The Hidden Unity

An Experimental View on Aesthetics and Semiotics of Music in the Czech Milieu

by Jarmila Doubravova (Author)
©2014 Monographs 120 Pages


This book is based on the results of about forty years of work with one type of analysis of musical communication. It offers an elucidation of the meaning of music as, in addition to other factors, a fictive action and refers to the context of the intrapersonal, interpersonal and social aspects of communication. It does so against the background of the nearly unknown century-long history of Czech experimental aesthetics. At the same time it provides insights into a field of the humanities in the totalitarian era by referring to the roots of the method in the context of semiotics, aesthetics and cybernetics in the 1960s.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Art as a function of life
  • 1 Preface
  • 2 Aesthetics, experiments and values
  • 3 Between cybernetics, aesthetics and semiotics
  • 4 “I/Other” oppositions in music, aesthetics and semiotics
  • 5 Interpersonal analysis in film music
  • 6 Janáček from an interpersonal viewpoint
  • 7 Postscript
  • 8 Notes and references
  • Appendix
  • 9 Summary of ‘Dialog a imaginace’ (1998): the starting point
  • 10 Special bibliography of works on interpersonal analysis by the author
  • 11 Literature
  • 12 Three sets of examples for the experiments
  • Subject index
  • Name index

← 8 | 9 → Introduction: Art as a function of life

It is claimed that noise level in the European cities increases each year by 1 decibel (dB). This means that the ever present sound, which we cannot close our ears to, begins to reach levels which are a health hazard. It is also said that some orchestra conductors, Herbert von Karajan, for example, observed as early as 25 years ago that the concert goers were becoming less sensitive to the perception of dynamic nuances in music, particularly where it came to an active perception of low dynamics. This observation has been correlated with the continuously increasing noise level in our surroundings. There is not just the sound of noisy traffic, there is also the noise from speakers in our households, shops, galleries and other places in the urban environment. The dynamic capacities of these devices exceed by many times the acoustic capabilities of the spaces in which they are installed (see: Center and Periphery. 1992).

Street shop vans, like Family Frost, drive through the streets loudly proclaiming our chance to buy an ice cream or frozen haddock. While the initial presence of this announcement may be melodic, its pitch is disturbing and insistent. Waiting for public transport in larger centres, we may be treated, for example, to Rondeau à la Turk or, maybe, Für Elise. On our way through banks we are accompanied by “serious” classical music while in the shopping malls we are motivated by the sentimental sounds of music, especially of the kind that “leaves no eye dry”, to persuade us to stay there longer. When we stay longer, we buy stuff. If we are moved to self-pity, we buy more. In the arcades of Prague Old Town, heavy metal screams from a music shop. Further on, on the corner a blind man with a dog, straight out of a film by Fellini, plays old tunes on an accordion. At home, sitting at the computer, our children scream loudly over the primitive grunts of the martial arts computer games.

We are deafening ourselves; yet, at the same time, there is a desire for more noise. Sound is a drug; particularly loud noise. In some way, we ← 9 | 10 → start to resemble tuna fish in the northern seas; despite the ban they are being hunted by the sound, ultrasound in this case. Unstable creatures are always more susceptible to manipulation by this great Demiurge - Sound. With their earphones on, young people distance themselves from the human environment. This may be intentional as this environment is irritating to them. Sometimes they do it because their peers do it or just because it is irritating to their parents’ generation. They have their specific generation traits; their music players are means of communication, of initiating relationships. But discotheques with stroboscopic laser lights turn them into a mass. This mass then slashes railway seats, or even one another. The din of emptiness reverberates in every corner of our macro- or micro-environment; disabling us, yet, at the same time, making us long for such disablement. We have nothing else, it seems. Still, there is something worse: the quiet emptiness; the emptiness of solitude, the boredom, the lack of stimulation and opportunities, the dark void.

We, the rational creatures of the 21st century, are scared by the quiet and darkness. We are scared of solitude. But are we really so rational? Or is it just a fiction of the bewildered creatures, which may be building information highways and super-duper expressways but are already aware that they do not know what the result may be? Like Ladislav Tondl wrote (1992), technology has a Janus face.

After declaring a truce, the Irish went to the streets banging the pot lids as is their custom in summer of 1994. TV news showed children, adults and the elderly, all marching, without any explanation for banging the lids. But when we look at mythology, let’s say, Mircea Eliade’s The Myth of the Eternal Return (1969), for example or one of the volumes of J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1915), we can find an explanation there. The rite of exorcising demons, illnesses or sins comprises several elements: one, fasting, washing off and cleansing, and secondly, the symbolic extinguishing of light or a ritual fire. Three, exorcising the demons by the use of noise, shouts and banging; first, inside the dwellings, followed by a hullabaloo and uproar all over the village. Such exorcism may take the form of chasing away a ritual animal, a sacrificial scapegoat, and this is what one of the volumes of The Golden Bough is about. In the place of a scapegoat, however, there may be a human being through whom all the transgressions of a community may be exorcosed. Ancient Jews and Babylonians used to ← 10 | 11 → chase a sacrificial goat away into the desert. Such are the deep roots of certain community behaviours even at the end of 20th century. The exorcism of demons, illnesses or sins is an attempt to restore mythical time, the time “in illo tempore”, the time of Creation. This cyclic regeneration of time tends to cancel or dismiss the linear progression of history unconcerned with ‘rebirth’ (life cycle) but with the flow of reality. And this is where we come to the roots of, for example, the rites of spring and sacrifices connected with that. There is this constant interplay of ambivalence and polarity, fasting and carnival, sadness and joy, desperation and orgies. Brutality is undoubtedly connected with such rites but it is functional here; it is the brutality in the name of Life. The description of it may, still today, serve us as model of violence.

What is violence in terms of sound? Each of us can certainly imagine the sounds that are irritating, which hurt us, which gives us goose pimples. The sound of an old dentist’s drill, a siren, building noises, traffic, the neighbours’ teenage children’s cassette player, and so on. It may actually be a sound which under certain circumstances may even become excessive. There is an excellent detective story by Dorothy Sayers called The Unnatural Death where the murder weapon is the sound of a bell rung in close proximity to the victim. What is really important for a sound to be called violent is not just its excess, harshness, volume or power reaching the threshold of pain, it is its unexpectedness, its ability to surprise. The observation of this aspect of sound provided a basis of series of experiments, conducted by the semiotician and sociologist Vladimir Karbusický with his pupils at Hamburg University. The results were published in his Kosmos-Mensch-Musik (1990).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
Musik 20.Jahrhundert Janacek Kommunikation
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 120 pp., 1 fig., 1 table, 2 graphs

Biographical notes

Jarmila Doubravova (Author)

Jarmila Doubravová studied Aesthetics and Musicology at the Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic). For many years she was the Czech representative in the executive committee of IASS/AIS and led the semiotic group of the Czech Society for Cybernetics and Informatics (ČSKI). Currently she is head of the Aesthetics Department at the West Czech University in Plzeň (Czech Republic).


Title: The Hidden Unity
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122 pages