of musical emotion, which is caught in a ‘structural’ hearing: even if sound is around me, the use of the first-personal pronoun is crucial in structural phenomenology. Long sections in Filosofia della musica contain critical discussions of anthropological relativism in music value, especially in the analysis of musical materials conceived like sociological and cultural facts. According to Piana, endorsing such an anthropological-relativist view means neglecting the structural meaning of experience of listening. As a consequence, the analysis of this aspect of human experience inevitably turns into a form of psychologism (Piana, 1991, 55-57).

77Feld’s examples allow us to reconstruct a big portion of the imagery revolving around the squeezing out, the coming out, and the emergence of sounds turning towards us from the bottom of the forest. Following an interesting row of remarks on the out-of-phase, Feld aptly remarks that:

Two further linguistic details are relevant here to apprehending dulugu ganalan as a process of in-sync and out-of-phase textural densification in motion. First, the term dulugu ganalan: the imperative verb forms are duluguma, ‘lift-up-over’, as when one places something above, like on a smoking rack in the longhouse, and ganalana, ‘sound’, a generic, unmarked for agent or variety. The term dulugu ganalan always has the second verb inflected the continual/processual aspect suffix /-an/; hence the ongoing sense of sounding emphasizes process, motion, temporality, continuity, extension. The term is never given in a nominalized form (dulugu) even though it can be easily formed grammatically in that way. Second, one cannot substitute Kaluli terms for ‘lead’ or ‘follow’ (tamina hanan, ‘going first’; fist hanan, ‘going in back’) for any dimension of dulugu ganalan (Feld 1988, 83).

78The temporal, process-like, tension is closely connected to a form of articulation based on the structural densification, that is, matter-based thickening of the sound coming to the fore, acquiring thickness, and developing according to a so to speak always ongoing process. The process fills the temporal a-morphism up, shapes it up with synchronised sound contents, but out-of-phase. As Piana wrote that sound is length, he would come very close to the structural incidence of a rhythmical segmentation in time; he would probably not have thought, though, about an uninterrupted process—the murmuring continuum—from which sounds detach themselves and flow in overlapping layers in the sound form of the forest. Besides, in these exemplifications, the imagination aspect—little developed within the context of Husserl’s Analyses Concerning Active and Passive Synthesis—is here radically emphasised, notably against the background of the perceptual emergence of out-of-phase sounds, and condensed in a series of symbolic interpretations, which define the multiple return of listening forms within the dulugu ganalan.

79The expression ‘synchronised but out-of-phase’, in fact, only makes sense provided that it is referred back to its origins in a constantly operating sound mass, which is incessantly projected on the lived experience, so to speak, like the grooves on the record, although this record, the forest, is never silent, like the world itself. Movement, temporality, persistency, extension, these are all phenomenological categories capturing the thickness of sound overlapping in its very many nuances, in the countless scene perceptions, each with its discoverable rules, all connected by the fact that the shaping of temporality is also the moulding of matter, according to the definition of Varèse, saying that the form should be taken as the thickness of the content.

80As in an imaginary stroll with Piana in the Kaluli forest, or, more prosaically—in reference to the model of language-games, which he greatly appreciated in music grammars—one could linger on two small but very precious examples. I have here selected only two examples, but they are potentially countless, also beyond this repertoire. For those who are familiar with Hegel, one could refer to the notion of expressive function of Bekleidung- /Begleitung (covering) a genius intuition, too hasty outlined, which defines the relationship between music and meaning.10 One could also refer to the world-features, in Schopenhauer’s understanding of the word, which pervades the shaping of the several layers of meaning, as well as of the polyphonic articulation, thickening up in Mahler’s music.

81The first example leads to the feeling-based dimension of onomatopoeias. The sound layer of the cicadas’ singing is miniaturised within Ulahi’s singing.

The female voice and pulsating cicada background are ‘lift-up-over sounding’; the verbal cicada onomatopoeia of the text, and the accompanying mimetic vocal textures multiply the relationship (Feld 1988, 80).

82The mythological layer of the stridulation of noise is here captured and incorporated like a mirror within a melody that would otherwise suffer lack of recognition outside of that environment. One could call it ‘mimesis’, provided that one sees in it a pressing hinting to an account on the poetics of emergence. And it is hardly necessary to mention the phenomenological tension between the two sound levels. The chirping of cicadas and its small gaps within the continuity of the out-of-phase create a thickness of depth that resembles the chromatic gradation of the drawing we examined. On the tension of this background the beautiful melody drawn by the voice stands out. The voice miniaturises the background inside the melody, in other words it adds it as an embellishment. In the wonderful annotations on listening concerning passive synthesis, all these levels become embedded as profoundly moving projective aspects.

83The onomatopoeia acquires thickness like the groove on the record. Besides, it is the very structure of sound-space that stretches out to produce a cameo, in which the interval, the colour, and the rhythmic attack flow on the plane of interference among musical sounds. These latter define layers that are both fused together and separate. In short, also here contrast and unification are complementary.

84As at least four sound layers (i.e., environmental sounds, cicadas, voices, singing) come to the fore, the idea of articulation, the matter-based nature of the resounding body of cicadas, and the sound that comes from the vocal cave, in short the theoretical line of the emergence, as formulated by Piana, provides suitable descriptive tools. The affective level of the groove, then, supports a remarkable transition to the symbolic. The buzzing of sound—according to Piana’s formulation, the living side of silence—becomes a fully symbolic structure, thanks to the sound thickness of the resonating bodies of the cicadas. Once more, it is here difficult to break the complicity between the imaginative aspect and the perceptual dimension.

85The interaction of Ulahi moves on an affective, bodily element, certainly connected also to the imaginative opacity of musical symbolism. When Piana explained that the configuration goes beyond itself, he had in mind this trespassing into the realm of imagination and the figurative character of sound structures.

The quartet of male voices is paired in twos; in each duo the two voices ‘lift-up-over’ one another; each duo additionally 'lifts-up-over' the other duo with the droned ‘o’ phrase endings; voices and rattles are also ‘liftup-over sounding’ to the voices in the overall, Kaluli also pointed out that the use of crescendo and decrescendo here enhances the temporal fullness of the ‘lift-up-over sounding’ sound (Feld 1988, 80).

86Several, equally interesting, levels of inquiry open up here. One should discuss proper language-games in reference to the weakening of dulugu ganalan, in the chaining of the ‘o’ which out-of-phase move towards synchronicity to gather on the same layers and thus emerge in the flow, similarly to what happens in Masotti’s picture. In their alinement the sound changes in thickness and moves over exactly when it becomes point of convergence. Very interesting is also Gaso’s remark, closely connected to the acknowledgment game in which the groove is preliminary to style. Gaso also pointed out that the use of crescendo and decrescendo here enhances the temporal fullness of the ‘lift-up-over sounding’ sound.

87Although he never studied in Leuven, Gaso perfectly describes the formation of an eidetic relation. He grasped it because inscribed in the densification of the sound phenomenon.

88The timbre-related aspect overlaps the simultaneous growth of vocal element interacting in the space. This creates the feeling in the listener of a getting closer to or farther from the source. Uneven relevance is granted to the overlapping elements or to the emergence charged with imaginative features. This latter, indeed, feeds on temporal intensification, which can only be explained based on the fully phenomenological ideas of fusional intensification. But there is more. In relation to the emerging sound, the continuity-guaranteeing rattle layer behaves just like the chromatic variation pointed out by the emergence of light on the hills of Loretto. From the sudden hit, or ictus, one transitions to an event, that is, to an arrangement of background voices, which guarantee the continuity of the murmuring silence. From the hit, we have arrived to the possible focalisations in sequence of the rhythmic phenomenon. That’s why the rattles lift up over sounding.

89In this context, the length sounds mentioned by Piana are stratified and acquire bodily thickness around the skin receptivity, but one should not take this as an easy anthropologisation of the topic. On the contrary, when Feld observes that, as they call upon experiential trajectories that are both spatial (lift up over) and temporal (sounding), end and process in dulugu ganalan imply that each sound exists in sound fields that are preceding and continuous, he captures the making of temporality in which the identified continuum is not a pure feeling, but a vectorial thickness finding its shape.

90The continuity among phases, that is to say, moments of the process of sound production, creates the game of emergence of thickness in the dilatation of the sound length itself. It would be pleonastic to point here to the interaction of contrast and unification and to how their difference emphasises the timbre prominence in the sound fabric. Presences separate and group up, like in an ancient polyphony which has lost, for the great part, its taste for the unison.

91It is worth mentioning that the phenomena of contrast and unification here investigated should not be confined to the realm of ethno-musicology. Feld’s approach to the densification of sound builds up the grammar of a great theory of listening, developed in the terms of contrast, unification, and thickening. What’s more, the phenomenological care for the investigation of matter might suggest that this model can be extended also to many other contexts. What will be missing is, clearly, the specific groove, the synchronised out-of-phase, but it will be sufficient to better read what exactly the textural densification is to better understand the richness of the theoretical model outlined by Feld.

Additionally, in ‘lift-up-over sounding’, timbre (the building blocks of sound quality) and texture (the composite, realized experiential feel of the sound mass in motion) dominate melodic-rhythmic syntax; performance and form merge to maximize interaction and the dialogic potentials of style. The multidimensionality of the sound examples is striking. Timbre and texture are not mere ornaments; a stylistic core of ‘lift-up-over sounding’ is found in nuances of textural densification—of attacks and final sounds; decays and fades; changes in intensity, depth and presence; voice coloration and grain; interaction of patterned and random sounds; playful accelerations, lengthenings, shortenings; and the fission and fusion of sound shapes and phrases into what electro-acoustic composer Edgar Varese called the ‘shingling’ of sound layers across pitch space (Feld 1988, 82).

92It comes with no surprise that the description of said structural emergences fastens together fragments of visual, tactile, and acoustic language, in the simultaneous growth of the expression ‘shingling’, which Varèse borrowed from metal-work language. Such a complex descriptive category hits the mark while conveying the fusion of time, matter, and sound within the differentiating and fusing perceptive processes.

93However, upon careful reading, one could easily believe that the model is more than this. While accounting for the overlapping of the several planes, in parallel and one upon the other, often non-synchronised, which define the structural dynamics of emergences, Piana teaches us that the word synthesis should not be separated from other words such as tendency, tension, emergence, and contrast (Piana 1993, 11). Whereas the timbre-based colour of voices brings them together, the polyphonic lines—that is, the directions—separate them, and the pulsation shapes the articulation supporting the entry of voices and so on, flowing in time, becoming easy to follow. Therefore, also in music, the unity shaped by chromaticism—by colour—is stronger than that provided by direction, based on space dislocation, as clearly perceived in the distinctive densification of the ‘o’. The thing shows to me the place. Similarly, the polyphonic direction arranges the voices in the space recreated by the sound onwards, backwards, on the side, and all around.

94The rich descriptive plane activated by the space surrounding sound—or, in other words, by the murmuring edging crown of sound—is certainly not the same as the texture of Wallace Berry (1976, 20-37). It is way deeper, inasmuch as it takes the issue, so to speak, from the back door of the category, and follows the unfolding of its form at logical level.

95A potential performative analogon can be instead found in the relation accent–thickness as described by Charles Keil and condensed by Feld in the notion of participatory discrepancy (Feld 1988, 82).

96Keil identifies emerging expressive and formal properties in the executive, improvised, and processual features of jazz. He then projects these components onto the two levels of creative tension, listening and playing music, as well as on the processual and textural, where the processual identifies the rhythmic form, the swing, the groove, while the textural identifies the timbre and the quality of the sound. What produces intensity and participation in music is a ‘margin’ emerging from the variety of the out-of-phase (process) and of the clash (texture).

97However, these elements do not belong exclusively to the performativity of jazz. They also contribute to the structural densification which supports the surfacing of sound levels and their differentiation in the listening and practice of dulugu ganalan. Reverberation, blurring, lack of alinement also occur while listening to the sound of forests, of cities, of less affectively determined soundscapes. This is an open path applying to many forms of contemporary music. We could comment this whole situation with Piana:

To those who insist on the privileged relationship between music and inner life, remember the social nature of music, music for parties and dance. And also the relationship with physicality. There is a profound physical and bodily aspect of the experience of sound. The sound is at skin deep (Piana, 2013b, 33).11

98At this point, Feld’s thinking becomes even subtler and leads our attention towards the emergence of a margin. This margin is a differential, a delay or an intensification in intensity, or a movement of rhythmic densification connected to some events interfering with the scheme, like rotating rubber bands around the articulation. What is at stake is the thickening or thinning out of the rhythmical density revolving around the scheme, in representational sense something very close to the sound–silence differential in Piana’s rhythmic idea.

99Even more shocking for the reader is, however, the other differential, that is, the idea of clash as alteration of a given pitch that modifies the texture of the note and the materiality of the soundmark. In this context, the differential lays a magnifying glass on the metamorphosis between sound and blurring, point and stain, line and thickening. Such a powerful descriptive lucidity hints apparently to a theoretical account remodelling all categories connected to listening.

100Back to the topic of this essay, the emergence, the great richness of the investigations of my mentor is visible. What he gathered obliquely around the soundmark shows that, unless each level is searched throughout, the interaction with the following one remain elusive. In this contribution, then, I have indulged in the pleasures of language-games, of the intertwining, and of the recording of logical gradation, which surround the structural bivalence of many forms of experience.

101A very playful solitude has defined most of Piana’s philosophical adventure in full awareness that depth cannot do without the corrective of irony in order to regenerate itself—let me say it one more time—like the groove in the record.

102This is how I remember him. And this is how I see the path of a philosophy not restricted to the shapeless, but rather radically rethinking a notion of world where the emergence of sense relentlessly refuses to be locked up within too hasty traced profiles. The tension to completeness originated always from minute details, that is to say, from what appeared as secondary, in the form of the very rare ability to keep the focus on more profiles simultaneously, as exemplified by the whole–part relation defining Piana’s path within phenomenology. Entering this perspective has been a philosophical bet that has changed our lives. This is not without importance for someone who loved small things, details, and who believed that a philosophical path is born out of peeking into those dark and unnoticed corners, as if the darkness of the night offered an opportunity and not a loss. Maybe it is the singing of birds protected by the darkness that teaches us how to philosophise (Piana 1999-2007) and makes us feel less lonely.


  • 1 I had the opportunity to present this paper within the framework of the conference ‘The Science of Happiness: In Memory of Giovanni Piana’, hosted by the Philosophy Department of the Università degli Studi di Milano, on June, 7th 2019. I would like to thank Paolo Spinicci for organising the event and Paola Basso, Vincenzo Costa, Roberta De Monticelli, Stefano Cardini, Elio Franzini, Roberto Miraglia, Nicola Pedone, Michela Summa, together with Paolo, for their contributions. While listening to their accounts and to the round table closing the day, I have learned a great deal within a serene and joyful setting animated by many people who gathered to apprehend the results of philosophical research, which have been today collected in a DVD by Valentino Piana. A great memory to hold on to: .Dr. Tessa Marzotto supervised the English translation of this text.
  • 2 “Nel nostro racconto tuttavia c’è un dettaglio importante. In questo orizzonte indistinto qualcosa comincia con il distinguersi: quella fila di luci nel fondo valle. Essa ci colpisce appena: si presenta appena alla soglia della mia attenzione: essa ha in sé qualcosa che può trarre su di sé la mia attenzione, ma questa potenzialità non riesce forse ancora ad essere attualizzata. L’attualizzazione è legata ad un elemento ulteriore, ad una variazione interna nella configurazione – il pulsare di una delle luci attrae l’attenzione su di sé, e infine il mio interesse osservativo si dirige esclusivamente su quella configurazione.”
  • 3 I refer here to the Seminar on ‘Philosophy and Photography’ held on March, 20th 2019 at Università della Calabria under the title ‘Winterreise tra suono e immagine’ [Winterreise between sound and image].
  • 4 “Nella musica la catena del tempo è spezzata anzitutto per il fatto che il brano si sviluppa in un presente puramente decorrente, che è, a sua volta, chiuso, e che è dunque privo di un passato vero e proprio e di un futuro autentico – dunque in una sorta di presente assoluto, incuneato nel presente reale con il quale è essenzialmente privo di rapporti (passage translated by A. Lombardo).
  • 5 “Quando diciamo che il suono proviene dalla cosa non intendiamo semplicemente un nesso causale eventualmente percepito, ma anche sulla via di assumere la forma di un’astrazione produttiva sul piano conoscitivo: vogliamo dire che anzitutto che il suono comincia da qui, dalla cosa, dentro di essa, e poi si fa avanti, irraggiandosi tutto intorno.”
  • 6 Cfr. Conati (2014). The Italian expression ‘Teatro dell’Udito’ (Theatre of Hearing) appears in Canzonette a 3 voci (1597), as an icon of an acoustic drama: in that conception, sound, and events are seen as characters.
  • 7 “Il suono non ha soltanto una durata, ma è anzitutto una durata. I suoni non sono fatti di tempo. La temporalità si rapporta al suono così come l’estensione spaziale al colore: essa rappresenta uno schema vuoto che la qualità sonora deve riempire. E ancor più: forse non è affatto opportuno parlare di schema, dal momento che la parola rimanda a una qualche articolazione. Dovremmo dire invece che il tempo, rispetto al suono, è una forma informe, una forma inarticolata, che non conosce nessuna differenziazione interna. La differenziazione del tempo è operata dai suoni stessi, in forza delle particolarità del loro contenuto, della loro concreta sostanza sonora. Risuonando, il suono frantuma la continuità omogenea del tempo, e da questa frantumazione si propone la sua ricomposizione ritmica: che non andrà certamente intesa come una pura e semplice suddivisione aritmetica del tempo, ma come una vera e propria plasmazione della temporalità. Attraverso il suono, attraverso le differenze tra le sostanze sonore e le relazioni che istituiscono configurazioni sonore, attraverso i rapporti reciproci fra le durate e tutti gli altri momenti che qualificano la processualità del suono, riceve strutturazione e articolazione il semplice fluire del tempo, il suo divenire astratto, che può assumere ora una grande varietà di forme. Attraverso il suono, possiamo agire sul tempo, possiamo mettere in opera una vera e propria manipolazione della temporalità.”
  • 8 “Vi è tra differenziazione ritmica e differenza di intensità una qualche importante forma di rapporto, come del resto è attestato dal fatto che un accento ‘intensivo’ può rafforzare un accento ‘ritmico’ oppure può entrare con esso in conflitto svolgendo in entrambi casi un’importante funzione ritmica. Per avviare una simile riconsiderazione, è opportuno anzitutto dare il massimo rilievo ad un aspetto che, per ragioni interne alla nostra esposizione, è rimasto fin qui un poco in ombra: si tratta della doppiezza dei suoni percussivi, che da un lato sono autentiche sostanze sonore, concrezioni sonore piene e complete, nell’enorme varietà delle loro differenze materiali, dall’altro, proprio in questa loro materialità e concretezza, possono essere intesi come rappresentativi di una trama astrattamente temporale. Ma allora una simile doppiezza si rifletterà anche nell’ambito del nostro problema. Perciò quando si suggeriscono la forza e la debolezza del suono come fattori che caratterizzerebbero la differenza dell’accento e della mancanza di accento, e proprio in rapporto alla dimensione ritmica, in ciò dobbiamo essere in grado di cogliere non già la pura differenza di intensità, ma il suo senso rappresentativo. Nel suono forte dobbiamo vedere un’enfasi posta sul suono, così come nel suono debole un’allusione al silenzio.”
  • 9 “Il sentimento senza soggetto. Si considera di solito il sentimento come qualcosa che sta dentro di noi. Invece esso ci sta intorno. Una descrizione della paura dovrebbe essere una descrizione dell’aspetto che le cose assumono nella paura…Eppure potremmo anche dire: come l’espressione di un volto, una melodia che si diffonde nello spazio, risuonando in esso, lo arricchisce di un sentimento che non è né il mio né il tuo, di un sentimento senza soggetto che è, vorrei quasi dire, un sentimento che appartiene allo spazio intorno. L’espressione di un volto non è qualcosa che è stampato sul volto di una persona e che se ne sta lì. Ma ha una caratteristica espansiva. Pensa a ciò che accade, nello spazio intorno, quando, sulla soglia, appare all’improvviso il volto ridente di un fanciullo.
  • 10 Hegel 1995, 265. In Hegel’s thought, music has its meaning in semantics of text; it comes covers and goes with it. It is ‘begleitende Musik’: music that goes with text, almost looking at itself, without either getting lost in feeling and passion or coldly adhering to the text. This is a highly sophisticated way of listening to sound, which enlivens the text from natural to dramaturgical shape, because of voice and its ranges. Cf. Vizzardelli 2000, 203-206.
  • 11 “A chi insiste sul rapporto privilegiato tra musica e interiorità, rammentagli la socialità della musica, la musica nella festa, la danza […] Ed anche il rapporto con la corporeità! – C’è un aspetto profondamente fisico–corporeo nell’esperienza sonora. Il suono sta a fior di pelle (The translation of this passage is by A. Lombardo).


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Publication details

Published in:

Caminada Emanuele, Summa Michela (2020). Giovanni Piana. Phenomenological Reviews Special Issue 1.

DOI: 10.19079/PR.s1.12

Full citation:

Serra Carlo (2020). Soundmark(s): dedicated to Giovanni Piana. Phenomenological Reviews 1.