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New Musicology and the Composing Subject.
Theory-Métissage with a Look at Gerhard Stäbler1

Joyce Shintani
mai 2011



New musicology has established new forms of interrogation and opened fresh perspectives to musical works. Prompted by these, this article uses a ‘métissage’ of theories to explore the notion of the ‘composing subject’: poststructuralist views on the subject are contrasted with the disparate view from the German musicological tradition. The theoretical consideration is illustrated with two works by the German composer Gerhard Stäbler.


Texte intégral   

1Taking Pythagoras as a point of reference, we find that occidental musical theories and methods of analysis are thousands of years old – older than most written music transmitted in the West. In contrast, European “musicology” (or, the narrative of music history and musical practice as a discipline) is relatively young, tracing its roots back to around the 18th century, as is German Musikwissenschaft, which traces its roots to the 19th. Allowing for the arguable nature of dates, is the comparatively young discipline of musicology already in need of an update to be “new” ? Might “New Musicology” nourish existing musicological practice ? Other articles in this volume will provide responses to the former question. Profiting from New Musicology’s expanded limits of academic research, the present article offers a response to the second question with a fresh look at an old trope – the composing “Subject” – and its breakdown, as seen in the work German composer Gerhard Stäbler.

2Stäbler, born in 1949, enjoyed a well-grounded, conventional music education in Germany. After thorough conservatory training as composer and organist in Detmold and Essen (1968-1976), he worked as organist and simultaneously participated in direct political action (street theater) and in music ensembles. It took a creative crisis at the end of the 1970s to help him find a way out of German traditions and conventions to his own, very original path of new forms and ideas. In doing so he drew inspiration from John Cage’s unorthodox thought ; he also drew inspiration from pioneer video artist Nam June Paik and worked with both of them in later years. Having found his way out of the German idealistic tradition, it is precisely because his intellectual and creative roots lie there that studying the path of this composer-turned-multimedia-artist reveals so much.

3My examination is divided into two parts. The substantial first part deals with the evolution of theory : A first section defends the necessity of the métissage approach taken ; a second traces the development of poststructuralist notions of the Subject ; and a third section contrasts this with the German musicological tradition of the Subject. As an illustration of this theoretical development, the second part of the article presents two works by Stäbler, then examines how in them Stäbler transforms handed-down notions of the Subject into new possibilities of composing.

Part I

Métissage of Theories

4Studying a path with divergences like Stäbler’s makes great demands on the tools employed to approach it. Can we study Stäbler’s serial compositions as well as his performance pieces and installations using one, single approach ?2 What are the alternatives – switch methods, use several methods, ignore certain works ? In order to approach his works I am writing my own theory and have chosen a mélange of methods, combining poststructuralism, Adorno’s critical theory, and “Old Musicology” with a lecture féminine. While purist theorists may harbor distaste for such “impure” mixtures, mixing theories is not entirely new ; in fact, cultural studies already has a name for it : métissage.The word métissage is primarily used in francophone countries, and it is emerging notably in Canada. While the word métissage is also used in English, it has not yet found its way into broader usage. In American states with high Latino populations, the term “mestizo” is often employed instead. Both terms designate mixtures (Latin : mixtus) of North American Indian blood with others, respectively French Canadian or European3. Three Canadians describe métissage used in their research as :

“A site for writing and surviving in the interval between different cultures and languages; a way of merging and blurring genres, texts, and identities; an active literary stance, political strategy, and pedagogical praxis. As métis has been appropriated from its original and negative meaning ‘half-breed’, we appropriate métissage from its original meaning ‘mixed-blood’ to become a creative strategy for the braiding of gender, race, language, and place into autobiographical texts”4.

5What makes a métissage of theories necessary? Where Modernism proceeded to postmodernism, from one paradigm to another, there is a “joint”. An approach to Modernist works can use a Modernist theory, an approach to postmodernist works can use a postmodernist theory. But what about the works of art created in the joint ?

“One of the more striking features of the postmodern is the way in which, in it, a whole range of tendential analyses of hitherto very different kinds […] have all coalesced into a new discursive genre, which we might as well call ‘post-modernism theory’, and which demands some attention in its own right”5.

6It is natural that a kind of clasp, a hinge, be fashioned to hold the two sides together, the old and the new, and this applies to new analytic approaches as well6.

7A new approach might be a métissage of theories. But métissage is a term with a biological origin, so the term implies more than just holding two things together, like a clasp. In métissage, the two elements mix blood, they exchange DNA, there is cross-over and imprinting, and a third new thing is produced, to date unclassified. In this regard, the notion of métissage has something in common with another approach, with lecture féminine : Both blur boundaries and defy categorization ; and, both tell us that there is no single approach – an approach is multiple. This is the kind of “fuzzy”-theory science is uneasy with ; but, exactly its fuzziness makes it appropriate for postmodern works of art whose creators weren’t thinking along exact methodological lines.

8Here I will try to demonstrate how works like Stäbler’s, which have their heritage in one tradition and their continuation in another, can be approached using a theory métissage. I suggest that if they are to retain relevance for musicological research, older notions of the composing Subject need to be altered – perhaps mixed – in order to take them out of their existing context of values. In bringing together theories from discrete contexts, I seek to demonstrate that their confluence helps us gain knowledge. A final goal of this “method métissage” is to revivify the musical canon by grafting new theories as well as new forms and works onto its existing stock.

Poststructuralist Notions of the Subject

9Using this theory métissage, I seek to trace a relationship from the poststructuralist notion of Subject to the musical Subject. In the transformation of notions of the Subject went through in the late 1960s, the author disappears, and then dies. How might this transformed notion of authorship take us from poststructuralist theory to Gerhard Stäbler’s composing ?

10We recall three major milestones, beginning with Jacques Derrida. For him, the Subject that is writing and reading is already disappearing. “The philosophical text, although it is in fact always written, includes, precisely as its philosophical specificity, the project of effacing itself in the face of the signified content”7.

11Around the same time, Roland Barthes questions the validity of the author’s voice, then posits the “Death of the Author” (1967).

“Literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes. Probably this has always been the case : once an action is recounted, […] this disjunction occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins”8.

12“Everything is to be distinguished, but nothing deciphered; […] the space of the writing is to be traversed, not penetrated9. The author is now dead. Where can meaning come from ? Barthes replies that meaning must be actively created by the reader : “The goal of the literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text”10.

13Derrida and Barthes were not alone, a further poststructuralist was asking, “What Is an Author ?” In 1969, Michel Foucault turns to the “singular relationship that holds between an author and a text”11.

“Writing unfolds like a game that inevitably moves beyond its own rules and finally leaves them behind. Thus, the essential basis of this writing is not the exalted emotions related to the act of composition or the insertion of a subject into language. Rather, it is primarily concerned with creating an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappears”12.

14Three authors, writing within two years of each other, all find that the writing Subject has disappeared. The author, who was the Subject, is dead. Where the author used to create the text for himself, now, the reader creates her13 own Subject by reading the text. The author is deconstructed, the new Subject is the co-creating reader.

15An outgrowth of poststructural thought, French feminist theory with its notion of écriture féminine14, injected a new element into the discussion, creating yet another standpoint for viewing the Subject. Pre-dating the notion of “gender”, the eminent philosopher Luce Irigaray discussed the sex of the Subject in 1974.

“We can assume that any theory of the subject has always been appropriated by the ‘masculine’. When she submits to (such a) theory, woman fails to realize that she is renouncing the specificity of her own relationship to the imaginary. Subjecting herself to objectification in discourse – by being ‘female’. Re-objectifying her own self whenever she claims to identify herself ‘as’ a masculine subject. A ‘subject’ that would re-search itself as lost (maternal-feminine) ‘object’ ?”15

16An “other” view was nascent. Taking up Derrida’s term of “phallogocentrism”, Hélène Cixous saw the Subject woven into the confining phallocentric web of Subject/Object relationships.

“Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason, of which it is at once the effect, the support, and one of the privileged alibis. It has been one with the phallocentric tradition […] There have been poets who would go to any lengths to slip something by at odds with tradition – men capable of loving love and hence capable of loving others and of wanting them […] But only the poets – not the novelists, allies of representationalism. Because poetry involves gaining strength through the unconscious and because the unconscious, that other limitless country, is the place where the repressed manage to survive : women, or as Hoffmann would say, fairies”16.

17With their eye for the hierarchical relationship inherent in the relationship between Subject and Object, Irigaray and Cixous added a new aspect. They saw the relationship between the writer and the written – Subject and Object – as a binary opposition that ultimately implies the master/slave hierarchy of the phallogocentric system.

18Transferring this to the musical context, we note how the binary relationship composer/composed – Subject/Object – may also been seen as a binary opposition. In its place Cixous, the radical, calls for a completely new system. Instead of “that theoretic monument to the golden phallus looming”, she wants to create new possibilities, evoking the possibility that the writer “create outside the theoretical”. For the composer, this would imply not just changing musical language or syntax, it would imply no longer “putting the notes together”. Cixous had spoken of poets, women, and fairies… Could a viable alternative for the Western European composing Subject be hiding behind her words ? Cixous warns of the pitfalls awaiting those who dare to step outside the mold.

“If the New Women, arriving now, dare to create outside the theoretical, they’re called in by the cops of the signifier, fingerprinted, remonstrated, and brought into the line of order that they are supposed to know; assigned by force of trickery to a precise place in the chain that’s always formed for the benefit of a privileged signifier. We are pieced back to the string which leads back, if not to the Name-of-the-Father, then, for a new twist, to the place of the phallic-mother”17.

German Notions of the Subject

19We change the scene to Germany with its notions of the Subject and begin by recalling that “to compose” (as well as the German equivalent term komponieren)comes from the Latin “com” + “ponere”, to put together. As the narrative goes, throughout Western musical history – through the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and modern eras – the composer emerged as an “individual” and enjoyed increasing freedom to “put the notes together” as desired, and not merely to fit dictated rules. Now, if something is “put together”, there must be someone who does the putting together. In music history, particularly since the advent of the discipline of Musikwissenschaft in the late 19th century, the one who “puts” is the Subject ; the Subject is the “I” in “I compose”. This notion of the role Subject and Object play in history gained particular importance during the high point of Western music development, in the grande bourgeoisie of the 19th century and was a notion Theodor Adorno paid particular attention to.

20We learn much concerning the notion of the composing Subject from Adorno’s conception of the relationship of the self to the Subject18, drawing on Adorno’s article “Zu Subjekt und Objekt”19. I draw on the interpretation thereof offered by Y. Sherratt (2002).

“The self is not acted upon, but instead, as a Subject, the self acts. It thus contributes to social activity and so partakes of determining the course of history. […] Subjects can act according to […] will, or historical will. For instance, from a Hegelian perspective, individuals indulge in rational activity and transform the world to become more rational. From a Marxist perspective, individuals undertake political activity and transform capitalism into communism. For Adorno and Horkheimer activity in this category of historical will would be that which helps transform the social world into enlightenment. […] The Subject is constituted by his world, unintentionally (materially), intentionally (ontologically), and historically (‘historical’ will). This affects the nature of the Subject’s identity as a thinking, acting human being”20.

21In Sherratt’s view, which I share, the Subject interacts with the world. While the Subject can act, it is at the same constituted by the world and presumably by the objects in it.

22How does the line of thought on the nature of the Subject as seen in Adorno compare with the poststructuralist view ? In the section “Meaning and the Self” in his chapter on Derrida, Peter Dews limns Derrida’s concept of the self. “For Derrida, the collapse of the transcendental signified entails the ‘absence of a center or origin’21, allowing no thought of a Subject, which is no longer an origin, but a focus which is never fully present to itself”22. Dews the parallels and differences between the attitudes of Adorno and Derrida on the Subject/Object hierarchy. “The parallels between this Adornian procedure of ‘immanent critique’ and Derridean deconstruction are clear. Yet it is also important to note the major contrasts”23. And although Adorno holds that:

“The purpose of critical thought is to abolish the hierarchy24, what Adorno understands by abolition of the hierarchy, however, is not abolition of the subject-object distinction, or of any other philosophical opposition. And this is where he differs from Derrida”25.

23I suggest that the condemned poststructuralist author was, like Adorno’s Subject, also a “putting” Subject. The difference between them would seem to be in the degree of autonomous action possible. The poststructuralist author is dying or dead, while Adorno’s Subject still retains a realm of agency.

24Against this background, a comparison of the post-structuralist view of the “dead author” with the notion of the composing Subject makes the difference more blatant. We turn now to another view, to the mainstream (German) musicological view of the Subject, typical for the 1970s and 1980s, as encountered in Carl Dahlhaus’ article “Zur Frage nach dem Subjekt der Musikgeschichte” [On the Question of the Subject in Music History].

“Die Frage nach dem Subjekt „der“ Geschichte – als eines übergreifenden Ganzen – erhielt von Karl Marx in den Pariser Manuskripten die Wendung, dass die Geschichte, wie die Historiker sie erzählen, „die noch nicht wirkliche Geschichte des Menschen als eines vorausgesetzten Subjekts, sondern erst Erzeugungsakt, Entstehungsgeschichte des Menschen“ sei (Frühschriften, Herausgegeben von S. Landshut, 1964, 252)”26.

25Although Dahlhaus finds the concept “problematic”, it is nevertheless certain that the Subject can constitute itself by creating its own history. The fruit of its labor is an intact metanarrative, “a history with logical inner connections”.

“Die Identität des Subjekts, die das Rückgrat erzählter Geschichte zu bilden scheint, ist jedoch sogar in der Biographie eher problematisch als selbstverständlich, und zwar insofern, als sie nicht von Natur gegeben ist, sondern aus der bewussten Anstrengung des Subjekts resultiert, sich der eigenen – mit der Gegenwart vermittelten – Vergangenheit als einer in sich zusammenhängen den Geschichte zu vergewissern. Das Subjekt „hat“ nicht einfach eine Geschichte, sondern muss sie „herstellen“ und konstituiert sich dabei überhaupt erst als Subjekt […]. Doch wird die künftige Geschichte, die sich dadurch überhaupt erst über die Stufe bloßer „Vorgeschichte“ erhebet, das Werk von Menschen sein, in deren Handeln die Idee der Menschheit Realität geworden ist. […] „Die“ Geschichte in Singular, in der die Geschichten im Plural, wie sie von Historikern erzählt werden, ohne Rest aufgehen, ist zwar nicht gegeben und einer empirischen Methode zugänglich, aber sie kann und soll hervorgebracht werden”27.

26The Subject has full conscious capacity (“result of conscious exertion”) to “put” (act). In 1985 Dahlhaus adds an austere judgmental dimension to this notion, in which we hear the condemnation of composing Subjects who, adopting the attitude of “anything goes” prevalent at the time, avoid compliance with the “violent tendency” of musical material.

“Als Subjekt aber übt „die“ Geschichte – auch die der Musik, deren Triebkraft von Adorno „Tendenz des Materials“ genannt wurde – eine zwingende Gewalt aus, der sich Komponisten nur um den Preis entziehen können, dass sie Überflüssiges und Unstimmiges produzieren”28.

27This outlook is corroborated in different ways by the views of composers of the period, among whom next to Stäbler, Helmut Lachenmann (born 1935) can be named as exponent of the German current of kritisches Komponieren [critical composing]29. In the 1970s and 1980s both sought (more or less consciously) to realize Adorno’s concept of the Subject that, through its actions, would help change society, thereby expressing the highest philosophical goals. That view of the Subject coincides in broad lines with Lachenmann’s Subject, but his Subject has become extremely fragile, breakable.

“Das Ich, in Erkenntnis seiner Gebrochenheit, Sprachlosigkeit, in der Auseinandersetzung mit seinen bürgerlichen Bindungen und seiner Unfähigkeit, diese abzuschütteln – als Ich, tastend nach seinem Es, nach seinem Über-Ich, nach seiner Struktur in der Hoffnung auf jenes Rettende, von dem Hölderlin sagt, dass es dort wachse, wo Gefahr sei – das Ich, sich mitteilend nicht affektiv durch die emotional sprechende Gebärde, sondern durchs suchende Handeln über den Aspekt, der sich niederschlägt im umformenden Umgang mit dem ästhetischen Apparat und dem darin vermittelten Materialbegriff : Komponisten meiner Generation haben ihre Situation so verstanden und als Herausforderung akzeptiert”30.

28Lachenmann recognizes that the composing Subject is in a precarious situation. It has lost autonomy and the ability to impose its own will. To what extent is it still a Subject then ? This question is not posed ; instead, the ego communicates itself : notvia affect, not through emotionally speaking gestures ; instead, Lachenmann tries to rescue the Subject through searching and seeking action based on aspect – and this is done within the aesthetic apparatus that itself communi­cates hierarchical notions of material (orchestras and audiences rampage when their beloved high-art “philharmonic sound” is spoiled). But when as part of a still intact context the “composing Subject” of Lachenmann’s generation puts, he is maintaining the erectness of the hierarchy. The composer-Subject masters the composed-Object. But, the more the composer puts, the lesser is the role of the player, and the greater is the degree of domination. Ultimately the performer rebels, as against a dictator. Yet in spite of the brokenness of his composing Subject, Lachenmann does not abandon his concept. The debate raging over the poststructuralist view of the dying author hardly scathed New Music’s high modern concept of Subject. In a paralytic clinch with the aesthetic apparatus, the Subject heroically continued composing.

29It would seem that the generation of German composers and musicologists remains firmly in the German metaphysical lineage of idealism with its transcendental Subject31. Although the generation of the 1970s realized that their Subject was in dire straits, the pull of this inherited notion proved too great to resist ; there was still enough attraction in the notion to hold them. We can see that the intellectual world of New Music with regard to its notion of Subject is diametrically opposed to poststructuralism, in spite of being contemporaneous. This is not the case with Stäbler, who turned his back on creating a particular style, on his own New Music “corporate identity”, in order to seek new means and new media for communicating his art. “Ich habe versucht, den Weg der positiven Alternativen zu gehen, ohne irgendwelche Tendenzen auszuschließen”32. But if it were to be attempted, how might it be done ? “It will be up to man and woman to render obsolete the former relationship and all its consequences, to consider the launching of a brand-new subject”33.

Part II

30Can existing rhetorical structures be broken in order to create a new composing Subject “putting” musical material? What is the relationship of the Subject who is “putting the notes”, to the poststructuralist Subject, dying or dead. The author, like the composer, is a Subject who is “putting words” on paper. At the same time Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida were abandoning th eir Subject, the concept of Subject was still functioning in the Western music canon. If one were to transfer the French feminist critique to the Western composing Subject, what might the result be ? We might imagine an approach that investigates material, instead of trying to dominate it.

31To explore this alternative, we look at two works by Gerhard Stäbler representing approaches taken recently in his composing path of over 35 years. It should be noted that in contrast to many composers, Stäbler has not followed a continuous, temporal development ; his is an achronological development. Different forms and styles exist and are developed, dropped, then picked up again ; it is a zigzag course with many strands, not a linear narrative development. Ultimately, the styles rub off on each other and color one another. Tension is created in individual works through this exchange, and regarding the œuvre as a whole, we see that this tension informs the totality of the development of his works. Here, I will discuss two of Stäbler’s works, kalt·erhitzt. Abgesang auf 113 Flügel [Cold·Heated. Abgesang34 to 113 Grand Pianos] (1999/2000) and the (not yet realized) Skulptur für einen Industriebunker in Duisburg [Sculpture for an Industry Bunker in Duisburg] with architect Pit Kroke.


Figure 1. 113 Dying grand pianos.

32The work kalt·erhitzt came into being by chance. A manufacturer of grand pianos, with 113 instruments destined to be junked, asked if Stäbler he could use them in some way. Out of this happenstance, a series of works came into being scored for the pianos, pianists, singer, cellist, percussionists, amateur choirs (9), amateur brass ensembles (2), piano pupils, electronics, film, choreography, and conductors (5) to be performed at a cemetery – symbol of death and transience. Among the electronic material were citations of repertoire piano pieces and portions of Stäbler’s other works. In later versions of kalt·erhitzt, recordings of earlier versions were also employed. One of the main characteristics of this work, which puts process in the foreground, is the instruction that it be executed several times at intervals of several months. In this way, the gradual weathering and deterioration of the grand pianos – the iconic Romantic instrument – created differing uncontrollable conditions of sound for each performance. It is obvious from the instrumentation alone that kalt·erhitzt lies somewhere between spectacle, piece of music, performance, installation, theater, and neo-happening.


Figure 2. Performing Stäbler’s kalt·erhitzt.

33The other work to be considered here is the as yet unrealized sculpture for an industrial bunker in Duisburg, conceived by architect Pit Kroke, for which Stäbler is to create the acoustic surrounding. The “project for an artistic use of one of the erstwhile ore bunkers in the North Duisburg landscape park” is the “inter-disciplinary shaping of space through sculptural elements, color, light and music”. The walk-through sculpture, or installation, is concerned with the impressions the voluminous bunkers can evoke.


Figure 3. Stäbler, series of industrial coal bunkers.


Figure 4. Pit Kroke, floor plan for bunker project.

34The individual bunkers are separated by T-elements, visible in the photo and floor plan above. In addition to an aerial overview, the visitor can also descend into the bunker. Here, several paths are planned that “offer different possible ways out of depressed anxiety or imprisonment”. Inclined planes offer an “exit out of the narrows”35.

35What has happened to the composing Subject in these two works ? Has it turned into a composting Subject in the cemetery, where worms do the dirty work of digesting the remains of the dead authors and decaying music icons ? Is there still a Subject at all ? How has the (composing) Subject changed or stayed the same ? First, we note that the Subject’s historical context is retained. We do not need a score of kalt·erhitzt to see the continuation of a lineage of pieces to be played on the interior of the piano, from Cowell’s Aeolian Harp to Fluxus actions. We can see and hear the kind of sounds that Stäbler himself once “composed”, or “decomposed”, or “de-con-structed” in the material fetishism phases of earlier works. But the Subject has now set his material free in a context that a composer can no longer control : the effects of weathering, the ambience of a cemetery, the resonance of a bunker. This, of course, has an impact on the value of the material that is composed. It loses importance, for it will change at every performance. The same goes for the tones and sounds, since the material that produces them will have changed ; the composer cedes part of his control over them. Detailed stage instructions no longer make sense for such large masses, they are futile the artifact of the score can no longer dictate everything to be performed. Using amateur choruses, which can never realize a score like professionals, removes yet another aspect of control from the composing Subject. Can these characteristics be a reflection of écriture féminine?

“She has never ceased to hear the resonance of fore-language. She lets the other language speak. Her language does not contain, it carries ; it does not hold back, it makes possible”36.

36Second, the composing Subject has, indeed, put together something here: massive means of performance. But by assembling the massed elements of the work into an installation creating space through which the listener (viewer) can wander, Stäbler takes another step away from the composing Subject. The listener now has the freedom, and the responsibility, to create her own experience of the piece. A new relationship to the listener is achieved ; the hierarchy of composer/listener is reduced. Like the poststructuralist Subject, Stäbler’s composing Subject as well as the listener constitute themselves in a temporal process. Moreover, by adding a version of earlier performances on video (kalt·erhitzt), Stäbler mixes up composing Subject and composed Object ; he further opens up the notion of the Subject by accepting the challenge of working with others as co-author – there are actually two authors of the bunker sculpture (Pit Kroke). Every reduction of the composing Subject implies a deconstruction of the phallogocentric order.

37Finally, the reduction of the composing Subject’s control weakens the binary opposite pair “play this ; don’t play that”. Because the composing Subject has ceded control, the hierarchic binary opposites are softened. In its long lineage, the musical composing Subject is always seen in relation to its Object. As long as this relationship remains, the opposition is intact ; the status quo of Subject and Object is maintained. Thus, in reducing the Subject by the means described above, Stäbler has renounced mastery over his material. He has taken the hierarchical concept of dominion out of the equation. If the Subject dissolves into its background, or absorbs background, or becomes one with it, the opposition also dissolves. The barriers of the self have become porous, and new models are slipping through.

38Could we have studied and compared these aspects by using only to the paradigm of the poststructuralist Subject ? No, because the while the poststructuralist Subject has a long history of writing to draw on, it doesn’t have a history of composing. Could we have studied this evolution only by examining the composing Subject ? No, because that Subject has not undergone the changes reflected in the philosophical discourse of recent years. Could we have compared developments by referring only to écriture féminine ? No, because écriture féminine – a new kind of writing by a new Subject – does not plug us into music history anymore than the general poststructuralist vision does. It’s not as though we have Composer A who is Subject Adorno, and Composer B who reflects Derrida’s Subject, and Composer C who uses écriture féminine. No, we have one composer who goes through all these stages. To make our study possible, we needed to make a hybrid of Subjects, grafting one onto another, mixing up DNA, in some way making it one – just as Stäbler himself changed as Subject, living through his own evolution and development, grafting onto his trunk new experiences and new methods. So, I suggest that this hybridization, this métissage of theories, was necessary to treat the changed composing Subject. Stäbler’s path, complex and convoluted, demands a hermeneutic approach of its own.

39A métissage of Subject notions can combine traditions and help trace the continuum of a shimmering Subject. Stäbler started composing in a closed and structured system, sought opening for his composing vocabulary, learning to let sounds and events speak, and letting objects, musicians, amateur musicians, interact with them. Did he abandon his identity ? His own Subject ? Of course not, he grew, the organic growth of the artistic Subject. We see a composer who has traversed the trajectory from a phallocentric Subject dominating his notes (in his early works) to a pluralistic entity who trusts materials to make whatever sound they will and open to sharing the work of creating the experience with others – amateurs, listeners, architects… The domination of composer over material is breaking down – 113 grand pianos are offered, Stäbler creates something for them. A bunker is offered, he goes to the bunker, listens to it, and makes a proposal. In doing so, Stäbler also does away with the hierarchy between listener and composer. The listener is no longer forced into a seat to listen, she can choose her place. While still com-posing, Stäbler has sought and found ways to remove many elements of phallocentric Subject and of hierarchy. It would seem to be a step toward écriture féminine – breaking down boundaries and hierarchies ; working with nature, space, and amateurs, instead of creating artifacts through domination over material.

40Stäbler’s roots in history are manifest, but the experience of sound is in the present. The defunct author can evidently still provide an aesthetic – scriptible – experience for the reader or concert-goer. Exactly how, is the unrelenting question the current generation of composers must wrestle with. This dilemma may be less weighty for young composers who have grown up with Cage, minimalism, and ambient music, but for the high Modernist generation of composers who inherited the “mantle” of composing greatness, the responsibility of furthering the (oral and written) traditions of the European composing Subject, the task of switching paradigm was, for many, paralyzing. Stäbler was one of the few of his generation who managed to stay in motion.

41We can now see that the openings Stäbler has operated on language, social structure, institutions, and forms of music are part of the deconstruction of a centuries-old concept of music, also of New Music. These then, I suggest, are some of the insights New Musicology with its expanded palette of “analytic” tools such as lecture féminine can contribute to Old Musicology, as seen in the example of the composing Subject today. Now that we have a new view of the Subject, how might that change the view of the Object, of musical material ?


1  The present article exposes ideas from Chapter 3, Part 1 (“Métissage of Subject”) of my dissertation, Gendertronics: Toward a “Feminine Reading” of Emerging Technologies and their Musical Aesthetics – Gerhard Stäbler, Terre Thaemlitz, Miss Kittin (defended 12 Apr 2008 at the Université Paris-Est, print in preparation; in the original, it is followed by Part 2, “Métissage of Material”). To fit the ideas originally presented in 25 pages into the 17 pages here, this truncated version necessarily compresses, generalizes, and omits some material. The reader interested in a fuller presentation is referred to the original. Unreferenced translations are by the present author.

2  Further information on Gerhard Stäbler and his works can be found in the volume Live the Opposite Daring edited by Paul Attinello (Saarbrucken, Pfau, in preparation) and my article on musical material there.

3  American Heritage Dictionary, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1969. Also of interest in this context is the notion of “mimicry” in post-colonial studies http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/bhabha/mimicry.html, developed among others by Claudia Breger http://www.indiana.edu/~germanic/faculty/CVClaudia2006.pdf, retrieved 13 Dec 2009.

4  Cynthia Chambers, Dwayne Donald and Erika Hasebe-Ludt quoted in http://www.ccfi.educ.ubc.ca/publication/ insights/v07n02/metissage/metiscript.html, retrieved 13 Dec 2009 (discourses).

5  Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism. Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham NC, Duke University, 1991, p. x.

6  This problem has also been identified by authors Bowie and Hodge, who address the unique contribution music – and Adorno’s philosophy – can make to understanding the joint connecting “modern/postmodern” and the lacunae in investigating this potential ; in Andrew Benjamin (ed), The Problems of Modernity. Adorno and Benjamin, London, Routledge, 1989.

7  Derrida, L’écriture et la différence, Paris, Seuil, 1967 (English édition : Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. London, Routledge, 1978, p. 160).

8  Roland Barthes, “Death of the Author”, trans. R. Howard, Item 3 in Aspen n° 5+6, New York, Roaring Fork Press, 1967 ; accessible at http://www.ubu.com/aspen/aspen5and6/index.html, retrieved 13 Dec 2009, p. 142 (my emphasis).

9 Ibid., p. 147, my emphasis.

10  Roland Barthes, S/Z : An Essay, trans R. Miller, New York, Hill and Wang, 1974, p. 4.

11  Michel Foucault, “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur ?” [What is an Author ?], Bulletin de la Société française de Philosophie, vol. 63 n° 3, 1969, pp. 73-104. Translated by Donald Bouchard & Sherry Simon, in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Selected Essays and Interviews, Ithaca (NY), Cornell University, 1977, pp. 113-138.

12  Ibid., p. 116.

13  One possibility authors have found to question the nature of the Subject, and to avoid repeating inherent gender bias, is to write sometimes “he” and sometimes “she”. The constant click in the mind of the reader is designed to recall that women, too, are being referred to, where this might not be otherwise self-evident – and vice versa.

14  Many approaches considered part of “New Musicology” are directly or indirectly influenced by this theoretical current.

15  Luce Irigaray, “Any Theory of the ‘Subject’ Has Always Been Appropriated by the ‘Masculine’”, in Speculum. De l’autre femme, Paris, Minuit, 1974 ; English edition Speculum Of the Other Woman, Trans. G. Gill, G., Ithaca (NY), Cornell University, 1985, pp. 133 ff.

16  Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (English translation), trans K. Cohen, K. & P. Cohen, in Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 1 n° 4, 1976, pp. 875-894, Chicago, University of Chicago, p. 879-880. For the non-native speaker of English we note that “fairy” is an old synonym for the homosexual man.

17  Ibid., p. 892.

18  A Lacanian discussion of psychosexual development as well as Sherratt’s discussion of the Freudian and the Hegelian-Marxist Subject (op. cit., pp. 59-69) are omitted here due to space considerations.

19  Theodor W. Adorno, “Zu Subjekt und Objekt” (1969), in Rolf Tiedemann (ed), Gesammelte Schriften 10/2. Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II. Eingriffe. Stichworte. Anhang [Collected Works 10/2. Cultural Criticism and Society II. Interventions. Key Words. Appendix], Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1977, pp. 742-758.

20  Yvonne Sherratt, Adorno’s Positive Dialectic, Cambridge, Cambridge University, 2002, pp. 61-65.

21  Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p. 289 (Dews’ footnote).

22  Peter Dews, Logics of Disintegration : Poststructuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory, 1987, London, Verso, p. 34.

23  Ibid., p. 39.

24  Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 181 (Dews’ footnote).

25  Peter Dews, Logics of Disintegration : Poststructuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory, loc. cit.

26  Carl Dahlhaus, “Zur Frage nach dem Subjekt der Musikgeschichte [On the Question of the Subject in Music History]” in Grundlagen der Musikgeschichte [Foundations of Music History], Cologne, Musikverlag Hans Gerig, 1977, pp. 87-88. “The question of the Subject ‘of history’ – as an all-encompassing totality – took a new turn with Karl Marx in his Paris manuscripts : History, as historians tell it, is ‘not yet the real history of man as a given subject but only the act of creation, the history of the origin of man’” (Early Writings, edited by S. Landshut, 1964, p. 252 (translation of Dahlhaus by this author ; English translation of Marx from http://home.freeuk.net/ lemmaesthetics/epmht_44.htm, retrieved 13 Dec 2009).

27  “The identity of the Subject, that would seem to form the backbone of narrative history, is more problematic than evident, even in biographies, in the respect that it is not given by nature. Instead, identity is a result of conscious exertion by the Subject to reassure itself of its own history (and the history communicated through the present) as being a history with logical inner connections. The Subject doesn’t just ‘have’ a history, it must ‘make’ one, and it is only in doing so that the Subject constitutes itself at all… (77). Future history, which manages thus to rise above the stage of mere ‘pre-history’, will be the work of humans in whose actions the idea of humanity has been realized. ‘The’ history (singular) into which all ‘histories’ (plural) told by historians will one day be totally subsumed, does not exist and cannot be investigated by any empirical method ; but it can and should be produced” (ibid., pp. 77-88).

28  Carl Dahlhaus, “Geschichte und Geschichten” in Die Musik der fünfziger Jahre, Mainz, Schott, 1985, p. 9. “But as Subject, history [singular] – also in music, whose drive Adorno called the ‘tendency of musical material’ – has an ineluctable violence that the composer can only avoid at the price of producing superfluous nonsense”.

29  Rainer Nonnenmann, “Die Sackgasse als Ausweg. Kritisches Komponieren : ein his-torisches Phänomen ? [The Dead-End Street as Exit. Critical Composing – A His-torical Phenomenon ?]” in Musik & Ästhetik n° 36, Stuttgart, Klett-Cotta, October 2005, pp. 37-60.

30  “The ego, recognizing its brokenness and speechlessness, wrestling with its bourgeois bonds and its inability to shake them off – the ego, groping for its id, for its superego, for its structure, hoping for that rescue of which Hölderlin said, “it grows where there is danger” – the ego, communicating not with affect and emotional speaking gestures, rather through searching action via the aspect that is written into transformative dealings with the aesthetic apparatus and the concept of material that it communicates : Composers of my generation understood their situation thusly and accepted it as a challenge”. Helmut Lachenmann, (1983), available in Musik als existentielle Erfahrung. Schriften 1966-1995 [Music as Existential Experience. Writings 1966-1995], Josef Häusler (ed),Wiesbaden, Breitkopf, 1996, p. 68.

31  Beginning in the end of the 1970s, critics have attempted to reconcile the composing Subject with a poststructuralist notion, but with meager progress (for example, Peter Faltin, “Über den Verlust des Subjekts in der Neuen Musik. Anmerkungen zum komponieren am Ausgang der 70er Jahre”, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, vol. X n° 2, Zagreb, Institute of Musicology, 1979, pp. 181-197 and Dominique Richard, “Music as HandWerk, the Middle Way Between Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit”, paper for ICMC 2000, http://www.cnmat.berkeley.edu/ICMC2000/pdf/ICMC2000-handwerk.pdf, retrieved 16 oct 2007).

32  “I tried to take the path of ‘positive alternatives’, without excluding any particular tendencies,” in an interview conducted in Duisburg, 15 Nov 2004. Another group of composers was also seeking their way outside of the mainstream, often calling on id and body much more than on ego and ratio. Their paths are finding increased interest and reception, for example cf. Paul Attinello, “Dialectics of Serialism. Abstraction and Deconstruction in Schnebel’s für stimmen (… missa est)”, in Paul Attinello, Christopher Fox & Martin Iddon (eds.), Contemporary Music Review. Other Darmstadts, vol. 26 n° 1, London, Taylor & Francis, 2007, pp. 39-52 ; and his article “Imploding the System. Kagel and the Deconstruction of Modernism” in Judy Lochhead & Joseph Auner (eds.), Postmodern Music / Postmodern Thought, New York, Routledge, 1999, pp. 263-284.

33  Hélène Cixous, op. cit., p. 890.

34  The final of three stanzas in the German Bar form Stollen are referred to as Abgesang. In addition, it can also mean “exit song”.

35  From an unpublished note on this project kindly furnished by the composer.

36  Hélène Cixous, op. cit., p. 889.


Joyce Shintani, «New Musicology and the Composing Subject.», Filigrane. Musique, esthétique, sciences, société. [En ligne], Numéros de la revue, New Musicology. Perspectives critiques, mis à  jour le : 30/05/2011, URL : https://revues.mshparisnord.fr:443/filigrane/index.php?id=280.


Quelques mots à propos de :  Joyce Shintani

The Japanese-American Joyce Shintani pursued studies as conductor and musicologist specialized in new and computer music (Los Angeles, Stuttgart, Paris). After working at Universal Edition (Vienna) and BMG (Munich) she began teaching at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design in 2005, where she initiated the research project “‘Embodiment’ and ‘the Other’. A Multidisciplinary Comparison of Changing Aspects of the Subject in Musical Multimedia Works”.