The technique of writing

The cultural technique of writing and analysis of the constitutive role of literacy has always been at the core of many research efforts in the humanities and cultural studies: The historical interest in the origin, the history, and the spread of various writing systems, the longstanding and extensive debate on orality vs. literacy (examples include the renowned core texts by Havelock, Goody, and Ong as well as the musicological studies by Treitler 1982, 1984, 1991, 2003; Haug 1990, 1991; Haas 2005; and Busse Berger 2005, 2013), and the interest in cultural studies of the specific role of writing and writing systems in communicative, collective, and cultural memory – and with them their significance for the formation of sociocultural identities (cf., e.g., Celestini 2013) – produced no less than the finding “that writing systems open up possibilities for action denied to their oral form” (Krämer 2011). Although this has not yet by any means led to the complete displacement of a phonocentric concept of writing, these considerations have engendered a fundamentally heightened interest in writing’s (own) powers, thus laying the epistemological foundations for several broader considerations: Keeping a critical distance both to the theory that writing is “written down language” (Saussure 2001:28), which goes back to Plato’s repudiation of writing (Plato, Phaidros, St. 274ff.), and to Derrida’s concept of writing, which transformed the traditional phonocentrism into an explicit scriptocentrism, thus standing the constitutive relation between language and writing effectively on its head (see Krämer 2001:217ff., Krämer 2003b; Krämer 2009: 97f.; and Mersch 2010), several further aspects are now enjoying increased epistemological attention in this debate.

Critical scrutiny of the long prevailing paradigm of writing as “the quantity of graphical signs with which the spoken language is put into written form” (Günther/Ludwig 1994:VII), has led, particularly in recent years, to critical epistemological changes within the discourse of writing and literacy. This recent shift in research interests and the stronger focus on previously “neglected” dimensions of writing has been motivated and reinforced by several considerations that we have become accustomed in recent years to labeling as turns: The multifarious movements and counter-movements associated with the “media turn” have substantiated the belief that media generally cannot only be ascribed a representative function as a sign, but rather that their mediality is marked by the anything but neutral presence of the medium itself; not only do media refer to something else, but they always also present themselves as aisthetically perceivable objects; media are of necessity shaped by the fact that they say and show(Krämer 2003a; Mersch 2002, 2010). Furthermore, if the discourse of writing and literacy inherits from the “linguistic turn” the differentiated attention to the relationship between language and writing, considerations concerning the “iconic turn” give rise to a specific role for the constitutive achievements of the iconic (on the theoretical framework, cf. Boehm 1994, 2007; for a musicological perspective, cf. Nanni 2009, 2012, 2013). In the context of a theory of writing, this confrontational linking of “iconic” and “linguistic” turns now makes it clear that writing is characterized by a peculiar hybridization of the discursive and the iconic and that writings thus undermine a priori the alleged disjunctivity of the symbolic orders of the word and the icon (Krämer 2006:76).

In musical notation research, questions extending beyond mere philological reconstruction that might be of use for a comprehensive theory did not attract appreciable attention until comparatively late. Notation research focused initially on the early forms of notation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. After classifying the stock of signs with regard their practical translation into modern notation (Riemann 1878; Wolf 1913/19; Apel 1942; Parrish 1957), scholars of medieval music undertook isolated attempts to tackle the history of musical notation from a theoretical and media theory perspective (Treitler 1982, 1984; Walter 1994; Haas 2005; Tanay 1999). The main points of departure for a theory of musical notation included musicological studies influenced by Nelson Goodman’s seminal study Languages of Art (Goodman 1968) on notation as a sign system that considered its specific semiotic features (Faltin 1985; Karbusicky 1990; Mahrenholz 1998; Kneif 1990) as well as general studies on a semiotics of music (Assafjew 1976; Kaden 1981, 1984; Kaden/ Bierwisch 1983; Karbusicky 1990). In historical research on the history of 20th century notation, musicological interest developed in parallel to the systematic investigation of the various typologies of notations (Karkoschka 1966, 1976; Read 1987, 1998). On the basis of reflection on the relation between musical notation and image in the writings of composers (Stockhausen 1960; Bussotti 1964, 1982, 2000; Ligeti 1965; Kagel 1963; Logothetis 1974; Brown 1986), the study of notation has also focused on the graphic notation of the 1950’s and 1960’s (Stoianova 2001; Gottstein 1998; Magnus 2010, 2011). In recent years, numerous historical studies have called attention to the necessity of taking into account the visual quality of notational signs (Phillips 2000; Colette/Popin/Vendrix 2003; Schmid 2012; Haas and Nanni 2016). The various theoretical ideas on the relationship between writing and musical thinking and on the question of musical styles and aesthetics from the perspective of musical notation (cf., e.g., Capuano 2002; Valle 2002; Borio 2004; Grüny 2015) are therefore of central importance for a comprehensive theory of musical notation. Moreover, musical sketch research has opened up important perspectives for reflecting on the cultural history of philological findings (Schmidt 2000; Hall/Sallis 2004; Maschke 2013; Sallis 2015), while studies on medieval manuscript culture have pointed out different layers of visualized materiality (Dillon 2002).

The proposed project can pick up the thread of disciplinary and interdisciplinary musicological research on notation from the perspective of a theory of writing and images conducted in the past years. Significant studies in this connection include research on the relationship between (music) notations and current theories of writing, images (Nanni 2009–16; Nanni/Boehm/Lachenmann 2012; Cavallotti 2012; Ungeheuer 2012; Magnus 2015; Haas 2015; Tanay 2015; Szendy 2015; Grüny 2015), and performativity (Borio 2015; Mertens 2015) conducted within the context of the research focuseikones in Basel. Of particular relevance are also the results of the projects The Production and Reading of Music Sources (Manchester, Schmidt-Beste 2009, 2016) and Visuelle Logik musikalischer Notation zwischen Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit (Giessen, cf. Nanni/Schärli/Effelsberg 2014). Finally, the ideas on the topic of “notational iconicity” developed in connection with Sybille Krämer’s media philosophy of writing (Krämer 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012) contain important impulses for the project outlined here (cf., e.g., Krämer/Cancik-Kirschbaum/Totzke 2012; Czolbe 2014).