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Ceci n'est pas la musique

Usually I take photos and then, if they are good enough to keep, I try to think of a title for them. This time I came up with the idea for a title and then attempted to take a photo to do justice to my idea. I'm not convinced this is the final realisation of it, but it will do for starters.

 

The title was inspired by René Magritte's famous painting La trahison des images, featuring a picture of a pipe with the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe". The idea behind this painting was to highlight the difference between an object and an image of that object.

 

Superficially, it might appear that my image of a sheet of music also works at that level. However, unlike a painted pipe, which can't be smoked, you could play from this image of the sheet music so it is arguably just as much music as the page that was photographed (ignoring the fact that it is incomplete).

 

At a deeper level, though, the title points to the fact (or at least, the opinion) that even the sheet of music of which this is an image is itself not music in the true sense. I firmly believe that music lives in the sound (and space between sounds) created by musicians interacting with their instruments (and with other musicians, for non-solo music). While the existence of musical notation is very useful (and indeed, some genres of music, such as western classical music, could hardly be imagined to exist without it), it is only a flat representation of the real music in a similar (though far from identical) way to how Magritte's picture represents a real pipe. Even for classical music, which generally sticks to the notes and performance directions as written, interpretation is required to turn what's written into an actual musical performance.

 

Incidentally, lest anyone should think that I'm being too negative about written music, I should point out that the pictured piece is an extract from one of the solo violin sonatas (or partitas) by Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer for whom I have the greatest respect, not to mention the profoundest gratitude that music notation exists so that we can still enjoy the sublime works he wrote 300 years ago.

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Taken on August 16, 2012