Musical Codes and Intergalactic Spirituality

Saturday, Feb 25, 2023

9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Until recently, discussions of music and spirituality have been anchored in the human. While this anchoring is perhaps egalitarian in spirit, by definition it excludes the alien, and in practice it is enmeshed with all-too-human exclusionary ideologies and institutions. The notion of the posthuman pushes beyond these strictures, but it is still tethered to the frame of the human via the prefix “post-”. The Intergalactic Music Theory of Everything (IMTE), inaugurated in Daniel K. L. Chua and Alexander Rehding’s Alien Listening, “acknowledges the posthuman and the Anthropocene, but it also whizzes past them in its spacecraft, waving out of the window as if to say ‘Been there! Done that!’” 

In pondering what could in some way communicate across galaxies, the theory distills music to bare repetition. As can be seen and heard in one of the most elementary representations of repetition, a sine wave, repetition is not mere replication but relation across a point of difference. Music as repetition accordingly makes time for peace with an other (an alien) – which is ultimately a spiritual affair. In my own contribution to IMTE, I outline the five codes or channels through which alien frequencies reach out and touch us. These codes are texture, memes, structure, semes, and disclosure. They correspond, respectively, with the five nodes in music’s life cycle: event, media interface, data storage, another interface, and re-event. And these codes are further aligned with the elementary forms of knowledge arising from the experiential learning cycle. 

In this paper, I give a brief outline of these codes and their operation in L’île re-sonante by Éliane Radigue, who has been described as a “shaman of sound”, through whom synthetic sound “found itself” (Björn Gottstein). I suggest that these codes, whose underlying dynamics are not specific to humans, allow for a posthuman, intergalactic understanding spirituality.

Matthew Arndt

Matthew Arndt, Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studies musical poetics, three-voiced chant from the Republic of Georgia, and other instances of spirituality in music. He is the author of The Musical Thought and Spiritual Lives of Heinrich Schenker and Arnold Schoenberg (Routledge, 2018). His articles appear in the Journal of Music Theory, the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, Music Theory and Analysis, Music Theory Spectrum, the Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Traditional Polyphony, Theoria, Theory and Practice, and Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie.