I have been listening to Mahler. This usually means something, for his is a music that does not give itself up very often. Many use him as muzak, as a kind of everymen’s background pain, ambient suffering, the soundtrack to a bleached and tired film noir, or a strained little ensemble piece. Listen, watch and learn – this is culture, so they would have us say.
But this is all wrong, all skewed, all nailed down. Mahler’s is a music that can be used but always only in so far as it leave a large and untameable excess, a musical core so of itself, so self-referring, so ontologically heavy, as to refuse re-positioning into other material contexts. It is almost as if to listen is to mishear already.
What glorious ambivalence, what fabulous disengagement, what studied performativity. His is a music of all musics, a rite, a passing all laid out in self-conscious self-erasing textuality. Its very textiness, its very self-unravelling attracts to itself a certain counterweight, a certain materiality that will not rest at that: it is materiality as material, music as music a grand and beautiful tautology, There is no air of literature, no Friedensode, no dark heart of absurd black, but just the unravelling of the symphony, a poetics of grand, stately, noble and beautiful entropy.
Much has been made of his fragmentary, open-ended nature: his is like a thousand voices, like a polyphony of voices, a clambering for attention. But this fragmentary nature is not about plurality, not about the multitude, but about the hopeless ideal of music for music. Mahler’s of all musics is the most autonomous.
The politics of my enjoyment, then, of my straining to make sense, to break through its shiny and kitschy surface, is a politics of agonising incomprehension. No way in, no way out. It is.
Like a nugget of hard refusal, a lump of void stuff, a heavy, heavy sounding tumult of uniformity, it sits, unwelcome, closed, bitterly foreclosed.
Pa pa pa pum, Pa pa pa pum, Pa pa pa pum…….