Someone asked me to give a short talk on video about singers that I thought people should listen to. The topic seemed too broad. “What is it that draws me to a singer?” I thought. The voice. Even this seemed too vast and wide a subject for a short video. Why is the voice so important? Because it gives us our most vivid experience of immediacy in music. So the video became something quite different from what it was intended to be: not a how-to-do-origami variety of introductory talk (which it still aspires to become), but an advocacy of immediacy.
Immediacy has been, philosophically, under attack for more than half a century. The origins of the attack may be attributed to the modulation Jacques Derrida made on Ferdinand de Saussure’s idea of language as he arrived at his conception of what he called écriture, or “writing”. Saussure’s idea of language, said Derrida, models itself on speech, with speech’s attendant assumption of immediacy, or what Derrida calls “presence”.
Saussure proposes that language is always transmitted from an addresser to addressee, both of whom must be present at the moment of transmission. Derrida says this model is fine for speech, but not for writing, where meaning operates in a more complex and unpredictable way than straightforward “communication”.
When it comes to music, I’m not associating immediacy with the transmission of meaning at all. I think immediacy comprises its own unpredictable, even radical, meaning, so that communication becomes a secondary question. We may have forgotten this, but now is as good a time to think about it – in relation to the singing voice – as any other.
Amit Chaudhuri is a writer, a Hindustani classical vocalist, and a composer of crossover music. Listen to his music here.
Read the other articles in The Art of Solitude series here.