On Music

Our fine arts were established, and their types as well as their practice fixed, in a time quite distinct from ours, by men whose control of material things was insignificantly small compared with that which we now possess. But the astonishing growth of our powers, the elasticity and precision they attain, the ideas and habits which they introduce, assure us that there will be quick and very profound changes in the antique industry of the beautiful. There is a physical part in all the arts which can no longer be regarded or treated as it formerly was, and which cannot be shielded from the influence of modern science and control. Neither matter nor space not time has been, since twenty years ago, the same as they had always been. It remains to be seen if these remarkable novelties will transform the whole technique of the arts, then secure an influence upon invention itself, and even possibly modify in an extraordinary manner the very concept of art.

Doubtless only the reproduction and transmission of works of art will be affected immediately. We shall know how to transport or reconstruct everywhere the system of sensations-or, more precisely, of excitations-which any object or event may produce anywhere. Works of art will take on a kind of ubiquity. Their immediate presence or their restoration at any moment will respond to our summons. They will not long exist in themselves alone, but will all exist where some person, or some apparatus, happens to be. They will be nothing more than kinds of sources or origins, and their good effects will be found-or found again-whole and entire, where one wishes to find them. As in the case of water, or gas, or the electric current coming from afar into our houses to fulfill our wishes, if we make an almost unnoticeable effort, so we shall be fed with visual or auditory images, appearing or disappearing if we do hardly more than lift a hand or even give a sign. Just as we are accustomed to, if not dependent upon, receiving in our homes energy under diverse forms, so we shall find it very simple to obtain or receive there those very rapid variations or oscillations with which the organs of our sense, which gather and combine them, do all that with which we are familiar. I do not know if any philosopher has ever dreamed of a society for distributing sensible reality to the home.

Music, of all the arts, now comes nearest to transposition into the modern mode. Its nature and the place it occupies in society have destined it to be the first to be modified in its formulae of distribution, reproduction, and even production. Of all the arts it is the one most in demand, the one most intercalated with social existence, the one nearest to life which it excites, or the organic functioning of which it accompanies or imitates....

There comes to my mind now a fairy-scene which I saw as a child in a foreign theatre. Or which I think I saw. In the palace of the magician, the furniture talked, sang, and participated in the action with poetry and mockery. A door which opened struck up a thin or pompous fanfare. If one sat down on a hassock, the choking hassock muttered some polite remark. All the flowers exhaled melodies.

I hope sincerely that we shall not go to these excesses of sonoro-magic. Already one cannot eat or drink in a café without being disturbed by concerts. But it will be marvelously pleasant to change at one’s will an empty hour, a never-ending evening, or an infinite holiday into prestiges, tendernesses, spiritual movements. There are murky days, there are persons utterly lonely, and it is not infrequent that old age should closet people with selves they know too well already. These vain and mournful eras, and those beings who are destined to yawns and bleak thoughts, behold them now in possession of ways and means to adorn or vivify their vacuity.

Such are the first fruits which the new intimacy between music and physics proposes to us-the immemorial alliance between which has already given us so much. And will give more.

The Commonweal

October 15, 1930

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