Reapplying Phenomena of Meaning

Wesley Troeger



It often happens that in watching a film, a theatrical work, reading a novel or viewing a painting I am struck by some mechanism which gives rise to an alternative or more complex interpretation of the work’s intention. Sometimes, but less often, I notice the same mechanism at work in a different medium. It is in these cases, however, that we see greater trends in how arts can appeal to the way humans construct meaning. I experience these mechanisms first in obscurity, as a phenomenon that is difficult to pin down, but which nonetheless has the potential to drastically alter the experience of the work’s intention, its essential idea in its own peculiar method of communication. It is this experience of intention that I will call meaning, and in this paper I will explore four such phenomena of meaning that I came across in enough works of different media that they seem worthy of closer inspection. Together, these four create a constellation of characteristics that, when recombined in music, give the result a nearly theatrical quality. This paper will thus attempt to answer the question: “how can the four chosen phenomena of meaning, found in musical and non-musical sources, be reapplied in composition?” The phenomena are as follows:

1 - Psychological Complexity

The first of these phenomena is the presence of psychological complexity, which often takes form in the depiction of divided, fractured, incomplete or wounded subjectivity. A character or performer is no longer simply him/herself, but a complex of disparate parts that are often at odds with one another. A work of art can be structured around ideas of psyche and how the human mind responds to trauma and other stimuli. We will encounter strong psychological factors in Samuel Beckett’s stage work Not I and Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona, as well as in other works to lesser degrees.

2 - Semantic Disruption

The second phenomenon we will examine is semantic disruption: the use of discontinuity, disturbance of coherence and the subversion of understandable logic. This can manifest as intentional unintelligibility, as irreconcilability of components to one another, as obtuseness of meaning (whereby it is unclear if an element is actually meant to signify something), or as other devices that interfere with cognition and convention. We will encounter this category of phenomenon in many of these forms, as partially determined by the medium in which it appears. We will see it visually in paintings by the Belgian Surrealist René Magritte and experience it in spoken communication through Beckett and pieces by the composer Georges Aperghis.

3 - Fractalization

The third phenomenon that will be explored is the fractalization of meaning, where the meanings of small-scale elements as they unfold reflect the same idea as it occurs on the structural scale of the whole. This device can result in an extreme saturation, where every gesture, scene fragment or word is an echo of one generative idea. This is experienced differently in different media, as we shall see in examining the phenomenon in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Pale Fire, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Solaris.

4 - Ontological Flexibility

The fourth and final phenomenon that will be discussed is what I term ontological flexibility. This is a situation of meaning in which the identity of the work is unstable. Elements are introduced which disrupt the audience’s confidence in their knowledge of what it is they are witnessing, reading, or listening to. A multiplicity or ambiguity emerges whereby simultaneous interpretations of what the work is can coexist. This phenomenon arises in most of the works to be discussed, to varying degrees and with differing characters, as the instability is often at the core of the work’s peculiar identity.

Approach and Process

The choice of these four phenomena is a result of what has spoken to me the most in non-musical and music-theatrical works. The process that culminated in analysis and reapplication was thus essentially empirical, arising from serendipitous observation. I analyze the examples that follow through a matrix of four artistic devices that I call phenomena because they first came to my attention in obscure fascination, as something to be investigated. Through this lens, overlaps between the mechanisms, as well as the compounding of two or three in one work, are abundant. My approach will be to seek out these complexes in order to examine aspects of the artists’ intentions in fine detail, but it should be said that the choice of such a limited set of phenomena, and the application of this set to such vastly different works as those here examined, necessitates a perspective that is somewhat abstracted from the wealth of unique qualities of each work. At risk of unwarranted reductionism, my goal here is to find common ground among ingeniously individual works of art in different media, and to go about the abstraction and reapplication of what is found thereon.

The structure of this paper will consist of three parts: Part One will look at the source works from which the above classification of four phenomena derives, and texts by theorists who have described relevant concepts. I have organized this section by work, rather than by phenomenon, because most phenomena can be found in each work and it is easiest to examine the layerings or collisions of phenomena within a general discussion of the work at hand. In each case, the way in which the most prominent phenomena are manifested will be discussed. Next, Part Two will explore the difficulties of applying meaning-phenomena abstracted from other media, and the different ways in which this can be navigated. And finally, Part Three will present some of the music I have written over the past two years. The ways in which each phenomenon was adopted in these pieces will be explained, and connections between my pieces and those encountered in Part One will be suggested.


Psychology and Semantic Disruption in Samuel Beckett’s Not I

In Not I, all we see of the speaker is her mouth, hovering in space without a body. This Mouth speaks so rapidly that one’s language perception cannot fully keep up with what is being said. The phrases come in a long stream of short fragments, some of which are repeated several times (non-consecutively). The only other figure on stage is a silent, hooded Auditor who interrupts Mouth four times with a physical gesture of the arms. In an essay about Not I entitled “The ‘I’ in Not I,” Enoch Brater writes of the psychological situation that is presented:

Beckett’s Mouth… tells a story. Yet the tale is characterized throughout by a “vehement refusal to relinquish third person”. Each movement of Auditor is preceded by Mouth’s insistence that the story she tells is about “she,” not “I” (“what?.. who?.. no!..she!”), hence giving, in one of its several dimensions, the title of the play. And yet the story Mouth seems compelled to tell unendingly (“something she had to tell… could that be it?”), like the tales other Beckett heroes recite, bears an uncanny resemblance to its own situation on stage. A silent old woman, “coming up to sixty… what?.. seventy?.. good God!.. coming up to seventy” (Beckett’s own age), is looking aimlessly for cowslips in a field one early April morning. “Suddenly,” no, “gradually,” she begins talking nonstop and has been continuing along those lines ever since. A cruel April indeed. For the voice issuing from Mouth is that of an old woman in extreme terror, half- remembering past events, trying to recall the incidents of a barely understood life, perhaps her own, but one so painful that she refuses to acknowledge it as hers- she can only face it by making it a third person.

Brater brings up the possibility that the psychological crisis of Mouth is caused by trauma:

Mouth, like her third-person scapegoat, has thus been living a dis- connected psychological hell…Mouth mixes memory with desire, reflecting her own ambivalence about the sudden change which has taken place in the field. With her “face in the grass,” perhaps “she” has been raped: “just at that odd time…in her life…when clearly intended to be having pleasure. . .she was in fact. . .having none…not the slightest.” (Brater 190)

Given this interpretation, the manner in which the text is delivered is a necessary manifestation of the account’s content. The rapid speech, the disjointed fragments, the speaker’s occasional dialogue with herself (“what?..the buzzing?..yes…all the time the buzzing”), (“what?..the tongue?..yes…the tongue in the mouth”), the expressive movements that Mouth makes, and her laughing, help to underline the understanding of trauma. I submit that the efficacy of the perception of trauma (or an equal intensity of a less specific agitation) is due to the fact that, in one way or another, these disruptive devices appeal to affect at the expense of the semantic cognition of meaning.

The Canadian philosopher Brian Massumi describes affect as “the virtual co-presence of potentials,” and as “something other than than simply a personal feeling.” He goes on:

By “affect” I don’t mean “emotion” in the everyday sense. The way I use [affect] comes primarily from Spinoza. He talks of the body in terms of its capacity for affecting or being affected. These are not two different capacities – they always go together. When you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself up to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have been the moment before. You have made a transition, however slight. You have stepped over a threshold. Affect is this passing of a threshold, seen from the point of view of the change in capacity. (Massumi “Politics” 3-5)

The ways in which we affect and are affected in fact operate more rapidly than conscious perception and the cognition of sense. In The Autonomy of Affect, Massumi writes of the empirically observed “missing half-second” between the onset of affect and conscious awareness:

the half-second is missed not because it is empty, but because it is overfull, in excess of the actually performed action and of its ascribed meaning. Will and consciousness are subtractive. They are limitative, derived functions which reduce a complexity too rich to be functionally expressed. (90)

When witnessing Not I, then, much of what affects us, what we absorb, contributes to this overfull-ness and is registered by the autonomic nervous system before we can assign any meaning to it. As with other works of Beckett, the use of language is intentionally depleted of its typical semantic-communicative function. Not I communicates in immediacy, in potential, and the down-playing of semantics by the combined use of a speed that outruns the listener’s capability to construct semantic sense, fragmentation and non-linguistic gestures such as laughter and facial expressions. In Massumi’s language, this order of things allows affect to resonate, whereas more conventional use of grammatical language would necessarily dampen affect, by suppressing its autonomous potential. Fig. 1 illustrates the interconnectedness of semantic disrupton and psychological complexity in Not I. The psychological dimension of trauma is facilitated by the use of elements that disrupt linguistic sense, and these disruptions are likewise used to communicate the psychological complexity of the work.

Fig. 1: interaction of phenomena in Not I

Language and Ontological Flexibility in Georges Aperghis’ Récitation No. 9 and Corps à Corps

Some works of the composer Georges Aperghis have meaning-related qualities in common with those found in Beckett. Like Not I, Récitation No. 9 uses a sort of “musicalized” speech, by relegating the semantic content to a less privileged position. It does this by treating phonemes, words and other vocal gestures as “cells,” which additively accumulate at the beginning of a cyclic phrase. The recitation begins with, simply, “-sir.” In the next cycle, this becomes “désir.” In the next, a high-pitch gesture without text precedes “désir,” that almost sounds like laughter. After this, the word “ce” is added before the gesture that began the last cycle, and so on. This not-exactly-semantic use of language contributes to the affective resonance of what we hear, as do the interjected inhale and exhale sounds, laughter-like high gestures and chromatic descents on “donc.”

Another work by Aperghis, Corps à Corps, is perhaps even more affective, and certainly more psychologically penetrating. Like Not I, the psychological dimension is the expression of a traumatic experience. The piece is for a solo percussionist who, in addition to playing a drum has a very virtuosic vocal part. In the beginning there is a high density of non-semantic speech, using syllables like “ta,” “toun,” “don” and “tom,” as well as other affectively resonant gestures such as tongue-clicking, vocal glissandi and breathing sounds. These sounds blend well with the drum. Eventually, when the performer begins to form linguistically intelligible phrases, s/he attempts, in a state of extreme shock, to describe a gory motorcycle accident that s/he perhaps just witnessed. Like in Not I, the speed of text simply out-runs semantic cognition, here to a greater extreme. With long strings of unbroken, syllabic 32nd notes at quarter note equals 60, one could hardly speak any faster. With the inability to make out what is being said when the account is finally put together, earlier repeated fragments of “corps à corps” and “le sang coule” notwithstanding, one is forced to perceive in a more immediate, perhaps primal way.

This is appropriate to the traumatic, affective nature of a violent accident, and it points to the interpretation that the performer is herself the witness of the carnage described. It would make little sense for someone who merely heard about the accident to be in so much shock about it. Likewise, it is unlikely that a witness would describe the corpses and flowing blood with composure and indifference. Herein lies the ontological instability of Corps à Corps. The conventions of a new-music performance cause us to, by default, assume that the person on stage is no one other than the performer and interpreter of the present piece. We don’t expect the percussionist to be an actor, and s/he isn’t exactly. There are head movements specified in the score, telling the performer to turn their head to the right at a few indicated places in the piece, but there are no other instructions for acting. The dramatic effect of the shock is composed into the piece, into the relative sense or non-sense of the distribution of text. The performer is in a sort of limbo, between new-music performer and actor; an almost-actor. This situation leaves the ontology more open ended than if the performer were clearly one or the other. The first-hand account of the motorcycle accident and the performance don’t quite reconcile to each other, and a sort of irreducible contradiction arises. Either s/he is the witness (but then why is s/he performing, and where did s/he get the drum?), or s/he is a trained percussionist, appearing at one of many such concerts (but when did she witness the accident? On the way to the venue?) The ontology remains flexible, and in this case, other causes for flexibility being absent, that flexibility could only be achieved by means of obtuseness, by the difficulty of saying whether Aperghis intended that instability (short of an explicit program note). If it were clear “who” the person on stage “is,” the split identity could not occur and a closed-ended structural, semantic interpretation would undermine the pre-cognitive affective intensity that is so powerful precisely because of its immediacy and inability to be tamed by such an interpretation.

Drama through Juxtaposition: Kierkegaard and Magritte

Kierkegaard gives a definition of drama in Either/Or that relates to the effect of juxtaposition. While it seems natural that an irreconcilability of different elements would have the potential to result in affect, simply from the difficulty of fitting the constituent parts into a cohesive line of thought, Kierkegaard seems to indicate the opposite result. He says that this putting together of unrelated factors results in thought rather than the undermining of thought:

Were I to characterize the effect of drama in a single phrase, inasmuch as it differs from that produced by any other literary form, I would say that drama achieves its effect in contemporaneity. In drama I see mutually unrelated factors brought together in the situation, the unity of action. The more then the discreet factors are separated, the more profoundly the dramatic situation is interpreted with reflection, the less the dramatic unity will be a mood and the more a definite thought. (Kierkegaard 120)

This is an important insight to keep in mind as we examine what happens when the beholder of a work is confronted with a disturbance of “sense” or of conformity to the expected semantics. The inability (or at least difficulty) of reconciling a work’s constituent elements to one another is indeed a variety of disturbance. Like with the subversion of semantic content in Beckett and Aperghis, something arises from this disturbance that could not otherwise appear. According to Kierkegaard, this is the provocation of thought, at the expense of “mood.” However, I don’t find this interpretation at all inconsistent with the model of affect as the result of semantic disruption. Indeed, the reason thought is provoked in such a situation is that one’s continuity of thought is broken. As a result of the disturbance that comes with irreconcilability, I am impelled to find a new interpretative “footing” with as much urgency as my cognition can handle. The provocation is a differential one; it comes from a crisis of meaning that is felt in an immediate way and points different people to different semantic foot-holds. The dramatic situation is interpreted with reflection because the interpretation is not “tied down.” This is what Massumi calls “differential attunement.” In Politics of Affect, he writes:

The world in which we live is literally made of these reinaugural microperceptions, cutting in, cuing emergence, priming capacities. Every body is at every instant in thrall to any number of them. A body is a complex of in-bracings playing out complexly and in serial fashion… In [a] moment of interruptive commotion, there’s a productive indecision. There’s a constructive suspense. Potentials resonate and interfere, and this modulates what actually eventuates…Say there are a number of bodies indexed to the same cut, primed to the same cue, shocked in concert. What happens is a collective event. It’s distributed across the bodies. Since each body will carry a different set of tendencies and capacities, there is no guarantee that they will act in unison even if they are cued in concert. However different their eventual actions, all will have unfolded from the same suspense. They will have been attuned – differentially- to the same interruptive commotion. (55-56)

Examples of this two-fold phenomenon of suspense or disturbance followed by provoked reflection can be found in some Surrealist art. When viewing such paintings by René Magritte as Scheherazade (1948) and The Search for Truth (1963), I feel the disruptive effect of juxtaposition very acutely. In the former, I cannot but try to reconcile the theater curtains with the landscape, the sleigh bell with the glass of water, the blue sky with the eyes, mouth and pearls. In the latter, I come across the same sleigh bell, but this time in the same frame as a vertically standing fish in some kind of stone building by the window. Through the window I see the same blue sky with clouds, but over a body of water rather than a country landscape. The dramatic contemporaneity of these seemingly unrelated elements is a shocking perception for me. I cannot neatly reconcile the depicted objects into a coherent explanation without inventing a “best guess” of my own. According to Massumi, when such a rupture of expected semantics occurs, every witness will respond to the same event with their own unique way of restoring semanticity, by virtue of differential attunement. This reaction consisting in a compelled search for explanation arises from the affective event of my viewing. I feel the provocation of thought with urgency, but only after I am struck pre-consciously by the subversion of meaning that is necessarily antecedent to the Kierkegaardian drama that arises.

What I am here responding to has some commonality with what Roland Barthes terms the “punctum” in Camera Lucida, a book about photography that contains insight for other media as well. The punctum is set against the “studium,” which Barthes defines as “a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity” and

that very wide field of unconcerned desire, of various interest, of inconsequential taste: I like / I don’t like. The studium is of the order of liking, not of loving; it mobilizes a half desire, a demi-volition; it is the same sort of vague, slippery, irresponsible interest one takes in the people, the entertainments, the books, the clothes one finds “all right.”

The studium is thus connected to convention: “it is culturally… that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.” Here “culture” is “a contract arrived at between creators and consumers.”

The punctum ruptures convention, this agreed upon cultural contract; it is “that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)” (Barthes, “Camera” 26-28). The difference between the effect of a painting by Magritte and that described here by Barthes is that Magritte’s subversion of conventional perception, of a perception in which the component parts of an image “make sense” when put together, is clearly an intentional device. The punctum is the result of an accident, it cannot be planned by the photographer (or artist in another medium).

Three Phenomena in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire

Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Pale Fire, has pronounced ontological flexibility, is structured in the most fractalized way of the works examined in this paper, and displays a high degree of obtuseness. The book takes a certain kind of disingenuous, or at least deceitful form. It is a book that disguises or pretends to not know that Nabokov is the author of all its parts. Instead, the work is presented as a poem by a fictional American poet named John Shade, with a commentary by his friend and admirer Dr. Charles Kinbote. Further, Kinbote’s commentary is another partial disguise for a digressive story about his own exile from his fictional Nordic country, Zembla, whose name is a somewhat obtuse reflection of the semblance that Nabokov’s literary elements manifest in relation to each other.

The first two lines of the poem called “Pale Fire” (by John Shade) are “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure in the windowpane.” Within this beginning is the germ for the entire book, which extends the threefold themes of reflection, deception and collision in a plethora of self-similar ways. However, Nabokov’s fractal structure is indeed much more visionary than a simple persistence with a small number of themes. It is really the abstract, non-linguistic gesture of a bird crashing into a deceptive window that is the basis of the book’s self-similarity. One could reductively interpret Pale Fire as a complex gesture, one that is synaesthetic enough to not need words or literary form.

The narrative arc in Kinbote’s discursive “commentary” follows the Zemblan King’s narrow escape from revolutionaries in his home country and his arrival in New Wye, a fictional town in New England. We are gradually given hints and eventually told that this same fugitive king is indeed Kinbote himself (another deception). In parallel with the king’s escape, there is another sub-narrative within Kinbote’s commentary on Shade’s poem; the pursuit of the king by an assassin named Gradus. Gradus makes a gradual progression, first finding out where the missing king has escaped to, then following him physically across the Atlantic, in order to collide in an assassination. Along the way, while still searching for the king in Zembla, pursuers are misdirected by loyalists who dress up as the king.

Thus this larger gesture (in the sense of how much of the book and geographic space it takes up), of an assassin on a fatal collision course that is influenced by false reflections and deception is another manifestation of the waxwing’s collision with the false azure. Like with the waxwing, Gradus’ collision is an accident. Instead of killing the fugitive king of Zembla as he was sent to do, he instead ends up killing John Shade, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A similar collision takes form in the literal and abstract encounter of prose (and the prosaic in general) with verse and the poetic in general (the literal sense being the physical book’s division into Shade’s verse and Kinbote’s prose), an entanglement which Kinbote describes in terms of the prosaic destroying the poetic (much as the great poet Shade is killed by the dull, prosaic character of Gradus):

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of a brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. (Nabokov 289)

The connections between these interpretive levels are clear, but it seems that the potential for reading Pale Fire as a complex fractalized distribution of meaning is only suggested by means of obtuseness. The multitude of more local meaning-reflections such as

this vagueness [of Shade’s familiarity with Kinbote and his gardener] I can only assign to his desire… to give a certain poetical patina, the bloom of remoteness, to familiar figures and things- although it is just possible he might have mistaken him in the broken light for a stranger working for a stranger. (Nabokov 290-91)

appears generated from- or at least related to- the basic kernel of the waxwing’s gesture, from the ideas of reflection, deception and collision, but the evidence for such a reading falls just short of my being able to accept it as objective. The concept of a quality of meaning-appearance that is obtuse is described by Roland Barthes, who also calls the obtuse “the third meaning:”

I read, I receive (and probably even first and foremost) a third meaning – evident, erratic, obstinate. I do not know what its signified is, at least I am unable to give it a name, but I can see clearly the traits, the signifying accidents of which this – consequently incomplete – sign is composed… I am not sure if the reading of this third meaning is justified – if it can be generalized – but already it seems to me that its signifier (the traits to which I have tried to give words, if not to describe) possess a theoretical individuality. (Barthes “Image” 53)

the signifier (the third meaning) is not filled out, it keeps a permanent state of depletion… We could also say on the contrary – and it would be just as correct – that this same signifier is not empty (cannot empty itself), that it maintains a state of perpetual erethism… Finally, the obtuse meaning can be seen as an accent, the very form of an emergence, of a fold (a crease even) marking the heavy layer of informations and significations… This accent… is not directed towards meaning (as in hysteria), does not theatricalize… does not even indicate an elsewhere of meaning (another content, added to the obvious meaning); it outplays meaning – subverts not the content but the whole practice of meaning. (Barthes, “Image” 62)

I would argue that there is more than one way for meaning to present as obtuse. There is a variety that adheres more completely to what Barthes describes above; where the obtuse sign is something that appears, jumps out, as meaningful but which doesn’t go so far as to indicate what that meaning is. I would identify this variety of obtuseness more with the slower paced works of Beckett, such as Waiting for Godot and Endgame, in which dialogue which seems necessarily meaningful often means precisely no-thing (that being the point). This type of signification is indeed “not filled out;” it is a paradox of meaning that emerges from a crisis of the signified. Something is signified, but that something is indeed nothing.

The second variety of obtuseness, which I see as being more in line with Pale Fire, is effectively the inverse of the first situation. Here, obtuseness likewise arises from a paradox of meaning, but that paradox is a crisis of signifier rather than of signified. In a crisis of signified, I know there is a mechanism of signification present, but I can’t say with confidence that anything is actually signified as a result. In a crisis of signifier, I can see with crisp imagination what might be signified, but I cannot say whether it is indeed signified.

I can’t truly say with certainty that the fractal dimension is objectively existent in Pale Fire. It seems almost an accident of my reading. The suggestion of dimensions, which are self-similar and meet tangentially at the points of suggestion, appears like a punctum, an unintentional semantic disturbance. The potential for a fractal reading strikes me with its emergence and pricks me in a blunt way, but I have a hard time resolving whether Nabokov intended such a break in my expectations for a linear semantic flow, a break with the typical dimensions of meaning for a “novel of this type,” or whether the emergence of this potential really is an affective accident as in Barthes’ photographs. When reading Pale Fire, it seems at least as probable that this partially veiled suggestion of self-similarity is the result of my (perhaps over-) active perception, that I am reading too much into it and being seduced by the comfort of over-simplification. What is obtuse in Pale Fire is not what is “meant,” but the mechanism of meaning itself. It thus appears that if the device of obtuse self-similarity is indeed part of Nabokov’s design, then the fractal deception that we have examined runs to the very heart of the work’s problematics of meaning. This is shown in Fig. 2; the alternate ontology (fractal structure of deceptions and collisions) is suggested obtusely, in veiled suggestion rather than articulated semantic clarity.

Fig. 2: interaction of phenomena in Pale Fire

Interaction of Psychology and Ontology in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona

Ingmar Bergman’s film, Perosna, is about two young women, a successful actress named Elisabet Vogler, who loses the ability to speak during a performance and is sent to recover in a psychiatric hospital, and her nurse, Sister Alma. It is an intensely psychological film that explores apathy, existential abandonment and animosity between warring intrapersonal identities. It also exhibits multiple dimensions of ontological flexibility and a certain amount of obtuseness, in relation to the film’s alternative identities. The literalist interpretation is that everything we see and hear is the “reality” of action and that any signals to the contrary are merely thematic. However, this reading seems dubious. At the very least it fails to capture the “whole story.” There are enough obtuse references to different ontologies to provoke the question of “what is real?” Alma says to Elisabet,

You know what I thought after I saw a film of yours one night? When I got home and looked in the mirror, I thought, “we look alike.” Don’t get me wrong. You’re much more beautiful. But we’re alike somehow. I think I could turn into you if I really tried. I mean inside. You could be me just like that, though your soul would be far too big. It would stick out everywhere!

In a scene shortly thereafter, when the two are lying in bed, Alma picks up on this line of thought: “is it possible to be one and the same person at the very same time – I mean two people?” It seems clear that a rival ontology is given credence here, without destroying its more obvious alternative. In this sense, the film itself acquires a split personality, in a competitive manner not dissimilar to the dynamic consisting between Elisabet and Alma. There is thus ontological instability not only with regard to the identity of the two women, but also with regard to the interpretation of scenes as reality or fantasy. All these supposed designs of the director are however not made abundantly explicit as intentional. If they are perceived by the viewer, it can only be in an obtuse way. In an essay about Persona, Susan Sontag describes the obtuseness of the work:

The difficulty of Persona stems from the fact that Bergman withholds the kind of clear signals for sorting out fantasies from reality… The insufficiency of the clues Bergman has planted must be taken to indicate that he intends the film to remain partly encoded. The viewer can only move toward, but never achieve, certainty about the action. (Michaels 67)

The advantages of keeping the psychological aspects of Persona indeterminate (while internally credible) are that Bergman can do many other things besides tell a story. Instead of a full-blown story, he presents something that is, in one sense, cruder and, in another, more abstract: a body of material, a subject. The function of the subject or material may be as much its opacity, its multiplicity, as the ease with which it yields itself to being incarnated in a determinate action or plot. In a work constituted along these principles, the action would appear intermittent, porous, shot through intimations of absence, of what could not be univocally said. This doesn’t mean that the narration has forfeited “sense.” But it does mean that sense isn’t necessarily tied to a determinate plot. (Michaels 70)

There is another dimension to the ontological interest of Persona. The film begins with a montage of images that refer to the medium of film itself. Like with the other suggestions of alternative ontologies, in which the identity of scenes might pass from literal action to filmic metaphor, and the film as a whole might pass from the story of two women to a story of one woman’s warring personae, the presence of this reflexive material on the process of filmmaking is inconclusive as an ontological marker. It is critical to note that this inconclusiveness, like the varieties of obtuseness in Pale Fire, Waiting for Godot and Corps à Corps is what allows the ontology to remain flexible and open-ended. Perhaps this irresolution is what allows the affective level of experience to be amplified to captivating effect. Fig. 3 shows how the psychological complexity of the film both causes and results from the instability of ontology, and that both of these phenomena are further reinforced by the disruptive effect of images and sequences which are clearly abstract, such as the opening meta-film montage.

Fig.3: interaction of phenomena in Persona

Fractal Film: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris

Solaris is a film primarily about man’s relationship with conscience. This theme is ideal for a poetic exploration of the psychology of ethics (and the ethics of science), and Tarkovsky sculpts a visionary work from it. Dr. Kris Kelvin is sent to the space station orbiting a planet named Solaris to determine whether the station should be shut down and abandoned. Strange things occur on the station, as the scientists on board are visited by the people from their lives who most represent the guilt they carry. They are not hallucinations, but copies with physical form. Burton, a pilot who long since returned from the orbit of Solaris, was deemed unstable because he saw a four-meter-tall child on the surface of Solaris’ ocean. He reveals to Kelvin’s father that the child was the image of the abandoned son of a scientist who died in that ocean. In Dr. Kelvin’s case, his conscience is manifested in the form of his dead wife, who took her own life a decade earlier.

There is a contrapuntal sequence near the beginning of the film, when Kelvin, his aunt and Burton are watching old footage of Burton’s testimony, from shortly after the latter’s return to earth. There are multiple levels involved here; we see the present day characters while they watch, with the shot focused on their faces, one at a time. This layer uses the coloring that is elsewhere dominant in the film. A second level, that containing the younger Burton, uses a tint that is closer to black and white. Here also, the focus is on individual faces. First, in a sub-layer of this second level, we see one of the crew members who was on Burton’s mission, standing and giving his account of the events that transpired. Then another sub-layer is shown, as Burton’s colleague passes the shot onto a committee hearing Burton’s statement. Continuity, and perhaps a unifying motif of “conversation” or “watching” is established by the angling of characters in separate layers so that it appears they are facing each other. As the proceeding continues, another level of watching is introduced as the committee plays footage taken by Burton of the ocean on Solaris (now two degrees removed from the present-day viewers). This level is in color, but more monochrome than the level of the present-day Burton, Kelvin and his aunt. Throughout this sequence, there is dialogic shifting between the levels, with the focus on how the characters in each are watching the other levels and sub-layers. To help us (the outermost level of watching) distinguish them, a beeping sound, perhaps of an intercom, is heard at the moments of shift. At the end of the sequence, yet another level is added with the close-up of a photo of Kelvin’s mother, looking directly at the camera knowingly. The motif of dialogic watching is replicated further as the film progresses.

I interpret Solaris as highly self-similar, with the “watching” motif, as it appears throughout the film in localized ways, as a reflection of how the scientists on board the space station are shown their guilty consciences (or how they are watched by them), and respond by wrongly interpreting them as hallucinations caused by insanity. However, to examine what is happening here, in the structure and meaning of Solaris, it is helpful to read what Tarkovsky has to say about the medium of film in his book Sculpting in Time:

A film is an emotional reality, and that is how the audience receives it- as a second reality. The fairly widely held view of cinema as a system of signs therefore seems to me profoundly and essentially mistaken. I see a false premise at the very basis of the structuralist approach. (176)

I want to emphasize yet again that, with music, cinema is an art which operates with reality. That is why I am so against the structuralist attempt to look at a frame as a sign of something else, the meaning of which is summed up in the shot. The critical methods of one phenomenon cannot be applied mechanically and indiscriminately to another, yet that is what such an approach attempts. Take a particle of music- it is dispassionate, free of ideology. So too one cinema frame is always a particle of reality, bearing no idea; only the film as a whole could be said to carry, in a definite sense, an ideological version of reality. A word on the other hand is itself an idea, a concept, to some extent an abstraction. A word cannot be an empty sound. (177)

This suggests a difference from the self-similarity of Pale Fire. While both Pale Fire and Solaris employ structures that replicate themselves, the linguistic nature of the book perhaps approaches the fractal system from the “opposite end,” so to speak. The Pale Fire model is able to start with the specific, with an idea which fractures into other local versions of itself. In Solaris, according to the director himself, one cannot find the idea of the film in individual scenes. The scene has no representative value of its own. Crucially, the feeling and the relationships that are captured in a sort of Russian doll by Solaris could be said to rely on the allegorical quality of the film as a whole, without which context the more local instances of emotional encounter cannot make sense. And yet, we do get an inkling, even when the idea of conscience is not fully realized in our watching, that something is unifying the structure of the film in the same way on multiple levels. I may not be able to say what ideological version of reality is reflected in the multiplicity of “watching” or “being watched,” but I can perceive the abstract sophistication and emotional force of the design before coming to terms with the idea of the film. In the next part, we will outline some of the critical problems faced when abstracting and reapplying the various phenomena found in the Part One.


The reapplication of meaning-related phenomena found in primarily non-musical models has presented a host of difficulties. This application requires antecedent steps of analysis and abstraction from the original work, and through this process of translation it is necessary that the phenomenon adapt somewhat. The original must often be reduced to a concept that is not always intuitive, and that concept must be recontextualized in a different medium. Sometimes this reapplication has been onto a collection of sonic materials already assembled, but sometimes the conceptualism of foreign phenomena has been compounded by an absence of such materials and a starting point that was instead conceptual itself. When writing my piece, Never is Once, I had already chosen some “found sounds” of radio transmissions and begun transcribing them for cellos when I decided to structure the piece around obtuseness, self-similarity and juxtaposition as found in Beckett, Nabokov and Magritte. With another of my pieces, Felix qui, however, I began with the psychological situation I wanted to capture and thus needed to find a way not only to adequate ontological flexibility and self-similarity, but also to describe the initial psychological idea using sound.

Method of Abstraction

In composing the pieces which I will discuss below, and in applying the different phenomena of meaning to them, I found that there were three basic problems that were essential to the task. The first such problem involves the method of abstraction from the original source in which the phenomenon is found. This can be done either intuitively, or through more analytic means. In the case of many affective phenomena, such as Magritte’s dramatic juxtapositions, analysis was not immediately necessary and a relatively faithful reproduction could be achieved without that intermediary step. With some phenomena however, such as the self-similarity of Pale Fire and the obtuseness of the same work, what the author was doing was not initially clear to me, and the force of what I felt in reading required study of further texts, reflection and analysis before it could be reapplied.

Order of Work

The second problem concerns the starting point of work, either sonic or conceptual, and the choice of the stage in which to apply phenomena. I found these decisions to be critical, as the early application of concepts in Felix qui yielded very different results from the somewhat later application in Never is Once and in another piece, The Coevals. The cardinal consideration here is the extent to which abstract principles act as a structural feature. It is easy for earlier application to give rise to a certain degree of alienation from the sound of the piece itself. In another piece I wrote, Hic Sunt (2019), for six vocalists and electronics, not analyzed here, the idea of ontological flexibility was applied much later in the process. The sound was almost entirely formed when I adapted the text to introduce an instability between real and fictive space. In the future, I will likely aim to place the considerations of sound and meaning-phenomena on more equal footing.

Suitability of Medium

The third broad problem is the question of the suitability of an idea to the medium of music. Both the particular concept of the piece, if a concept is a formative factor, and the desired meaning-phenomena must be considered in this light. Kierkegaard, in his discussion of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Either/Or writes about this issue in terms of the abstract and the concrete:

Of course abstract media are the prerogative of sculpture and painting and music as well as architecture… The most abstract idea conceivable is the spirit of sensuality. But in what medium can it be represented? Only in music. It cannot be represented in sculpture, for in itself it is a kind of quality of inwardness. It cannot be painted, for it cannot be grasped in fixed contours; it is an energy, a storm, impatience, passion, and so on, in all their lyrical quality, existing not in a single moment but in a succession of moments, for if it existed in a single moment it could be portrayed or painted. Its existing in a succession of moments indicates its epic character, yet in a stricter sense it is not an epic, for it has not reached the level of words; it moves constantly in an immediacy. Nor can it be represented, therefore, in poetry. The only medium that can represent it is music. For music has an element of time in it yet it does not lapse in time except in an unimportant sense. (69-70)

While sensuality may be suitable to music, it is certainly true that not all ideas and mechanisms of meaning are amenable to the way music relates to time, emotion and meaning. We have seen that fractalized meaningful elements behave differently in written text than they do in film, and when this phenomenon is applied to music there are similar issues of translation. This will be true of any such phenomenon, and one must decide what can be abstracted from the original context without being destroyed in the process. However, a certain amount of corruption of the original can also serve as an opportunity for interesting mutations and fruitful results in musical form. Kierkegaard suggests that Don Giovanni is an immortal work because its “idea” is perfectly suited to its medium. By the very nature of this project it is clear that none of the phenomena discussed is perfectly at home in music, but I would contend that reapplication can sometimes yield worthwhile outcomes. What is required, nonetheless, is a scrupulous attention to relevant issues of intermediality. In the next part we will take a look at my compositions of the past two years which have been shaped around the matrix of our four phenomena. These pieces had necessarily to reckon with the three problems of Part Two, and they represent my best efforts to reapply the abstract phenomena found in Beckett, Aperghis, Magritte, Nabokov, Bergman and Tarkovsky.


A Web of Phenomena: Never is Once

My piece, Never is Once for four cellists and electronic sounds (2017-18), is an attempt to present a fractal structure of meaning that can only be perceived in obtuseness; an experience in which it seems that everything means something, even if it so happens that there is no real “meaning” to be found. The suggestion that elements have a significance apart from purely sonic considerations is brought into perception by a mechanism of illogical juxtaposition similar to what we have seen in Magritte’s paintings and Kierkegaard’s definition of drama: the contemporaneity of (seemingly) unrelated factors results in reflection at the expense of “mood.” Additionally, the presence of spoken text (perhaps more than if it were sung) provokes the thought that the piece is not entirely abstract, but based upon an idea that is not strictly musical. The components that are forced into relatively fast alternation consist of electronic sounds derived from radio jamming signals, cello material derived in turn from these sounds and spoken text, distributed among the four performers. For the spoken component, each cellist is assigned a different Tudor era letter to read from- Sir Philip Sidney to Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Thomas More to his daughter, Sir Walter Raleigh to Sir Ralph Winwood, and Queen Elizabeth to Erik of Sweden.

Each letter is presented in fragments; the reader is instructed to speak in a slow, natural speaking voice while the other three cellists play material the pitches of which come from the radio jamming sounds, and the rhythms of which are intuitively written in imitation of Tudor era English consort music. The reading of the text, and the formal section in which it is presented, is interrupted by the beginning of the next section (either electronic jamming or jamming transcribed for cellos). Thus, the reader of Thomas More’s letter, for instance, speaks four times, the corresponding formal sections being distributed throughout the duration of the piece, and radio jamming sections and the readings of the other performers alternately interrupt that letter.

Not all the text comes from these letters. The first, second and fourth times the “More” performer speaks, the text is indeed from More’s letter. The third time, however, the text is my own. In contrast to the slow reading of the letter fragments, this reading (and those like it that occur, once per performer, in the other parts) is instructed to be very rapid. The speed and relative lack of “sense” in these non-letter texts was an attempt to produce something like the non-semantic speech of Not I. My idea was that the performance of these texts would also represent a psychological “break” in personality and a kind of spoken corollary to automatic writing, similar to the identity crisis and automatic nature of Not I, the difference being that in Never is Once they are moments of clarity rather than a prolonged denial of identity induced by trauma. In these sections of Never is Once something else, something typically subconscious, breaks through momentarily as the Philip Sidney performer (for example) remembers that s/he is not in fact Philip Sidney. S/he becomes self-aware, but also psychically lost for a moment as the piece becomes briefly reflexive. Functionally not so unlike a chorus in Ancient Greek drama, the piece comments on itself, but not clearly: it does so obtusely.

The obtuseness of Never is Once shares properties of both the Pale Fire type and that of Not I. The semblance of Beckettian obtuseness in Never is Once comes as a result of the mere presence of spoken language, insofar as it is unclear from the listener’s perspective if the meaning of the text is actually important for the experience of meaning in the piece. In Not I, as in other works by Beckett there is often a sense that the act of speaking, the uncontrollable flow of words, is more the point than the meaning-content of the speech itself. Nonetheless, of course, the words themselves are important. This importance is not always apparent, but when it does make itself noticed it is received half under the guise of the uncontrollable flow, and an obtuseness results.

This type of obtuseness in Never is Once is more characteristic of the Tudor letters’ presentation than that of the text fragments I wrote. The issue of whether or not the reading of letters has a reason for being (or whether these texts are merely there as an arbitrary choice of something spoken) is left intentionally clouded. It is partially encoded, but partly elucidated by my fragments which verge upon “breaking the fourth wall,” so to speak, and other indications that suggest the piece is “about” broken communication (such as the radio jamming sounds).

The Nabokovian variety of obtuseness in Never is Once is manifested more in the text I wrote- the fragments that represent breaks in the performers’ identity. Like in Pale Fire, the phenomenon that text suggests in an obtuse way is a self-similar structuring of meaningful elements. Like Nabokov’s fractally determined Zemblan monarchists who dress as the king to misdirect his pursuers, I hoped to show the potential for self-similarity in Never is Once while partially concealing the iteration of what is connoted by the work’s metalanguage. On the analysis of this type of complex, Roland Barthes writes:

Another difficulty in analysing connotation is that there is no particular analytical language corresponding to the particularity of its signifieds – how are the signifieds of connotation to be named?.. the metalanguage which has to take charge of them at the moment of the analysis is not specialized. This is a difficulty, for these signifieds have a particular semantic nature; as a seme of connotation, ‘plenty’ does not exactly cover “plenty” in the denoted sense; the signifier of connotation… is like the essential cipher of all possible plenties, of the purest idea of plenty. The denoted word never refers to an essence for it is always caught up in a contingent utterance, a continuous syntagm, deprived of any context and corresponding to a sort of theatrical state of meaning, or, better (since it is a question of a sign without a syntagm), to an exposed meaning. To express these semes of connotation would therefore require a special metalanguage… the suffix -icity deriving an abstract noun from the adjective: Italianicity is not Italy, it is the condensed essence of everything that could be Italian, from spaghetti to painting. (Barthes, “Image” 47-48)

The metalanguage of Never is Once is thus something like disruption-icity, a basic pattern of interruptions manifested in the way formal sections follow each other, in the interruption of one text by those of the other performers, in the interruption of the letter content by metanarrative within the same performer, in the textual content of the metanarrative, in the more literal presence of radio jamming (an obstruction of meaning) sounds, in the sudden shifts from a spectral approach to a more noisy approximation of radio static and back, and from the disturbance of the ensemble dynamic by electronics (the two media never overlap). I conceived this metalanguage of disruption-icity as a manifestation of fractalized meaning. Meaningful elements on every interpretive level of the piece are reducible to the same generative concept.

Finally, Never is Once is also ontologically flexible. One possible ontology, apart from the surface level interpretation of the work as a piece of new music, is that the piece as a whole is a radio transmission; if the sections of solo electronics are jamming signals, then everything else is what is being jammed. These two incompatible ontologies coexist; as in Persona there is a certain impossibility. It is unclear what the “reality” of the piece is, and the irreducible contradiction at the core of the piece’s conception forces a disruptive feeling into existence. This feeling in turn is a manifestation of the self-similar disturbance of identities in the piece. The character-performers arise out of contradiction, out of precariously balanced and fractured personalities, who are non-characterized performers, Tudor figures, self-aware Sibyls with near-automatic intuitions of the piece-qua-piece and impersonal catalysts of the destruction of meaning. A general scheme of the piece is shown in Fig. 4.

Fig. 4: interaction of phenomena in Never is Once

Awareness and Identity: The Coevals

The Coevals (2018) is a miniature, with a duration of three minutes, written for flute and prepared marimba. It also has a brief text, which the flutist recites by speaking through the flute in two sections (each on a single pitch). The piece was primarily a further exploration of self-awareness in performers. The two instrumentalists are trapped within their role as performers and try to break free and become personalities. After the very dense, nearly paroxysmic first two and a quarter minutes comes a moment of clarity in which the person playing the flute breaks through and speaks: “Bemired, unfated metamorphosis from players to persons, neither a poet.” She is not an external omniscient narrator, but a more lucid version of the flutist herself. She is describing what she and her coeval, the marimba player, are experiencing. Like what is so often the case in Ovid, the process of changing form is either accompanied or caused by emotional strife. However, in The Coevals the text indicates that the metamorphosis is not, in the end, accomplished. The two players try, in desperation, to cross the threshold over to being people with self-awareness but ultimately fail.

The most basic demarcation of intra-personal roles in Never is Once, that between self-awareness and the “obliviousness” of a performer not endowed with personality, is not the limit of identity-flexibility. One might imagine a range of degrees of self-awareness, and degrees of awareness of surroundings – in spaces real and fictional. The performer can embody any number of different passing identities, based in an ontology formed from these degrees of awareness. The idea in The Coevals is that there is a striving to move from one ontological role to another, which is exposed by the combined means of the text and the contour of intensity and emotion in the instrumental parts. In the next piece we will examine, Felix qui, the array of identities is more sophisticated and possesses a multitude of personalities within one performer that take the form of internal voices.

Internal Voices and Intra-Identity Instability: Felix qui

Felix qui (2018-19) is a piece I wrote for a double bass which is MIDI-compatible. The instrument differs from a normal double bass only in that it is capable of exporting MIDI values to an interface via a special bridge. In this piece I strove to incorporate most of the phenomena discussed in this paper, but the primary impetus was interest in a psychological problem. The performer assumes the role of a troubadour or epic poet and describes his despair that has arisen from the repeated erosion of epistemological convictions, cruelly revealing the distinct possibility of self-delusion. He is someone that this erosion happens to in repeated cycles that he is powerless to halt, because he lacks the ability to find and address the cause of his frailty of belief (in all its forms, philosophical and religious). His basic perceptions of the world around him come in seasons, in cycles, rather than in any directed line. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of his condition is the fact that he arrives at convictions he has already held and abandoned in the past many times over. In spite of himself, he returns with the foreknowledge that he can only reside in his beliefs for a period of time that he cannot himself determine. Thus, even in the hope that belief provides, he carries with him a constant disillusionment that is only partially latent.

By means of its bridge, the bass effectively becomes a sampler in addition to a bass. This added function is what facilitates most of the considerations of meaning and the structure thereof. The samples consist of speech by both the performer and myself in combination with recorded bass sounds and electronic effects. Like in my other pieces, the performer also speaks in the live performance. This live text occurs either during rests or on top of a sustained note in the bass part.

The role of the samples is to represent the thoughts of the performer, revealed audibly in real time. These thoughts come in multiple levels of consciousness that are differentiated by sonic properties as well as the semantic content of the text itself. The demarcation of different levels was inspired by Tarkovsky’s use of different tints to capture different elements of a complex ontology, such as in the testimony sequence in Solaris. There are thus multiple interior “voices” that belong to the performer and encompass not only the words he says to himself internally, but also the emotional quality of consciousness as interpreted through sound. The first voice consists of pre-personal intuitions; fragments of thoughts that simply “occur” to the mind and are felt like axioms barely above the threshold of consciousness. They are too free to be caught hold of by the rationalizing force of the performer’s identity or ego and are articulated only by whispers. These whisper samples echo rapidly and do not incorporate sounds of the double bass. This first internal voice is mostly paired with the bass material that is played pizzicato, in vague imitation of a lyre. A second voice is more self-aware and completes its thoughts. It also whispers, but is usually accompanied by bass sounds and more electronic effects in the samples. A third internal voice is the most self-aware and has the presence of mind to pose questions to itself. The speech in these samples is voiced (non-whispered) and is mixed with bass sounds and electronic effects. Apart from these categories there are others that are similarly unified and distinguishable from each other.

Similar to the levels in the scene by Tarkovsky and the component deceptions in Pale Fire, the different voices in Felix qui do not exist independently but rather point to each other. In determining how to map each sample to MIDI, I made my choices based on what I imagined to be the current state of the performer’s mind at each moment and what would constitute a human-feeling logic in time. Multiple samples are allowed to sound at the same time, and as a result there is a great deal of overlap between the various voices. The intra-personal characters appear to talk to each other, especially to come into conflict, somewhat like Alma and Lisabet in Persona. Perhaps this state of affairs in Felix qui is not quite fractal, because the levels are not arranged in a hierarchy. They are not within each other as the different video screens and testimonies are in Solaris. However, there is a principle of replication that organizes the concept of the piece and it is reducible to the generative or metatheme of “voice.”

The phenomenon of semantic disruption in these voices, both internal and external, is nearly ubiquitous. After the completion of Never is Once, although my intention had been to create a fair amount of disruption of the reading of the letters, I felt that the use of text in that piece forced the listener to attend too much to the content of what was being read. It seems to me that when hearing text that is as coherent and continuous as most of what is contained in Never is Once, one is taken away from the emotional experience of music. The letters serve as dampeners of affect, in Massumi’s parlance. This is a problem I sought to rectify in Felix qui.

In order to incorporate text in such a way that is affectively resonant, I found it necessary to strictly limit and control the degree of intelligibility, duration and semantic coherence of speech. Text that is more open-ended in meaning, that is poetic in the sense of having the capacity for a multitude of interpretations interferes less with the immediacy of affective and emotional music experience. I wrote all of the text for the piece myself and conceived it along these lines. Additionally, there are no spoken sections beyond a few words, or at most a sentence, in length. The speech in the samples is broken up by the nature of responding to an active bass part, and by effects within the samples themselves.

The ontological flexibility of the piece comes from the performer’s role as a troubadour and the status of electronics as the exposition of his thoughts. Moreover, he is not simply a poet with thoughts, but a broken collection of multifarious personalities that vie for dominance. It could also be said that the two larger ontologies of performing poet and psychological revelation are at odds with each other and do not coexist comfortably. They do not belong with one another, the instrumental musings of the troubadour interrupt and obscure the thoughts by cutting them off when samples are discontinued by the player not lingering long enough on a note for the utterance to sound in its entirety. An epic poet or reciter of chansons de geste is supposed to tell of deeds, but this character cannot move beyond inner turmoil.


In this paper we have examined four broad mechanisms or phenomena of meaning in artistic media, and some sub-classifications of these four. They are creative ways of communicating intention along non-standard lines and include psychological complexity, semantic disruption, self-similarity and ontological flexibility. We have seen the ways in which these phenomena manifest in various works of different media, as well as some applications in my own pieces. Further, we have identified critical decisions that must be made in translating meaning-phenomena from one work or medium to another. In response to the question, “how can phenomena of meaning be reapplied,” I present my compositions analyzed in this paper as the best answer I can provide at this time. These attempts at creative answers arose after encounters with many inspiring works, and involved identifying the key problems of abstraction, initial working step and stage of application, and medium suitability. The four phenomena I selected are, of course, only a tiny subset of the ways a work of art can communicate, and the processes I have employed can be used with regard to any intriguing phenomenon that relates to intention. In the future, it will be interesting to seek out other complex intentions in works of all media and refine the ways in which the force of the original can be transferred into the compositional process.

Works Cited

Aperghis, Georges. Le Corps à Corps. 1978. Georges Aperghis 2006. Score

Aperghis, Georges. Récitation No. 9. 1978.

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard, Hill and Wang, 1981.

Barthes, Roland. Image Music Text. Edited by Stephen Heath, Fotana/Collins, 1977.

Beckett, Samuel. Not I, 1972.

Bergman, Ingmar, director. Persona. Persona, The Criterion Collection, 2014,

Brater, Enoch. “The ‘I’ in Beckett’s Not I.” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 20, no. 3, 1974, pp. 189–200. JSTOR,

Kierkegaard, Søren. Either/or: a Fragment of Life. Penguin Books, 2004.

Magritte, René. Scheherazade.

Magritte, René. The Search For Truth.

Massumi, Brian. Politics of Affect. Polity, 2016.

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique, no. 31, 1995, pp. 83–109., doi:10.2307/1354446.

Michaels, Lloyd. “Bergman’s Persona.” Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, by Susan Sontag, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 62–85.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. Vintage Books, 1989.

Tarkovsky, Andrei, director. Solaris. Solaris, Mosfilm, 1972,

Tarkovsky, Andrey. Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema. University of Texas Press, 1987.