Acoustic Micro- and Macroephemeralities in Literature. Robert Walser’s Microscript 364 (1925) and Peter Weber’s Silber und Salbader (1999)


Boris Previšić

The ephemeral is that which slips away the moment it is discerned. It has no sooner appeared than it disappears. Even metaphors of the ephemeral are deceptive in spite of their visual nature. Something seen can be examined and perceived repeatedly, possibly from a different perspective, for that which has been seen is an “object beyond visual perception. Acoustic perception, however, is the most ephemeral, since the perceived object fades away in the moment of its sounding. The acoustically-perceived object ­– in opposition to visually- and tactilely-, as well as gustatorily- and olfactorily-, perceived objects – is the most precarious, because the auditory perceiver is dependent on the object being carried to the ear in the form of acoustic waves. No matter how hard one tries to draw closer to the acoustic object, it does not become more clearly discernible, because it is bound to time and space. What can be re-experienced by the other senses is lost forever, and irretrievably, depending on reverberation, in the acoustic realm. What has been heard cannot be heard again; sound cannot be perceived repeatedly. When we speak of acoustic microephemerality, we are referring to an acoustic event that cannot be repeated identically, because it is the farthest from an “object.”

In auditory perception, the musical differentiation of tonal quality, pitch, articulation, and dynamics is a matter of mere centiseconds, which constitute the length of the musical event for the listener. Of course, in his recollection, the listener pieces together the individual elements into sounds, intervals, phrases, bits and pieces. Nevertheless, the event’s distinct, acoustically non-repeatable, character is concentrated on this musical moment. Semiotics would call this a seme, the smallest unit of meaning. Language itself, in its acoustic realization, relies on even smaller units of time in order to distinguish semes from one another: the discernment between aspirated and non-aspirated plosives (such as [b] vs [p], [d] vs [t]) occurs in the timespan of milliseconds. Although at first glance it might seem astonishing that the linguistic-acoustic event is even briefer than the musical one, thus demanding, purely in terms of processing, an even more precisely tuned hearing performance, it is ultimately irrelevant. People with a so-called Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) not only encounter difficulties in discerning the direction of an acoustic source or differentiating individual sounds or language from noise (Anderson and Kraus 2010), but also in converting acoustic-linguistic signals into information. All of these APD impairments are far less present in music than in language, not only because of the musical “timeframe” being significantly larger, but also because music – in its tonality – does not necessarily require a translation of information.

The specifically linguistic nature of acoustic ephemerality is surprising. There is thus all the more reason to conduct an examination, by way of example, of how literature which fosters an aesthetic relation to language treats acoustic microephemerality. Literature holds a heuristic advantage by simultaneously doing something and commenting on it, or, respectively, simultaneously doing what it is describing. Roman Jakobson, as we will see, calls this self-referentiality and the doubling of the literary subject matter the poetic function. As perception is pivotal in the context of acoustic ephemerality, and thusly the function of the receiver, our method will make recourse to Jakobson’s literary model of communication. If literature is analyzed as the subject matter of acoustic microephemerality, in which the gradual disappearance of orally-realized literature is averted by the medium of writing and thus relativized, then the second aspect of acoustic macroephemerality moves into the foreground and, as such, the question of how an acoustic object can even be retained in a form that allows its reproduction.

The difficulty inherent to acoustic retention becomes apparent in the limited shelf life of records and cassettes, of CDs and MP3-Files. Retention of the acoustic is also ephemeral from the perspective of a “longue durée.” Here, I choose to speak of macroephemerality. The writing of literature is merely an indirect acoustic medium, because – in an analogy to music – it serves as written score. In order to regain its phonetic attributes, writing cannot rely solely on its visual reproducibility in the form of type; it is dependent on the rendition of sounds during reading. In writing, in order to reveal its communicative function, its process of origin is explicitly brought into relation to its process of reception. Thus, the relation between the literary process of origin and that of reception is once more thematized within both the material as well as conceptual self-reflection components of literature. Two examples from Swiss literature – Robert Walser’s Mikrogramm 364 (Microscript 364), written in 1925, and Peter Weber’s novel Silber und Salbader (Silver and Windbags), written in 1999 – perfectly illustrate this relation. While Robert Walser made use of the most minute form of writing, kurrent, to privatise the process of reading – and thus the acoustic realization of the written score – and employed visual deprivation to re-depict literary acoustic microephemerality, the narrator in Peter Weber’s novel attempts to retain the macroephemeral acoustic trail left behind in narration as enduringly as possible by fixing it within historical and geological fantasies.

Methodological Preliminaries of Literary Communication

“In point of fact, any verbal behavior is goal-directed, but the aims are different and the conformity of the means used to the effect aimed at is a problem that evermore preoccupies inquirers into the diverse kinds of verbal communication” (Jakobson 1964: 350). In communicative situations, depending on whether one is referring to the context, the addresser, or the addressee, Roman Jakobson speaks of different functions – the referential, emotive, and conative, respectively: “The adresser sends a message to the addressee. To be operative the message requires a context referred to (‘referent’ in another, somewhat ambiguous, nomenclatura), seizable by the addressee, and either verbal or capable of something verbalized: a code fully, or at least partially, common to the addresser and addressee (or in other words, to the encoder and decoder of the message); and finally, a contact, a physical channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication” (Jakobson 1964: 353). With this new model, Jakobson augments previous communication models, such as the one by Shannon and Weaver (1949), with the phatic function, which guarantees the contact between the addresser and addressee of the message, and the metalingual function, which in turn thematises the code of linguistic expression.

Jakobson’s focus lies firmly on the poetic function: “We have brought up all the six factors involved in verbal communication except the message itself. The set toward the message as such, focus on the message for its own sake, is the poetic function of language.” (Jakobson 1964: 356) The poetic function does not focus on the depicted object, i.e. the “context,” but rather the “message” itself: “This function, by promoting the palpability of signs, deepens the fundamental dichotomy of signs and objects.” (Jakobson 1964: 356) The poetic function takes as its point of departure the linguistic sign, of which the signifiant does not coincide with its signifié, i.e. its meaning. Thus, the poetic function underlines the semiotic contingency between signifiant and signifié.

The poetic function can refer to the acoustic quality of the signifiant. As Jakobson writes: “The supremacy of poetic function over referential does not obliterate the reference but makes it ambiguous. The double-sensed message finds correspondence in a split addresser, in a split addressee, and besides in a split reference.” (Jakobson 1964: 371) Two points can be determined: firstly, the acoustic of the signifiant can split the frame of the communicative situation; secondly, the poetic function consistently implements this split in literature.

Language is sound. Literature, especially poetry, follows its sound as an anticipated trace. The how of linguistic expression refers to its literary content. Literature chooses the appropriate tone/sound from the predesignated paradigmatic possibilities: “The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination” (Jakobson 1964: 358). The selection criteria of the paradigmatic axis, such as equivalency, similarity, dissimilarity, synonymy and antonymy, play out in the sequence of words.

A literary text thus creates a unique acoustic score by means of syntagmatic succession from word to word. Concretely, Jakobson speaks of “variation,” “rhyme,” “paronomastic image,” and “alliterating words” in his example “I like Ike” (Jakobson 1964: 357), which can be augmented by further rhetorical figures such as assonance, paromoiosis, onomatopoeia, and polyptoton. These rhetorical figures of syntagmatic succession indicate the acoustic nature of the literary text and simultaneously comprise the text as a framing of and reflection on literary communication. Nevertheless, we have to ask ourselves again: Is literature not primarily a written, i.e. a visually-retained and apprehended, text? And is the acoustic perception of a literary text not always secondary, i.e. postpositional to visual conception and reception?

Robert Walser's Microscripts: Acoustic Microephemerality

At first glance, it does not seem as though Robert Walser’s microscripts were composed acoustically. Visually, they are initially overwhelming, owing to their barely decipherable minuteness, for which reason they are a favoured object of the philology of textual criticism, which is primarily concerned with the visual reconstructability of text genesis. Thus, it becomes all the more necessary to question the role of the acoustic in Robert Walser’s microscripts: Is it not so that the conspicuously visually-comprised textual material should prove that sound is – if at all – only secondary in the constitution of a literary text? It can already be inferred from Jakobson’s simple example “I like Ike” that the literary message is always communicated through the visual and the acoustic channel. Intermedial interdependency is inevitable. This interdependency is reflected in a hypothetical structure of either the acoustic or the visual. Literary fiction addresses and maintains the tension between visuality and acoustics, especially so when writing – from a broad historical perspective – advances to the status of the primary medium of communication.


The notion that writing only forms a shadow of the “living” word has been around since ancient Greece’s narrative of decadence. The preference for spoken language is clearly underscored in the Platonic dialogue Phaedros: “Phaedrus: You mean the living and breathing word of him who knows, of which the written word may justly be called the image” (Plato 1925: 276a). This statement already contains more than mere propositional content. Rather, Plato is also reflecting on his own relationship to Socrates’ speeches, which are the subject of his writings. From the beginning, the medial shift from Socrates’ orality to Plato’s scripturality is included in the considerations in the (philosophic-)literary dialogue. In 1800, the idealization of orality reached a climax, which was also addressed in Hölderlin’s most famous poem Hälfte des Lebens (Half of Life): The first half of the poem, in which orality is celebrated (“And drunk with kisses”), stands in contrast to the second half, in which writing appears in the form of the Platonic “shade of the earth.” Living language ossifies both in the visuality of letters and in the interrupted flow of rhythm (Previsic 2008: 131). The difference between orality and scripturality is thus inscribed in the literary texts, thematically in metaphor as well as acoustic-rhythmically in form.


In view of acoustic microephemerality, Robert Walser’s microscripts are doubly interesting. On the one hand, the microephemerality of microscripts is symptomatic of the risen/rising awareness for the acoustic occurring around 1900 and of the revolutions in media technology which make possible the transmission and recording of acoustic material: I here speak of the newly-formed discipline otology, of the phonograph, the gramophone, etc. These new possibilities bring about an acoustic sensitization not only for language, but for any form of “soundscape” (Cuddy-Kean 2008: 383). On the other hand, and paradoxically, acoustic microephemerality becomes visible precisely because the acoustic is in danger of disappearing in the microscript, due to Robert Walser – or a microscript-specialist – being the only one able to read it. A near-perfect illustration of this is provided by microscript 364, written in September 1925. Even though individual excerpts were published in various forms in the literary sections of the Prager Presse, the Prager Tagblatt, the Neue Schweizer Rundschau, the Berliner Tagblatt and the Literarische Welt, the context is lost from both a thematic and acoustic point of view. Here, in contrast to other microscripts, the communicative situation is once again reflected upon through the very medium it is written on: a telegram (Echte 2000:7).

Figure 1: Microscript 364: “Reverse Side” (© keystone)

As opposed to other microscripts, which usually constitute only a part of the larger text units (the so-called “Felix” scenes or the “The Robber”), Microscript 364 forms a complete unity even though it seems to consist of disparate elements – individual poems and shorter prose passages. It is interesting to note that in Microscript 364, all of the texts written on the reverse side of the telegram, the side on which Walser’s textual production begins, remain predominantly unpublished, while almost all of the poems, including the prose section on the following side (the front of the telegram) are published, without exception, in the Prager Presse in the following years of 1925 to 1933. A basic tension thus exists between, on the one hand, a successive superscription of the telegram, or, alternating, an entirely experimental process of writing, and, on the other hand, a subsequent selection accompanied by a decontextualizing of individual text pieces. Robert Walser always selects these pieces of text from the microscript unedited, as pre-defined units.

Figure 2: Microscript 364: Front Side (© keystone)

This first page, the reverse side of the telegram, is particularly revealing precisely because the notula in the sense of Roland Barthes’ Préparation du roman (Barthes 2003), lying between the poles of experiment and text constitution, is superimposed by the genre differences between poetry and prose. At first glance, it is not yet obvious that the genre difference is gradual, since even a layman is able to discern an apparent absolute genre difference in the typeface: we see here both left-aligned poetry as well as justified text composed of prose lines, which are extraordinarily long due to the writing in microscripture. At the beginning of the “Writing Scene,” which after nine poems evolves into the prose text “The Alley,” sound development and sound reflection differ in accordance with different levels – such as those concerned with female characters or gender classification and the description of landscapes. In this way, acoustic ephemerality is not only continuously updated, but itself becomes a literary object.

Figure 3: Microscript 364: “Reverse Side” – Units 1-13 (© keystone)


The first poem, “Das Bauernhaus, mit Stroh bedeckt” (“The Barn, Covered in Straw”) thematises what Walser calls the “Schiernichtfaßliche“ (the “barely-graspable,” Walser 2000: 385, v. 14): the leave-taking of a legionary from his bride before he goes to war. The poem, which consists primarily of four-footed iambic rhyming couplets, ends with a question concerning “possessions,” or: what remains for oneself? At the end, the seeming contentment of the forsaken bride, who turns to her daily chores, is rhythmically interrupted and thus made precarious. That which is not visible, which is retained in the rhythm – acoustic microephemerality – unmasks the apparent idyll. With that, this initial poem sets the acoustic trace for the entire Microscript 364.

Figure 4: Microscript 364: “Reverse Side” – Unit 1, last verses: “Was stille steht, / Scheint uns ja bloß so. / Sie geht nun an die Arbeit und ist froh. (© keystone)

The second poem, “Sie stand im Kleid mit breiten Falten da” (“She stood there in the dress with wide pleats”) is determined by iambic pentameter, the meter of the last verse of the first poem. However, rhyme is omitted here – which is precisely that parallelizingsound figure which attempts to preserve acoustic microephemerality beyond the line break. As Wolfram Groddeck ascertains in analyzing a poem on Microscript 62, written two years later, “Sie schüttelte sie alle ungemein zart ab” (“she shook them all off with exquisite gentleness”), the employment of blank verse, at one time the classic verse of drama, embodies the point of intersection between prose and poetry and can be read entirely prosaically – particularly so due to the missing inversions, which otherwise frequently appear in Walser’s poetry (Groddeck 2006: 253-257). In this present poem, a landscape with “inimitably proud trees” (“unnachahmlich stolzen Bäume[n],” [Walser 2000: 387, v. 35]) emerges before the poet’s inner eye, a landscape that already hints at the prose text on the same microscript page with the title “Die Allee” (“The Avenue”).


In the third poem, the poetic form deteriorates further: not only do the verses not rhyme, the stresses per verse are also reduced from five to three, from blank verse to trimeter, and are no longer regularly spaced. Even as the poetic structure disintegrates, the acoustic itself becomes a topic. The poetic persona is completely concentrated on an auditive perception: “bloß noch, als wenn ich lauschte” (“only so, as if I were listening” Walser 2000: 388, v. 6). The acoustic trace thus not only becomes blurred, but is also projected onto the literary imagination and is thus explicitly thematized. In doing so, the poetic function – as understood by Jakobson – is split. It is at this exact point that the writing process initiates the acoustic shift in the fourth poem; music, the composer, acts as a guarantee of this acoustic shift. At the beginning, it says: “Schubert, so hieß ein Musikus / der machte fabelhafte Melodien, / die heut’ sich noch durch unsre Herzen ziehn, / […]” (“Schubert, so a musician was called / made marvellous melodies / that still draw on our heartstrings, / […], [Walser 2000: 388, 732, v. 1-3]). Schubert, however, who for Schumann was the embodiment of “himmlische Längen” (“heavenly lengths”), falls victim to the sound of his name. Mozart, whose name assonates better with “musician” and “melody,” and thus better orchestrates tonal parallelization, replaces Schubert. With that, the referential object – the composer and his art – tips back into the sounding of the poem.

Figure 5: Microscript 364: “Reverse Side” – Unit 4, beginning verses: “Mozart Schubert, so hieß ein Musikus / der machte fabelhafte Melodien, / die heut’ sich noch durch unsre Herzen ziehn […]” (© keystone)

After the lyrical tone reaches its completion in poem 5, “Schade um die Lüfte jetzt” (“A shame about the airs now,” [Walser 1986a: 221]), his style on the one hand fluctuates between disintegration and excess, as for instance in poem 7, a permutated sonnet (Walser 1986a: 247), and on the other hand, the competitive imposition of the visual continues to become stronger. The visual correlates with “Besserwisserei” (“know-it-all attitude”) in poem 6 (Walser 2000: 389). Parallel to this, “acoustic sets” are “constructed,” which signal their superiority at the very latest in the prose piece “Die Allee” (“The Avenue”), in which the non-visual mediality of the “Gekritzel” (the “scribblings”) of poetry manifest as the “Verworrenheit der Landschaft” (the “confusion of the landscape,” Walser 1986b: 99) that the painter will never fully be able to capture. At this point, it is scarcely necessary to mention that the aspect of self-referentiality is always part of the poetic function. Nevertheless, the considerable extent to which literary genre modalities determine ambiguity is astonishing. In each case, a blank verse forms the actual hinge – as in Poem 7 (Walser 1986a: 247), but also in Poem 9 (Walser 1986a: 204), in which the mother’s demand that prose finally be written again is formally mirrored. “Allee,” as well as referring to the signifié of a visible (text) sequence, also always denotes the signifiant of an acoustic set.


The tipping effect between the visual signifié and acoustic significant “avenue” is the deciding factor for acoustic microephemerality and applies when the question remains unanswered as to whether “Avenue” is an extra-linguistic object, a prose piece, or a poem thematized in a prose piece. The literary degree of fictionalization is manifested in an explicitly formulated but also implicitly enacted discrepancy between the visual and acoustic medium. In doing so, the literaricity in Robert Walser’s microscripts induces an ambiguous literary communication as defined by Jakobson and employs acoustic microephemerality to oscillate between levels. Poetry, however, does not remain stuck in its self-referentiality; rather, on stage and in dramatic mode (indicated by blank verse), it addresses a “you,” to draw upon Celan’s “The Meridian” speech (Bolli 1991). With that, the term “Ohralität,” a German wordplay which combines Ohr (ear) and Oralität (orality) coined by Peter Utz, in reference to Robert Walser, gains a new dimension (Utz 1998: 256-260), which, despite assuming a direct correlation/connection between enacted orality and acoustic perception, nonetheless installs literaricity in the ambiguous sign system of literary communication in acoustic microephemerality.


The challenge of modern microscript analysis still lies in the selection and collection of individual text passages in different groups of text: The prose pieces published during the author’s lifetime are distinguished from the poems in the Collected Works (Walser 1986a; Walser 1986b). These so-called “sketches,” i.e. unpublished text passages, ultimately – and separately – find their way into the collection of microscripts Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet (“From the Pencil Area,” [Walser 2000]) edited by Bernard Echte and Werner Morlang. Even today, the compilation of a single microscript sheet such as the one printed here causes great difficulty. Doubtlessly, the upcoming publication of a critical edition of all prints and manuscripts of Robert Walser (Kritische Robert Walser Ausgabe, KWA) will gradually lessen this grievance. A preview of diligent transcription and compilation can be found in Lucas Gisi (Walser 2011). The new edition must by all means insure that the visually-insinuated, dichotomously-laid trace (verse vs prose) is not simply subverted by, but guided through the different gradual stages of the literary sound quality of acoustic microephemerality in the genre triangle of poem, drama, and prose. Even if the problem faced by the current possibilities of reception was to be removed in the future, it must still always be kept in mind that the literaricity of Robert Walser’s microscripts is less a product of the topographical text arrangement than of its tonal correlations, the constantly disappearing sound trace of a text exceptionally hard to decipher.

Peter Weber’s Silber und Salbader: Acoustic Macroephemerality

Even in Peter Weber’s first/debut novel, Der Wettermacher, the first-person narrator described his homeland as an acoustic topography: “Das Toggenburg ist ein langgezogener Mollakkord und liegt quer zur Weltgeschichte” (“The Toggenburg is a drawn-out minor chord and lies transversely to the world”). Thereupon, he concludes: “Das Toggenburg gibt es nicht” (“The Toggenburg does not exist,” [Weber 1993: 30]). In nuce, what is formulated here is what his second novel, Silber und Salbader, will later focus on more elaborately: 1) the connection between the geological-historical landscape and music and 2) the therewith linked fictionality or denial of reality, respectively. A literary claim such as this stems from acoustic macroephemerality. We are dealing with an ephemerality which can invariably only be grasped in its actualization, yet – in opposition to its microephemeral soundtrack – always retains its imaginary geology as an acoustic reservoir. The spatial poetics of Silber und Salbader draw upon different places which acoustically constitute an “Echoraum” (“echo chamber,” [Weber 1999: 56]): at the spring catchment in the town of Baden, located in the Swiss Canton Aargau, at the geological conjunction with the fictional Raschtal (“Rasch Valley”), as well as with the next metropolis, Zurich.

The entanglement of geology and the acoustic in Weber’s novel only makes sense when the two extreme poles of permanence and ephemerality are united in the question of acoustic retention capacity. Acoustic macroephemerality becomes imaginable in a geological space. However, it is initially actualized as an “entweichende Gegenwart” (“a fleeting presence,” [Weber 1999: 56]). Here, the word “fleeting” is used in an ambiguous way: on the one hand, the acoustic, owing to its geological retention, is made present by a listener’s corresponding “auscultation.” On the other hand, it is an account of the loss of the acoustic in geological retention, causing acoustic presence to dwindle away, an elusion. 

Weber Take 1

Version filtered with a reciprocal mp3-filter (CBR192) by Hannes Seidl

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Echoraum, Jungvögel Gezwitscher, Gekicher, Take 58 (3 Woodblock, dünnste Sticks und Tamtam), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016    

Accordingly, it becomes necessary to take notice of the acoustic fantasies which determine the plot of the novel as well as its described and imagined landscapes: the novel thinks of itself both self-referentially as a medium of acoustic retention – by analogy with geology – and as a realization of an acoustic score. The aim of this score is to concretize the object treated in literature. Literary retention and acoustic concretization are thematically linked when, for instance, the act of producing text and the implied production of music (the “minor chord,” “Moll-Ton” in German) are associated with textile production (the “molton”) and landscape (the “Molasse”). In this case, the literary text – as described by Roman Jakobson – uses assonance and paronomasia to produce a parallelization on the acoustic level of subject areas which are otherwise separate and paradigmatically ordered. Literary speech places itself ambivalently between the how of acoustic realization and the what of geological or, respectively, textile/textual retention.

In the introductory chapter, the text oscillates between “falsche[m]” (the “false”) and “richtigem Leben” (the “right life,” [Weber 1999: 9, 12]), between a topographed macrocosm and the microcosm of the soul (Weber 1999: 11), between body and language, and begins the narration of an elaborate history of the thermal baths of the Alps in the Middle Ages. To this end, the narrator draws on acoustic vocal permutations and assonances of “Lustbaden, Lichtbaden, Lachbaden” (“pleasure bathing, light bathing, laughter bathing”) (Weber 1999: 9). 

Weber Take 2

Version filtered with a reciprocal AAC-filter (CBR192) by Hannes Seidl    

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Lebenslust, Lichtbaden, Lachbaden, Gemütsverdunkelung (BAD), Take 59 (3 Cupchimes auf Floor tom, Flatride und Bass drum), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016   

Subsequently, the first-person narrator Silber attempts the difficult task of locating the spring amongst all its previous reservoirs. With the aid of a silver coin, poisonous fangs from the Rasch Valley, and a Jew’s harp, he succeeds in reactivating the spring. What follows is the actual auscultation of the first topographical correlation: “Ich horche nach. Große Leere, Höhlenwinde, die Fließgeräusche des Kältesees, der nun seine Mündung findet. Schlürfgeräusche wie in der Badewanne bei gezogenem Stöpsel“ (“I hark. I hear a great void, cave winds, the burbling sound of the cold lake, now having found its mouth. The slurping sounds a bathtub makes when its plug is pulled,” [Weber 1999: 17]). 

Weber Take 3

Version filtered with a reciprocal HE-AAC-filter (CBR128) by Hannes Seidl    

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Höhlenwinde, Kältesee, grosse Leere, Schlürfgeräusche. Take 63 (Tamtam, von Hand gespielt, Moving Mikrophon, plus kleine „Striche“ mit Fingernagel), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016    

Here, Weber mentions the geographical antithesis to Baden – the Rasch Valley – for the first time while, simultaneously, hinting at the entire spatial context in which the novel is set and sounding out its entire acoustic macroephemerality.

This acoustic component is linked with literary orality, the basic prerequisite of storytelling. The connection between geological and narrative acoustics is created in the “Quellbart” – the “beard of the spring” – implying both the mouth of the water and the mouth of the bard (Weber 1999: 24-25). 

Weber Take 4

Version filtered with a reciprocal HE-AACv2-filter (VBR32) by Hannes Seidl   

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Bart des Lebens. Quellbart, purpurne Rosette, Schwarzes Band. Rasttal. Sturzbart, Brausebart, Quellbart. Bartzeiget. Erzählkunst. Beschimpfungen...Wärterinnen Heiratsmarkt, Take 65 „Krausebart-Tänzli“ (ReccoRecco auf Floor tom und 2 Becken), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016    

Weber Take 5

Version filtered with a reciprocal AppleAAC-iTunes+ (MFiT)-filter (VBR256) by Hannes Seidl    

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Drei Säfte Leere – Ruskelus. Bauchsaft, Kopfsaft, Geschlechtssaft. Tier und Mensch. Grundpuls, Warmes Blut. Erwärmtes Herz.Krankes Blut – unheilbar. Take 66 (straight, dirty puls. Gegenstimme mit bamboobesen. Hot Heart), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016    

As intimated above, acoustic microephemerality is converted into acoustic macroephemerality through its geological interpretation. Language emerges from the auscultation of the Rasch spring: “Die Raschquelle war sprachbildend, ihr wurde Laut um Laut abgelauscht, aus dem Fließen des Silberquells eine eigene Sprache geschöpft” (“The Rasch spring formed language, sound after sound was culled from it, a language drawn from the flow of the silver spring,” [Weber 1999: 134]). The language spoken at the remotest end of the Rasch valley is situated at the interface between the pure sounds of nature and human speech. This language consists of grunting noises with pre-lingual sounds (“vorsprachliche Laute,” [Weber 1999: 175]). From the very beginning, a microephemerality of linguistic acoustics is thus tied into a greater historical context which fleshes out the metaphor of the Quelle. From the point of view of the narrator, the prerequisite for literaricity lies in the corporeality of language. The connecting link between the body and literary statement is the voice. Out of the voice, a literary subject matter is created in its topography: “Ich […] hatte eine Schwäche für fehlerhafte, beschädigte Stimmen, in denen die Abgründe hörbar waren” (“I […] had a weakness for flawed, damaged voices, ones in which chasms could be heard,” [Weber 1999: 284]). In terms of literary production, this closes the circle back to the auscultation of the internal, acoustically macroephemeral, topography and geology.


But what story is told in the novel? The novel tells us about contemplating the conditions of its own origin. It reveals the codes of the literary message and thereby generates the literary message itself. Literary fiction, however, is entirely at the service of acoustic ephemerality. The literary subject matter is not present as a referent, but as an acoustic medium in itself. Thus, the narration oscillates between the materiality of the realized acoustic language material and the metaphors of the narration. This can be traced in two steps, with the aid of the role played by water in a fabricated industrial history (1) and based on geology and its influences on the landscape and the consciousness of its inhabitants (2):


1) No sooner is the spring in Baden impounded anew than the newly gushing water begins to narrate the history of the textile industry in Eastern Switzerland and, additionally, the process of narration in itself. “[Es ist] falscher Zwirn, der mich groß umgarnt: lauter Fäden aus vergangenen Zeiten, da die ganze Ostschweiz eine einzige Textilfabrik war“ (“It is false twine that greatly ensnares me: nothing but threads from times past, as all of Eastern Switzerland was one single textile mill,” [Weber 1999: 26]). The ambiguous thematization, alluded to in the common textile metaphor of text production (the myth of Penelope) and seduction through the art of narration, only generates the description at hand when drawing on a presumed content. That which remains is caught in the vortex of the imagined subject matter itself, in the vortex of its dynamics: the rapidly increasing “spinning velocity.” The medium of retention is water, of itself a symbol of the “narration flow,” which covers another metaphorical image field of the narration. The medium is the subject matter.

Weber Take 6

Version filtered with a reciprocal mp3-filter (CBR96) by Hannes Seidl    

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Überraschung: Lab, Schmiere, falscher Zwirn, Fäden! Drall des Flaxes, Spinnen, Drehgeschwindigkeit. Drehmoment...Höchstdrall. Potenzierung...Quellen von Baden, Take 67 (Crotales auf Floor tom, Surrlis, 2 Crotales Intervall kreisen. Needle auf Rim), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016

2) The historical subject matter is supplemented with a geological theory of the “sounds in the stones” (“von den Klängen in den Gesteinen”). At first, the proponent of this theory asserts that nothing could depict our consciousness truer to form than the Swiss Molasse. After that, the narrator mentions a ground-breaking piece of writing from the thirties (“[w]egweisende […] Schrift aus den dreißiger Jahren“) with the title “Dur und Moll” (“Major and Minor Key”), in which the “tougher gender” is attributed to the brightly shimmering limestone massifs and the “softer gender” to the Molasse (Weber 1999: 49-50). As with the element of water, the rock, as a medium of retention, no longer only stands for an industrial, but an entire world history (“die ganze Weltzeit,” [Weber 1999: 50]). Weber’s acoustic poeteology is sedimented in macroephemerality through the close connection between music, geology, and history. 

Weber Take 7

Version filtered with a reciprocal mp3-filter (VBR110) by Hannes Seidl    

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Klänge der Steine. Aus den 30er Jahren. Dur und Moll. Dur hart, Kalk // Moll weiche Molasse, Karstens Grossvater. Einton. Take 68 (Weiche Schlägel auf 3 Toms und Bass drum, sequenz), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016    

The description of limestone formations and its associated major key is continued when the main protagonist Silber catches sight of the Churfirsten mountain range at Lake Walen on his train ride in the “Wiener-Walzer” from Zurich to Vienna. The intervals are the same between villages: “Sekunden, Terzen, Quarten, Quinten, Sexten, Septimen, and finally, Oktaven, which is today called Sargans.” Within this literary fiction, a “sounding world of the Rhaetian language region” (“tönende[] Welt […] des rätischen Sprachraums,” [Weber 1999: 105]) opens up. The only documented towns are Terzen, Quarten and Quinten at Lake Walen, presumably derived from a court census of the Chur diocese in the Early Middle Ages (Gubser 2011: 1). The homonymy with musical intervals allows for the expansion of toponyms. In this way, the literary material forms itself in the oscillation between realia (toponyms) and acoustic imagination (intervals).

Weber Take 8

Version filtered with a reciprocal AAC-filter (VBR128) by Hannes Seidl

A Musical Commentary by Lucas Niggli, Silber...5heiligen...Wesen. Am Wallenseeufer. Sekunden, Terzen... etc. Oktaven (Sargans), Grenzorte... Obertonreihe... drei Kerle Sieben Kurfirsten 5 Heilige. Take 74 (CONTINUUM: Groove 3er im Bass drum, Overtones 5er und 7er auf Toms und Crotales), Uster/CH: Dec. 21, 2016

In Silber und Salbader, macroephemerality discloses itself within its own imaginary geology, which retains the acoustic and thus, when carefully listened to, also becomes a source – or spring – of languages, voices, and narratives. The subject matter is thereby always already the product of a narrative enactment/production. Due to the intersection of the real and imagined acoustic layers of the novel setting, all categorical relations between landscape, text score, narrative voice, and reception begin to slip and glide into one another, so much so, that the entire narrative construction ultimately moves indistinguishably within the same body of sound that the novel itself suggests it simultaneously captures and constitutes.

The term “Quellfassung” turns the act of literary invention at the beginning of the plot into a metaphor, playing with the double meanings of the two words Quelle and Fassung. In German, Quelle can stand for a spring (of water) as well as for any kind of source (i.e., a source of inspiration), while Fassung connotes both a physical framing or container and the English equivalent of edition or (literary) version. The beginning thus constitutes a “Fassung,” both in the sense of an impoundment of water and a literary version, enabling Peter Weber’s novel to explicitly inscribe itself into different versions of the text. Instead of rigidly fixing the text in its visual materiality, the acoustics of the actual language transform it into a sounding voice. Consequently, the narrator formulates a dialectically-constructed poetology of musical corporeality. In a first acoustic step, this poetology assumes an “interval” of bodily fluids, a basic pulse, a “stimmige[r] Schlag” (“harmonious stroke”). Herein, the “schöne Stimme” (“beautiful voice”) constitutes itself as the basis of all poetic utterances. In a second step, with extraordinary refinement, the narrator addresses the discourse on musical temperament: it is not only about the “harmonious stroke,” but also the “temperierte Stimme” (“temperate voice,” [Weber 1999: 131-32]). The “voice” is incorporated into a system that allows intervals with other voices. The “leading” voice refers to a twofold use of metaphors: the metaphors of the acoustic and the metaphors of the narrative together. In short: literature creates its world through corporeal sound.    


The actual impulse for literary imagination in the works of both Robert Walser and Peter Weber lies not in scribability but rather in the imagined acoustic. Nevertheless, these examples form two extremes of micro- and macroephemerality: Whereas Robert Walser’s microscript aims for the perpetual obliteration of the consciously-laid sound trace, and thus deliberately for microephemerality, Peter Weber generates a fictional history and geology which retains the musicality realized in the texts. The singularity of the acoustic phenomenon and the impossibility of reproducing it are held suspended in the imagination. The larger context of the novel Silber and Salbader is explained by a seemingly surmounted macroephemerality. In so doing, the novel increases awareness for the precarious state of the acoustic, in its microphemeral as well as its macroephemeral form. Thus, insights into Jakobson’s poetic function can be drawn upon not only when considering questions concerned with the idiosyncrasies of literature, but also those concerned with its acoustic mediality. Literature is not only created in the process of visible writing; rather, it always also takes heed of its own acoustic ephemerality, leaving its own individual acoustic trace in each instance. Literature is never only writing, but rather constantly oscillates between orality and scripturality. Literature is always also a score.


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