A pair of glasses to correct, to magnify or minify. Rounded but not quite circular shapes, two ovals whose fine connectedness evokes infinity. Spectacles, essential allies of composers who feverishly scribble tiny and mysterious notes on music paper. Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony without hearing a note, for he was deaf. He couldn’t have written it had he been blind.
Eyes, fetishistically bespectacled, play a fundamental role in musical composition. Without vision, there can be no notation. Without notation, there can be no musical scores. And without scores, there would be no Johann Sebastian Bach, no Iannis Xenakis.
Musical notation started out as a simple curved line, hovering above a text. It was used as an aid to teach chants in 9th Century monasteries. Progressively, musical notation became a creative tool. Indeed, Bach’s symmetry and reversals in his famous Musical Offering were derived graphically. More recently, Arnold Schönberg’s serial music is itself inspired by statistics and probabilities.
Today more than ever new compositions originate in the visual realm. Sound, when dissected and magnified, reveals new scales of time. Out of a single trombone note’s spectrum, lasting only seconds, Gérard Grisey manages to extract notes for 16 different instruments for his work Partiels. While Bernard Parmegiani, using artefacts of accessories, creates musical miracles out of chaos.
The lens, through its symmetry and rounded shape, and through its many practical uses (correction, bringing things nearer or further), is a musical object. Its very shape suggests repeated patterns in popular music, from the rondeau to trance techno. In more elaborate musical forms, the use of the lens becomes iconic. The subtle distortion of reality recalls the innovation brought forth by the sideway glances of composers. Spectacles – undoubtedly more useful to the composer than any hearing aid.