Sunday, August 30, 2015

Melodicle as Acoustea - ἀκουστέον - "that which must be listened to"

TLDR - As there is a notion from ancient Greece of an "idea" -Ἰδεῶν, something that must be seen - so there might be a notion of an "acoustea" - ἀκουστέον, something that must be heard. This is borne out by Liddel & Scott. This is a nice term for a melodicle.

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This is a reflection (following Ives' essay postface to 114 Songs) about the nature of tune, and Harrison's notion of the melodicle, with a hat-tip towards Wierzbicka's ideas on language.


This is about music, but we need some other paragraphs for backgrounding.

I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a classical Greek doctorate who though not in academe still reads and translates for fun. As my background is fundamentally in philosophy, we have long (possibly tedious to the observer) conversations about Plato and the pre-Socratics. And a thought came up in one such conversation today.

We were discussing the founding of property-based ideas of freedom in Locke, and were having a grand old time rubbishing the notion of "intellectual property" and the ownership of an idea (which is one of those things that if you give it away you still have it). And contrasting it with Rousseauvian ideas of freedom, and the notion of a vomeronasal sense of trust to align with the other extra senses (balance, heat, pain, embodiment). This based on Warzbiecka's fantastic book "Sense, Experience and Evidence" which shows how Lockean ideas and most of the baggage of the English Enlightenment come down to sensible meaning two things. So we were rubbishing the very idea of owning an idea.

Now, the notion of "idea" comes from the Greek ἰδέα, from Plato specific coinage, but not many people realise the etymology is from Ἰδεῶν, which comes from the root word for sight - it literally means "that which demands to be seen" or "that which demands to be understood".

So I thought - following Ives, there must be a similar word for a tune, that which must be heard. So we looked in Liddell and Scott and there is was - ἀκουστέον from ἀκούω - "that which must be listened to" or must"that which must be attended to"

So Harrison's "melodicle" (which has been uppermost in mind because of tonkori arrangements) are in fact Acousteas. And it informs the notion of "ear-worm" as well.

This usage may not take off, but it's nice to know it's there.

Ives' essay postface to 114 Songs
"Some of the songs in this book, particularly among the latter ones, cannot be sung, and if they could, perhaps might prefer, if they had a say, to remain as they are; that is, "in the leaf"--and that they will remain in this peaceful state is more than presumable. An excuse (if none of the above are good enough) for their existence which suggests itself at this point is that a song has a few rights, the same as other ordinary citizens.If it feels like walking along the left-hand side of the street, passing the door of physiology or sitting on the curb, why not let it? If it feels like kicking over an ash can, a poet's castle, or the prosodic law, will you stop it? Must it always be a polite triad, a "breve gaudium," a ribbon to match the voice? Should it not be free at times from the dominion of the thorax, the diaphragm, the ear, and other points of interest? If it wants to beat around in the park, should it not have immunity from a Nemesis, a Ramses, or a policeman? Should it not have a chance to sing to itself, if it can sing?--to enjoy itself without making a bow, if it can't make a bow?--to swim around in any ocean, if it can swim, without having to swallow "hook and bait," or being sunk by an operatic greyhound? If it happens to feel like trying to fly where humans cannot fly, to sing what cannot be sung, to walk in a cave on all fours, or to tighten up its girth in blind hope and faith and try to scale mountains that are not, who shall stop it?

--In short, must a song always be a song!"

The songs

Wierzbicka's book at OUP


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