Jacques Ellul and the Empire of Nonsense – alternative visions?

Towards the end of Jacques Ellul’s challenging diagnosis of modern art’s (and society’s) technical captivity entitled The Empire of Non-Sense, Ellul makes a profound plea for the renewal of culture in the eloquent, if polemical style that makes him such a captivating writer:

‘First of all it must be acknowledged that art for a century now has been on a completely false path, has subjected itself to the powers, only witnesses to the defeat of man. Then it must be acknowledged that art will not recover its vocation, value and truth by a scientific route. But this sense and these values cannot of course come from the outside, cannot be proposed by an intellectual, a philosopher, a moralist; it is the artist who must once more become the creator, not only of forms and combinations, but really the creator, with and for the group or society, of what will henceforth be accepted as sense and values. And all this, not via an ineffective intellectual or moralizing discourse , but rather through a profound re-discovery informing the whole work, capable of being heard and accepted. Failed attempts – Böll, West, Chagall, Dali, Bunuel, Bergman, Fellini, Saint-John Perse, Neruda, failed attempts. Who can take the boat all the way out to sea?’ [1]

Clearly Ellul (whose list of unsuccessful but courageous explorers interestingly fails to mention any musicians) is talking about a genuine aesthetic revival in accord with a re-conceptualization of the rôle of art in Western society, not simply the importing of ‘values’ into art whose internal workings remain imprisoned within the parameters dictated by what he defines as the Système Technique, the all-pervasive idolization of technology for its own sake. Attempts to import meaning can only lead to superficial propaganda, the ‘tacking on’ of a message external to the art itself (I would suggest that many of the problems affecting specifically Christian cultural expressions are related to the failure to understand this problem). What is needed is a radical break with our pathological but intoxicating love affair with technical means.

In this post I would like to point to three artists born within five years of each other who do not feature on Ellul’s list of those brave enough to attempt the return to content, but who in my opinion grasp the essence of his call to resist the temptation to reduce art to technique. In some respects they form a triangle – two composers: Arvo Pärt (1935-) and Valentin Silvestrov (1937-), and a film director with whom they are frequently linked in discussions of their work, Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986).

Andrei Tarkovsky – last of the Mohicans?

When reading Ellul’s Empire, I was immediately reminded of passages from Andrei Tarkovsky’s remarkable reflections on the cinema and art more generally entitled Sculpting in Time in which the great Russian director of Andrei Roublev, Stalker and The Sacrifice bemoans the lack of spirituality in modern artistic production. Like the French philosopher, Tarkovsky is deeply suspicious of belief in ‘progress’, of materialism in both its Western consumerist and Marxist dialectical variants, seeing modern technological contrivances as symbols of ‘human error.'[2] In a particularly striking chapter entitled ‘Cinema’s destined role’, Tarkovsky identifies the underlying emptiness beneath avant-garde theoretical justifications of artistic ‘research’:

‘There is nothing more absurd than the term of ‘research’ applied to a work of art. In reality it merely veils an impotence, an inner void, a lack of true creative sense, and a pathetic, worthless vanity.’ [3]

The use of the word ‘research’ in this context, claims Tarkovsky (following Paul Valéry), implies that modern art has abandoned its true vocation – the search for aesthetic plenitude, the quest for the ideal. Avant-garde rhetoric of ‘experimentation’ is a mere smokescreen masking the abdication of artistic responsibility for the generation of convincing art-works. The consequence of this abdication is that the greater part of modern art has no depth or mystery. What is left is an emphasis on facile effect as artists content themselves with the superficial rewards of this world, unwilling to sacrifice immediate gratification of the ego for the pursuit of higher goals:

‘What passes for the art of our times is often only the promotion of oneself. It is an error to believe that method can pass for being the sense and goal of art. Yet the majority of contemporary artists give themselves over, with a frenetic exhibitionism, to the demonstration of their methods.

The problem raised by the avant-garde is also that of the 20th century, an epoch when art has progressively distanced itself from spirituality. The situation is particularly disastrous in the plastic arts, which are entirely empty of any spirituality. It is habitual to admit that this state of things is only the reflection of a de-spiritualized society. At the level of a simple acknowledgement of a tragic situation, this is exact. But if one also admits that art is called to transcend this insufficiency, then this acknowledgement must be heard as a spiritual call, as with Dostoevsky, for example, who with the force of his genius was the first to express the sickness of the coming century.’ [4]

In contrast, Tarkovsky conceives the artist’s calling in terms of a self-effacing (or kenotic, to use theological language) response to the call of duty that looks for more than instantaneous recognition. The beauty of the act of artistic creation, as Tarkovsky states in the final pages of Sculpting in Time written just before his death in 1986, lies in its lack of utility value, being ‘absurd and gratuitous’ [5] and therefore an expression of the image of the Creator within us.[6] To express this idea of a self-emptying which has nothing to do with the flight from individual responsibility, Tarkovsky borrows an image cherished by Ingmar Bergman (one of Tarkovsky’s main influences and a figure on Ellul’s list of heroic failures):

‘The arrogance of our contemporaries is astonishing if we compare it to the modesty of the builders of Chartres Cathedrals, whose names still remain unknown to us. An artist should be recognized by his disinterested manner of accomplishing his duty. But that is something we all forgot a long time ago.’ [7]

Naturally such artistic self-sacrifice can only come in the name of a belief in human community and in transcendent values. Tarkovsky is talking about art in terms of the desire for ek-stasis, a being outside oneself in the humble, contemplative presence of a higher reality. His work is shot through with the conviction, expressed in overtly Christian terms but also open to the influence of Oriental philosophy,[8] that this reality transcends that which is immediately visible. A recurring figure in his films is that of the idealist, ‘the weak man’ confined to the margins of society, in conflict with a world of materialist pragmatism:

‘I have always loved those who do not manage to adapt themselves pragmatically to reality. There have never been any heroes in my films, but characters whose strength is their spiritual conviction and who take responsibility for others on themselves. Such characters are like children with the gravity of adults, endowed with an irrealistic and disinterested attitude from the point of view of common sense.’ [9]

A prime example is the title character of Stalker, who believes that it is his calling to lead people through the ‘Zone’ (to all appearances an unprepossessing patch of grass, water and a few buildings in a desolate landscape which some have seem as eerily foreshadowing Chernobyl [10]) to a Room in which one’s deepest desires are fulfilled. A seemingly half-crazed prophet excluded from society’s mainstream, described by Tarkovsky as ‘the last of the Mohicans, a relic of a passing age, an idealist’ [11], the Stalker defends ‘weakness as the only true value and hope in life’ [12], fiercely opposing his spiritual voice to a world suffering from ‘an omnipresent pragmatism akin to a malignant tumour’.[13] He finds himself in a philosophical and existential dialogue with two characters, the Writer and the Professor, whom he selflessly accompanies to the Room, who represent the ‘realist principle so manifest in contemporary life’. In the end the Stalker, in whom only his wife maintains a child-like faith, breaks down when his rationalizing companions (of whom the Professor symbolizes modern science in all its Ellulian ambiguity [14]) refuse to believe in his vision.

1+1=1 : Tarkovsky and Arvo Pärt

In Tarkovsky’s subsequent film Nostalghia, set and shot in Italy, a similar rôle is played by the mad visionary Domenico, who finally immolates himself in Rome, in an attempt to sacrifice himself in place of a world rushing headlong towards its ruin. Scorned by society as a dangerous idiot for having locked up his family out of a belief in the end of the world, he nonetheless exerts a strange attraction on the film’s central character, the poet Gortchakov (in whom Tarkovsky saw himself) as strangely embodying an attitude dear to the Russian intelligensia at its best: ‘a moral conscience, always dissatisfied, compassionate towards the poor, and which fervently searches for faith, the ideal and the good’ [15].

Domenico is a former mathematician; when Gortchakov visits him, he sees the formula ‘1 + 1 = 1’ scrawled on the wall, which Domenico illustrates by pouring two drops of olive oil into the palm of his hand, saying “One drop plus one drop makes a larger drop, not two” [16]. This seems to constitute Domenico’s philosophical credo, one that suggests, in its opposition to conventional logic, that the world is not a mere aggregate of isolated atoms, but constitutes a profound unity that reconciles the One and the Many.

Intriguingly, this formula (which some commentators have related to the anti-rationalist protest in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground against the ‘stone wall’ of mathematical logic represented by ‘2+2=4′[17]) is also the one used by Arvo Pärt to encapsulate the tintinnabuli style that he discovered in 1975-6 after several years of searching for a cohesive language following his abandonment of a strict adherence to avant-garde atonality at the end of the 1960s. The essence of Pärt’s style is a two-part texture in which a melodic voice (symbolizing the realm of subjective experience, ‘the daily egoistic life of sin and suffering’) is always accompanied, or enfolded by, a second voice drawn from the notes of the minor triad (symbolizing the ‘objective realm of forgiveness’). What emerges is however not two polarized voices but a larger unity. Here is where Pärt brings in Domenico’s paradoxical, non-dualist equation:

“This can be likened to the eternal dualisms of body and spirit, earth and heaven; but the two voices are in reality one voice, a twofold single entity. This can be neatly and enigmatically represented by the following equation:1 + 1 = 1” [18]

I have no evidence that Pärt took this directly from Tarkovsky, but it seems more than likely given that the composer and ECM producer Manfred Eicher dedicated the CD Arbos (1987) to the memory of the film director.[19] More important than the factual question of the degree of contact that Pärt and Tarkovsky may or may not have had is the undeniable spiritual commonality between the two.

As I have written elsewhere, the turning-point in Arvo Pärt’s trajectory came in 1968 with his rejection of the idea of artistic ‘progress’ as a philosophically invalid transposition of a scientific concept. Being ‘contemporary’ has nothing to do with superficial innovation:

‘Many art objects of the past appear to be more contemporary than our present art. How do we explain it ? […] I think the modernity of Bach’s music will not vanish in another two hundred years, and perhaps never will […] the secret to its contemporaneity resides in the question : How thoroughly has the author-composer perceived, not his own present, but the totality of life, its joys, worries and mysteries ?’ [20]

In Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky expresses the same sentiment, refusing the importation of technological criteria into the evaluation of art:

‘This notion of the avant-garde in art is absurd. I can understand what it means in the field of sport, for example. But to apply it to art is to accept the notion of progress there. Of course I recognize  technological progress, the desire to make machines which are ever more powerful and precise. But progress in art? … That would be equivalent to asking me whether Thomas Mann is better than Shakespeare.’

‘Would it not be absurd to say that Dante’s Divine Comedy is obsolete? And yet films which a few years ago were events suddenly become clumsy, impotent, almost academic. Why? The main reason, it seems to me, is the inability of the director to identify his work with a creative act, an act which would have been a vitally important moral undertaking, and without which no work of art can exist. In reality it is the deliberate desire to be expressive and modern which dates. One does not become what one is not.’ [21]

Crucial to both Tarkovsky and Pärt is the concept of self-emptying. Just , as the notion of the sacrifice of oneself is central to Tarkovsky’s films, so Pärt’s critical turn to a radically simple language in the 1970s represents an act of self-denial, the embrace of ‘voluntary poverty’. The technological dimension of this becomes clear when it is remembered that Pärt had in the 1960s been working as a radio engineer (which is how he had gained access to the scores of the Western avant-garde at a time when official Soviet ideology frowned upon such contact) – the development of Pärt’s tintinnabuli style is bound up with a deliberate renunciation of surface technical solutions to deeper artistic problems. Pärt describes this in terms that parallel the logic of The Empire of Non-sense almost to the letter; like Ellul, he grasped in the 1970s that technology is not merely a value-free tool, but has an autonomous dynamic of its own that is capable of ensnaring those who use it. Just as he sought to pare music down to absolute essentials, so he sensed the need to do the same in terms of his approach to technical equipment:

‘When I worked at the radio I manipulated sophisticated, efficient instruments such as loudspeakers and tape recorders, but suddenly I felt the necessity of distancing myself from such luxury, because I had the feeling that it would have trapped me and forced me to proceed in a different direction. Subsequently, when I had to work with equipment, I chose the simplest, a very primitive recorder which could only offer me what was essential, the absolute minimum. High and low frequencies or noise reduction were of no importance to me: I only wanted a musical line that could convey soul, such as existed in the songs of distant times, just as is still the case in folklore: an absolute monody, a bare voice from which everything originates.’ [22]

Waiting for Music – Valentin Silvestrov

A similar lack of concern for everything but the essential can be found in a remarkable book entitled To Wait for Music, the transcript of a series of ‘conversational lectures’ given by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (described by both Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt as one of the most important composers of his generation). While it will probably take me several months to get through the fascinating but densely philosophical text given my modest level of literary Russian, what has immediately grabbed me is the accompanying DVD featuring more or less all Silvestrov’s works in mp3 format (a huge 300 plus movements of music!). Some of the most fascinating material is provided in the form of a multitude of small-scale piano pieces, works in sketch form and songs, recorded in decidedly low-tech fashion by Silvestrov at home on his scarcely-in-tune piano (with even less concern for noise reduction than with Pärt, as if to say that allowing the sounds of life into the art-work is actually integral to Silvestrov’s concept of music). This is not of course to say that Silvestrov’s oeuvre has not benefited immensely from polished performances and high-quality recordings such as the Sony Classical release of the Fifth Symphony under David Robertson or the Teldec disc of Dedication with Gidon Kremer, which allow the full radiant beauty of his orchestration to be heard. But such recordings only build on an existing musical foundation, never functioning as a substitute for it.

Silvestrov’s music for voice and piano is one area where his communicative power is at its greatest (the cycles Silent Songs and Steps should surely be ranked among the greatest twentieth-century works in the genre) and requires no glamorous presentation or packaging. One of the most moving of these pieces – and one which I have found myself playing almost obsessively on a loop during recent weeks – is an otherwise unrecorded five-minute setting of Anna Akhmatova’s poem Third and Last entitled Chaconne for voice and piano (2007), in which Silvestrov takes as his departure-point Bach’s immortal Chaconne for solo violin, mentioned in the second line of the text. What is remarkable is the manner in which Silvestrov himself sings the piece in his hesitant, rasping yet unforgettably expressive voice, conveying a world of emotional brokenness that a professional singer would find hard to evoke.[23] The espressive power is not to be found in what singing technique considers important (breath control, beauty of tone, steadiness of pitch), but – in a complete inversion of values – in their opposites, in the fragile vulnerability of the moment when the voice breaks, when technique is no longer able to maintain the illusion of mastery. This seems consistent with Silvestrov’s suspicion of modern concert life as little more than a game of appearances. His point seems to be this: music does not merely belong to the slickly-marketed star of the concert hall appearing on the cover of The Gramophone, a projection of the pathological craving for success and power which is at the root of Ellul’s technical Empire. It is also the language of those such as Akhmatova whom power has silenced, the victims, the grieving; not merely the public expression of adulthood in its confident prime, but also that of the more private worlds of childhood, infirmity and old age. [24]

In the opening pages of Waiting for Music, Silvestrov explains that he had consistently refused the suggestion that he set down his copious thoughts on musical aesthetics in writing until he recently read through a certain unnamed text-book on contemporary music. What he found most disturbing was that the book concentrated exclusively on questions of method, thereby evading deeper issues of the artistic process. Like both Ellul and Tarkovsky (to whom Silvestrov is frequently compared, not least on account of his treatment of time [25]), Silvestrov sees this as typical of a shift in the twentieth century exemplified in the ‘musical heresy’ of ‘methodocentrism’. Here he points to the many avant-garde composers who rose to international prominence on account of their methods of sound manipulation rather than the ability of their works to communicate with the listener. Of course, Silvestrov admits, it is possible to talk of method in relation to the work of Bach or Beethoven, but the truly great music of the past is irreducible to mere matters of compositional technique, since comprehension of its substance requires that we be impregnated with the spiritual state of its authors.[26] Perennial works of art can never be methodocentric.

This critique should not be understood as conservative reaction; Silvestrov has always conceived of himself in ‘avant-garde’ terms, not only in the early period of his powerful atonal works such as Eschatophonie (1966, of which the masterly performance in Darmstadt under Bruno Maderna that enthused Adorno is included on the DVD accompanying To Wait for Music), but also in his unequivocally tonal compositions of the mid-1970s onwards. What is needed for the renewal of music is not the replacement of one compositional method by another, but the reassertion of the primacy of substance over method in general. This requires a different understanding of the meaning of the term ‘novelty’ from the one accepted by the modernist paradigm; Silvestrov pleads for a ‘personalist’ approach subordinating matters of idiom to the question of depth, judging music on its capacity to inspire repeated listening, with the listener discovering new dimensions of artistic personality each time.

In an age of disposability (which Silvestrov associates with the technology-driven phenomenon of information overload), this is indeed a radically counter-cultural stance. However, it is clear that this ‘personalism’ is not a Romantic cult of the ego, since it has to be placed within the context of Silvestrov’s search for a ‘weak’ or ‘metaphorical’ style in which he does not so much express himself via music as allows the world to ‘sing itself’ through him. What we have with Silvestrov is something very similar to Pärt’s quest for the reconciliation of the subjective and the objective within a larger unity (1+1=1): on one level Silvestrov’s music is frequently unashamedly emotional, yet that emotion speaks to us precisely because it is not individualistic. What is most deeply and truly personal is also what is most ‘anonymous’ – and here Silvestrov seems driven by the same yearning for anonymity as Messiaen, Tarkovsky and Bergman – and thereby universal.

The End of Empire?

Does the artistic, and specifically musical, situation look more hopeful in 2011 than in 1980 when Ellul penned his Empire of Non-Sense? On one level, it is obvious that the monopoly of High Modernism has been broken within contemporary ‘classical’ music, and that tonally-centred composition has returned to favour in many quarters on both sides of the Atlantic. However, I would question whether this is in itself as significant as is sometimes claimed if Silvestrov’s thesis is accepted, namely that art is not primarily concerned with style. A superficial return to tonality at the technical level, ignoring fundamental philosophical issues of music and simply dismissing the legitimate questions posed by the avant-garde does not necessarily generate artistic depth, if the basic premise that artistic problems can be solved by substituting one method for another remains unquestioned. If I have focussed here on the contributions of three artists of a certain generation from the ex-Soviet Union, all ‘children with the gravity of adults’, to use Tarkovsky’s phrase, it is because they are figures who like Ellul seem to me to have tackled such problems at the core rather than simply addressing external symptoms. The output of Tarkovsky, Pärt and Silvestrov – all technical masters who nonetheless share Ellul’s critique of the technological mindset – seems to be calling us to a deeper, more demanding engagement with art in the search for the pearl of great price that is meaning, not success or immediate effect. This call is demanding because of its ascetic dimension, the denial of our false selves obsessed with knowledge as power and control that is indispensable if we are to find our true selves. For the Empire of Nonsense can only be deconstructed by the renunciation of all empire-building.

Andrei Tarkovsky's grave, Ste Geneviève des Bois nr. Paris

‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.’ (Psalm 51:17)



[1] Jacques Ellul, L’Empire du non-sens (Paris: PUF, 1980) 285-286. Translation mine.
[2]  John Gianvito (ed.), Andrei Tarkovsky: interviews (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2006), 173.
[3] Andrei Tarkovsky, Le temps scellé (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 2004), 114. All page references are to the French edition. Translation mine.
[4] Ibid., 115. Tarkovsky is sometimes accused of hypocrisy in his critique of method, given the intensely technical nature of his cinematographic procedures, but it seems obvious that what he is criticizing is not so much technique when properly employed, but its substition for content.
[5] Ibid., 282.
[6] Among Tarkovski’s diaries (collected as Martyrolog), the entry for April 14, 1986 contains the words: ‘Everything humanity has ever invented is selfish except works of art. Perhaps the meaning of human existence lies in creating works of art, in creative act, purposeless and unselfish one. It’s possible us being created in God’s image manifests itself through this act’ (reproduced online at http://people.ucalgary.ca/~tstronds/nostalghia.com/TheDiaries/sacrifice.html)
[7] Le temps scellé, 223. Compare this with Ingmar Bergman’s famous statement in the 1954 essay ‘The Making of Film’, where the reconstruction of Chartres Cathedral comes to emblematize art’s function as providing a focus of social cohesion as individuals find meaning in devoting themselves to a project which is larger than any of them in isolation:

“There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lighting and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuilt the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed – master builders, artists, labores, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built  the cathedral of Chartres.”

“Thus if I am asked what I would like the general purpose of my films to be, I would reply that I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon’s head, an angel, a devil – or perhaps a saint – out of stone. It doesn not matter which; it is the sense of satisfaction that counts. regardless of whether I believe or not; whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of a cathedral.”

This is closely echoed in very similar statements by Olivier Messiaen, who in later life regretted that he was not working at a time when musicians were anonymous as they had been at the time of the rise of Gregorian chant:

‘As a religious musician, what makes me most jealous is the anonymity of medieval Christian composers. They wrote the whole of Gregorian chant. There can be found admirable melodies and rhythms, nobody knows by whom! This collective work of craftsmanship is the antithesis of the arrogance of twentieth-century composers’ (Saint François d’Assise: libretto, analyse, commentaire, documentation (Paris: Editions Premières Loges, 1992), 11. Translation mine).

[8] ‘The East was closer to the truth than the West. But western civilization flooded the East with its material pretentions. Compare oriental and western music. The West calls out: “Here I am! Look at me! Listen to how I suffer, how I love! How unhappy I am, how happy I am! I! Me! My! Mine!’ As for the East, it says nothing about itself, being completely open to God, Nature and Time’ (Le temps scellé, 281).
[9] Ibid., 240.
[10] According to one of Stalker‘s protagonists, actor Anatoli Solonitsyn, the ‘Zone’ appeared because of a breakdown in bunker four of the power plant where the film’s action occurs. In 1986 it was the explosion of the fourth energy sector at Chernobyl which led to a 30-kilometre exclusion zone being enforced around the site. Whatever one may think of the ‘prophetic’ element in the film,  Stalker and Chernobyl are undeniably and tragically linked in terms of the consequences of industrial pollution: the shooting of Stalker at a half-functioning hydroelectric station near Tallinn in Estonia, near to a chemical plant pouring poisonous liquid into the river Piliteh, is thought to have caused the deaths of Tarkovsky, his wife Larissa and Solonitsyn from cancer several years later.
[11] Interview Intervista a Tarkovskij with Luisa Capo in “Scena”, 1980 (3) supplement “Achab” No. 4, 119–127 [Pol. trans. Marian Jurewicz]. Reproduced online at http://people.ucalgary.ca/~tstronds/nostalghia.com/TheTopics/Stalker/atscena.html
[12] Le temps scellé, 240.
[13] Intervista a Tarkovskij with Luisa Capo in “Scena”.
[14] The Professor is anxious to destroy the Room out of fear of the consequences of the possibility of human wishes being granted. Tarkovsky comments that ‘he behaves towards the Zone the way he in fact should behave towards his knowledge. Science, technology and their development are even more dangerous than the Room itself’ (ibid.).
[15] Le temps scellé, 242.
[16] See Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie, The films of Andrei Tarkovsky: a Visual Fugue (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994), 286.
[17] See Johnson and Petrie, The films of Andrei Tarkovsky, 257. In Notes from Underground, the Underground Man protests vehemently against the ‘stone wall’ of positivism:

‘Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength.’

‘Mathematical certainty is after all something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too’ (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, The Double and other stories (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003), 242, 261).

[18] Arbos is not the only ECM homage to Tarkovsky; the saxophonist Jan Garbarek also dedicated his All those born with wings (ECM 1324) to the Russian director, while more recently within the ECM stable the French pianist François Couturier has formed a Tarkovsky Quartet with musicians including Anja Lechner, a prominent exponent of the works of Silvestrov.
[19] Paul Hillier, Arvo Pärt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 96. In an important extended conversation with Enzo Restagno, Pärt explains that this concept is different from that of the Renaissance polyphonists, for whom lines are essentially separate (see Enzo Restagno (ed.), Arvo Pärt allo specchio: Conversazioni, saggi e testimonianze (Milan: Saggiatore, 2004), 49-50).
[20] Enzo Restagno (ed.), Arvo Pärt allo specchio, 45-46.
[21] Quoted in Paul Hillier, Arvo Pärt, 65. Translation emended.
Andrei Tarkovsky, Le temps scellé, 115, 118.
[23] Akhmatova’s poem relates to her tragic meetings with the Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin (at the time the First Secretary of the British Embassy in Moscow) in Leningrad in November 1945 and January 1946 which incurred the wrath of Stalin and led to the poetess’s subsequent Communist Party denunciation at the hands of Andrei Zhdanov.
[24] In his concern for miniatures and his belief that music is ‘child’s play’ Silvestrov in some ways resembles György Kurtag.
[25] This comparison is for example made by conductor Vladimir Jurowski in a London Philharmonic Orchestra podcast introduction to Silvestrov’s Fifth Symphony (1980-82) which can be heard here. Jurowski views its hypnotic slowness as similar to the atmosphere of Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, although one might have thought that pride of place in this respect would have gone to Nostalghia (the title of one of Silvestrov’s myriad solo piano works).
[26] Valentin Silvestrov, To Wait for Music: conversational lectures (Kiev: Duh i Litera, 2010), 2-3.

The Professor is anxious to destroy the Room out of fear of the consequences of the possibility of human wishes being granted. Tarkovsky comments that ‘he behaves towards the Zone the way he in fact should behave towards his knowledge. Science, technology and their development are even more dangerous than the Room itself’ (Intervista a Tarkovskij in “Scena”).

2 thoughts on “Jacques Ellul and the Empire of Nonsense – alternative visions?

  1. Gregorian Chant is performed, the noticeable effect on people’s awareness, the kind of music these churches were designed to amplify – people’s brainwaves went up as much as 400% above the normal waking state. First paragraph on page 15 of 71, Russian scientists peer reviewed journal article?

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