Vol.1 / Issue 3

Between Music and the Machine:

Francis Picabia and the End of Abstraction

by Roger I. Rothman



It is impossible to overlook the transformation that took place in such a brief span of time. In early 1914, Picabia was fully committed to exploring the language and ambition of abstract painting; in early 1915 Picabia had turned himself completely around. In adopting the machine and its metaphorical potential, he had returned to the language of representation, to the depiction of things in the world. He had abandoned almost every trace of the concerns--in terms of both form and content--that guided him just a year before. Where the works from 1913/1914 were abstract, organic, painterly, rich with coloristic complexities, and suggestive of interiorized, subjective states of mind, the works from 1915 were largely monochromatic, linear, inorganic, and clearly derived from and reflective of real-world objects.

Almost every scholar to have approached this shift has endeavored to highlight its radicality. The break was total and unequivocal, self-evidently so. Michel Sanouillet summed it up most succinctly when he described Picabia as having "turned his back" (8) on modernist painting, abandoning its procedures and promises in favor of a poetics of modernity--one evidently influenced by the example set by Duchamp. As de Zayas was to put it with reference to Picabia's Spanish origin: "He is the only one who has done as did Cortez. He has burned his ship behind him." (9)

And yet to follow the painter's work beyond 1913 is to recognize that the break was in fact far from absolute. For one, Picabia never really gave up his commitment to abstraction. Works like Fantasy (Fig. 11) and Music is like Painting (Fig. 12), both of which were painted at the same time as the mechanomorphs, attest to Picabia's persistent commitment to the procedures and ambitions of abstraction. And there is no doubt that this was a commitment that would erupt here and there throughout the late teens and into the early twenties (Lausanne Abstract, 1918 (Fig. 13); Streamers, 1919 (Fig. 14); Coils, 1922 (Fig. 15)), and although the twenties and thirties were dominated by a variety of figurative works, abstraction would appear again in the forties (Painting of a Better Future, 1945 (Fig. 16) ; Playing Card, 1949(Fig. 17) ). And this is to say that even at first glance, Picabia's case is quite unlike that of Duchamp. Abstraction, that "word he invented," would remain throughout Picabia's life a palpable presence, inflecting almost all of his work, even, if not especially, the mechanomorphs.

Click to enlarge
Figure 11
Figure 12
Figure 13
Figure 14
Francis Picabia, Fantasy,
, December 1915
Francis Picabia, Music Is Like Painting, 1915
Francis Picabia,
Lausanne Abstract
, 1918
Francis Picabia,
Streamers II
, 1919
Figure 15
Figure 16
Figure 17
Francis Picabia,
, 1921-22
Francis Picabia,
Painting of a Better Future
, 1945
Francis Picabia, The Cowardice of Subtle Barbarism, 1949

Click to enlarge
Figure 18
Figure 19
Francis Picabia,
Paroxysm of Sorrow, 1915
Francis Picabia, Machine Without a Name, 1915

This should be obvious, given the way in which all of the New York mechanomorphs retain, even reinforce, a modernist commitment to the integrity of the picture plane (its flatness and boundedness), as well as in the way in which the bulk of the mechanomorphs, like the earlier abstractions, resist interpretation as real-world objects. In Paroxysm of Sorrow (Paroxyme (sic) de la douleur) (1915) (Fig. 18), for example, the uniform application of paint, the nesting of rectangular forms (the largest of which coincides with the outer limit of the canvas), as well as the work's aggressive frontality and symmetry suggest a continued dialog with the language of abstraction, in particular with the shallow space, central organization, and largely symmetrical, well-framed composition of Udnie. And this is no less true of A Machine Without a Name (Fig. 19) where the flatness of the picture plane is asserted unequivocally, not by virtue of an unmodulated application of paint and the web of vertical and horizontal lines. Indeed, its title seems to demand that we understand the painting as thematizing the a-signifying ambition of abstract painting.

Perhaps, then, we ought to consider not only de Zayas' account of Picabia (the Cortez of the avant-garde), but also that of Buffet. For as she understood it, her husband's work, from 1907 on, was on some level engaged with the discourse of the "painterly." (10) Indeed, it was this above all that in her mind distinguished the work of Picabia from that of Duchamp. So if we are to take Buffet seriously--and even the most cursory glance at Picabia's work suggests that we would not be wrong to do so--then we ought to consider the possibility that the mechanomorphs, coming as they did on the heels of an extended investigation of the possibilities of abstraction, were themselves still invested in, or responding in some manner to the promise of modernist painting--the promise, as Picabia described it, of "expressing the purest part of the abstract reality." (11)

The Music of Painting

I am working at the moment on a very large painting which concentrates several of my studies exhibited at 291--I am thinking moreover of a painting, a purer painting of a dimension having no title, each painting will have a name in rapport with the pictorial expression, [an] appropriate name absolutely created for it… Excuse the brevity of my letter. I am a little fatigued and tormented by my new evolution. (12)

Picabia had just returned to Paris when he scrawled this note on a postcard-size sheet of paper and sent it to Stieglitz. Following up on the implications of his New York watercolors, he began work on the large oil-paintings, Udnie and Edtaonisl, both of which were later shown at the Salon d'Automne. (13) It has since been demonstrated that both titles, although apparently nonsense words, were the result of a series of selections, contraction and reorganization, such that the word "Udnie" was derived from "Uni-dimensionnel" and "Edtaonisl" from "Étiole danseuse." (14) What remained was a pair of words that relinquished their once-signifying logic for the sake of pure sound, freed from the communicative function of language. (15) As titles to abstract paintings, they do indeed serve as "names in rapport with the pictorial expression," and as such lend support to the viewer's inclination to consider the painting not as a representation of something, but as itself a something--that we are not looking at a picture of Udnie, but Udnie itself.

While Picabia's note to Stieglitz is clipped and somewhat vague, it must have been comprehensible to the photographer if only because of his familiarity with the long and quite detailed account that Picabia gave to Stieglitz during his exhibition of abstract watercolors. (16) Picabia's central argument sets out on common territory, articulating a pictorial practice aimed, like much of modernist painting at large, at communicating one's "deepest contact… with nature," a task for which traditional illusionistic techniques are clearly inadequate:

For example, when we look at a tree we are conscious not only of its outside appearance but also of some of its properties, its qualities and its evolution. Our feelings before this tree are the result of this knowledge, acquired by experience through analysis; hence the complexity of this feeling cannot be expressed simply by objective and mechanical representation.

In this, Picabia is merely recapitulating arguments set out in support of cubist painting, in particular the Puteaux cubism of Gleizes and Metzinger, with whom Picabia was close in the years leading up to his first trip to New York. As the two put it in Du Cubisme, the task of the cubist painter is to "depart from superficial reality" so as to capture the "profound reality… concealed in the most commonplace objects." (17) We could well imagine that Picabia would continue in this vein, arguing for a painting of the reality beyond appearance, the painting of a more profound reality than the one we see with our eyes alone. And yet Picabia shifts gears at this point, without warning or justification, from the representation of nature to the representation of inner consciousness:

The resulting manifestations of this state of mind, which increasingly approaches abstraction, cannot themselves be anything but abstraction. They separate themselves from the sensorial pleasure which man may derive from man or nature (Impressionism) to enter the domain of the pure joy of the idea, of consciousness.

And this, we find, is a necessary slippage, because what Picabia really wants to get at is the way in which painting can follow the example of music so as to abandon the task of representation altogether. In sliding from nature to consciousness, Picabia moves one step closer to the painting of form and color alone:

We can make ourselves better understood by comparing it to music. If we grasp without difficulty the meaning and the logic of a musical work, it is because this work is based on the laws of harmony and composition of which we have either the acquired or the inherited knowledge. The new form of painting puzzles the public only because it does not find in it the old objectivity and does not grasp the new objectivity. The laws of this new convention have as yet hardly been formulated, but they will become gradually more defined just as musical laws have become more defined and they will very rapidly become as understandable as were the objective representations of nature. Therefore, in my paintings, the public is not to look for a "photographic" recollection of a visual impression or sensation, but to look at them as simply an attempt to express the purest part of the abstract reality of form and color in itself. (18)

I have moved rather slowly through this text because it serves to illuminate, especially in its slippages and distortions, the means by which Picabia came to understand his break with the cubist logic--still representational at bottom--for the sake of a painting that would justify itself by virtue of its commitment to "form and color in itself." (19)

Of course, the justification of advanced painting by way of an analogy to music was in no way unique at that moment. But what was unique was the specific nature of his appeal, one that derived in large measure from the example set by his wife, herself a student of advanced musical discourse, both in France and Germany.

When Buffet first met Picabia in the winter of 1908, she was on holiday from her musical studies in Berlin. Having completed her studies under Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum she went to Germany where she met up with fellow student, Edgar Varèse. For Buffet, as for Varèse, the most significant musical influence at that time was the work of the pianist, composer, and theorist Ferruccio Busoni. (20) In fact, the two were so committed to Busoni's ambitions that they went so far as to build some of the new musical instruments that Busoni had proposed as a way out of traditional tonality. (21) But it was Busoni's theoretical work rather than his inventions that had the greatest impact on Buffet. (22) Through Busoni, Buffet developed a highly sophisticated account of the state of avant-garde music, an account that was in turn passed on to Picabia. (23)

Busoni published Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, his most ambitious attempt to reconsider the structure and aims of advanced music, in 1907. (24) At stake here was the attempt to draw music as close as possible to "nature herself." Not to represent nature, but to be nature. In this, Busoni imagined a kind of musical composition that would live and grow as any natural organism--music as a body of sorts, self-organizing and self-contained, a music guided by "natural necessity," following "its own proper mode of growth." (25)

What made Busoni's Sketch so radical was the way in which it articulated an alternative to what was at the time the two dominant models of musical composition, so-called "absolute" and "program" music. Absolute music, as it was commonly understood at the time, was based upon the manipulation of the tonal, harmonic, and architectonic conventions of musical composition as they had developed over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Program music, by contrast, was explicitly representational and concerned the use of musical form to suggest events, things, feelings, etc. Its place was in the theater, as it was used to underscore the actions performed by players on the stage. Busoni considered both forms equally impoverished: program music for its utter triviality, its reduction of the lofty art of music to the level of simple imitation--the sounds of thunder, the march of a military regiment, the plaintive cry of the dying heroine (26) ; absolute music for its uncritical acceptance of the given conventions, its inconsequential formalism. (27) Both program and absolute music were hopelessly conventional, and as such of no use to the composer with ambitions of a music of nature at its most profound.

It was with this insistence upon the elimination of convention that Busoni faced the problem around which the entire essay turns: insofar as music is to avoid falling into complete "formlessness," (28) it must establish for itself a certain self-generated system within which to coordinate itself. On the other hand, to perpetuate such a system beyond a single instance is to fall back on convention--a new convention, of course, but a convention just the same. Busoni's attention to the problems of conventionalization went so far as to include the very act of notation, for as he saw it: "the instant the pen seizes it, the idea loses its original form. The very intention to write down the idea, compels a choice of measure and key." (29) And it is from this recognition of the inescapably conventional nature of all music, even music at its most self-consciously anti-conventional, that Busoni was drawn to conclude his essay with a long quotation from Hugo von Hoffmannsthal:

I felt… that the book I shall write will be neither in English nor in Latin; and this for the one reason… namely, that the language in which it may be given to me, not only to write, but also to think, will not be Latin, or English, or Italian, or Spanish, but a language not even one of whose words I know, a language in which dumb things speak to me, and in which, it may be, I shall at last have to respond in my grave to an Unknown Judge. (30)

Hoffmannsthal's remark serves to underscore what may be the most radical proposition in Busoni's text (a proposition that would have to wait until 1952 for its performative realization (31)): if it is the case that music draws closer to nature the more completely it abandons the given conventions of musicality, and insofar as this movement pushes the work of art toward the conditions of non-communication (of a language that even the author cannot understand), then one would have to admit that even the brief moment of silence that separates the performance of one movement from the next is "in itself music." (32) What Busoni is left with is therefore a music divided in two: on the one had, the fullness of a sound that eludes the comprehension of the composer himself, and on the other, the total evacuation of all sound. And this is to say that the insistent pursuit of a non-conventional, fully organic and self-generating work of art leads, at its limit, to either the utterly formless or the entirely vacant. >>Next

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8. Michel Sanouillet, Dada à Paris (Paris: Flammarion, 1965/1993) 28. Pontus Hulten described the
mechanomorphs as having "inaugurated an absolutely new pictorial practice, having nothing to do with the
brilliant lyricism of the pre-war period." ("Ils inaugurent une recherche plastique absolument neuve et n'ont plus
rien du brillant lyrisme d'avant-guerre.
") Francis Picabia, exhibition catalog (Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais,
1976) 7. Jean Hubert Martin argues that Picabia's mechanomorphs are staked upon the desire "to create a
completely new endeavor, without any reference to the past." ("de créer une œuvre totalement neuve, sans aucune
référence au passé.
") Francis Picabia (1976) 45. The analyses of Camfield, Borràs, and Naumann implicitly concur,
and their account of the transition is based upon a consideration of the outbreak of the war, the influence of Duchamp,
the shock of New York City and the sudden ubiquity of the machine. The problem with such accounts (as with all
accounts that focus entirely on the exterior factors involved in an artist's change of direction) is that it neglects to
address the relationship between the exterior factors and those interior, immanent to the artist's production.

9. In full: "He is the only one who has done as did Cortez. He has burned his ship behind him. He does not
protect himself with any shield. He has married America like a man who is not afraid of consequences. He
obtained results." De Zayas, 291 (July-August, 1915). The one significant exception to this consideration of the mechanomorphs comes in the work of Camfield, for whom both the abstractions of 1913/1914 and the mechanomorphs
of 1915 should be understood within the context of psychological representations, visual metaphors for the human condition. Such a suggestion does offer a means of drawing the two periods nearer to one another. However, it only
applies to a very limited number of works from each period, and more importantly, forces one to accept the
idea that the abstractions are in fact representations--representations of inner, psychological states. (Camfield,
Francis Picabia
(1979) 77).

10. "Picabia, lui, ne réussira pas à supprimer sa vision picturale; il ne réussira pas à supprimer sa vison
picturale; il restera plastique même dans ses réalisations les plus agressives
." Buffet, in Rencontres (Paris: Pierre
Belfond, 1977) 249. Buffet used this observation to distinguish Picabia's mechanomorphs from those of Duchamp.
Buffet's distinction has been marginalized, if not entirely overlooked, in the literature on Picabia, and yet it is clearly
among the most perceptive. Picabia's persistent fixation on the painterly, a fixation entirely opposed to that of
Duchamp, and one that extended well beyond the painter's works from the early teens, demands consideration.
In part, this essay is devoted to unraveling the implications of Buffet's understanding of her husband's work.

11. In an interview in 1913, Picabia defended his abstractions as having finally made good on modernism's
promise of an art at last free, self-generated and self-referential. (The New York Times (February 16, 1913), reprinted
in Borràs, Picabia, p. 107). Elsewhere Picabia described his abstractions as having given form to "the fullness of
[our] new consciousness of nature." Picabia, ("Preface to the Exhibition at the Little Gallery," 291 (March 17, 1913),
reprinted in Borràs, Picabia, pp. 109-110). This was a sentiment reiterated by Buffet who described the work as aiming
for "a unity, a wholeness," one that, "pierce[s] below the surface… to [the] essence." (Buffet, "Modern Art and the
Public," Camera Work (June 1913) 12.)

12. Translated by Camfield, Francis Picabia (1979) 59. The letter is conserved in the Stieglitz/O'Keefe
File, Beinecke Rare Book Library, Yale University. The original French reads: "Je travaille pour le moment à un très
grand tableau qui concentre plusieurs de mes études exposées au 291--je pense davantage à une peinture plus
pure, peinture à une dimension n'ayant plus de titre, chaque tableau aura pour nom un rapport avec l'expression
picturale, nom propre absolument crée pour lui… Excusez la brièveté de ma lettre, je suis un peu fatigué et tourmenté
par ma nouvelle évolution

13. Apollinaire was one of the few critics to have found anything positive about them ("I find them very
important. And the ridicule changes nothing." (Apollinaire, Apollinaire on Art, trans. Susan Suleiman (New York:
Da Capo, 1972) 329). Both Udnie and Edtaonisl were later reproduced in color in Apollinaire's review, Les soirées
de Paris
(March 15, 1914). They were in fact the only two color reproductions in any of the pages of Les soirées
de Paris
--perhaps a sign of their importance to Apollinaire (then again, Picabia's financial support to the magazine
likely paid a part). In addition to these two works, the issue included four black-and-white reproductions: Star
Dancer on a Transatlantic, Catch as Catch Can, Negro Song, Physical Culture
. This issue also included Buffet's
essay on new music.

14. Philip Pearlstein was among the first to attempt to decode Picabia's titles: "The Paintings of Francis
Picabia," Master of Arts Thesis, New York University, Institute of Fine Arts, February, 1955. "The Symbolic
Language of Francis Picabia," Arts XXX (January 1956): 37-43. The title Edtaonisl is produced by interlacing the
letters of the two words "étoile" and "danse" while dropping off the final "e" in both words. Pearlstein suggested
that Udnie was derived from "nudité," but it is far more compelling to accept Picabia's retrospective claim that the
title was derived from "uni-dimensionnel" ("Interview with Henri Goetz and Christine Boumeester," (Paris, June 20,
1968), cited in Camfield, Francis Picabia (1979) 62, n. 14).
Picabia was in all likelihood introduced to such linguistic manipulations from Apollinaire and Duchamp (see Camfield, p. 61). Apollinaire liked to play a game he called "POF,"
which he described in Mercure de France (November 16, 1917). The game consists in taking a name and making each one
of its letters the initial of a word and forming a sentence out of these words (P.O.F. stood for Parti Ouvrier Français).

15. Naumann (New York Dada, p. 57) associates Udnie with the Russian dancer, Napierkowska, whom the
two had encountered on the ship from Paris to New York. According to Camfield (Francis Picabia (1979), p. 1, n. 12)
the initial subject of Edtaonisl (subtitled ecclésiastique) was a Dominican priest. Nonetheless, and perhaps this
bears repeating since it has received so little attention in the scholarship on Picabia's abstractions, what matters in
our understanding of these works as paintings--and not as materials through which we can locate biographical
data--is our experience in front of them. Here it is unquestionably the case that the words atop the canvas are
non-referential, as abstract as the painting itself. If we are to insist that our understanding of the original referent is
crucial to the work, than we are, in effect, admitting that the painting is a kind of inside joke (Udnie = attractive dancer; Edtaonisl = priest-friend of the painter), and if so, it becomes difficult to defend our interest in the paintings at all.
Shown at the Salon d'Automne, these paintings were designed to be understood within their given context, one in
which Picabia could hardly have imagined that the contemporary viewer would locate a meaningful source for the
words Udnie and Edtaonisl. And this is to say that, when considering the work in relation to its reception by the
intended audience, the original source of these words is entirely irrelevant. They appear as nonsense words and
deserve to be read that way.

16. This statement is printed in full in Borràs, Picabia, pp. 109-110.

17. Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du Cubisme (written before the Section d'Or exhibition in
October 1912). Re-edition by Éditions Présence, 1980, p. 39.

18. This marks the end of Picabia's statement, after which is appended an extract from Plato's "Philebus" in which Socrates says, "What I am saying is not, indeed, directly obvious. I must therefore try to make it clear. For I will endeavor to speak of the beauty of figures, not as the majority of people understand them, whether these figures be living or
painted, but as reason proclaims. I allude to the straight line and to the circle, and to the plumb-line and the angle-rule,
if you understand me. For these, I say, are beautiful in themselves, and instill a certain pleasure, which has nothing in common with the pleasure one derives from scratching. And there are colors which are beautiful and pleasing thanks
to this same quality." The reference to the pleasure of scratching makes sense in context; Socrates is distinguishing
between varieties of pleasure, of which the bodily pleasure of scratching an itch is one. Mark Cheetham refers to this passage by Plato in his book, The Rhetoric of Purity (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991). On p. 153, n. 2,
he refers to a number of scholars' work which have focused on this passage and its relation to the rise of abstract painting, in particular Linda Henderson's The Forth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Painting (Princton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1983). She notes (pp. 310 ff.; p. 215 n. 173) that Picabia in all likelihood got this passage
from Stieglitz. In How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York, ed. Francis Naumann ( Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1996) 21), de Zayas notes Stieglitz's interest in this passage by Plato, and suggests that Stieglitz became aware
of it around 1910.

19. The idea that abstraction would in fact be the logical consequence of the urge to a more profound
realism is sufficiently paradoxical to deserve closer attention. It remains, in my estimation, one of the most
perplexing aspects of early abstraction. For the notion of abstract painting as the expression of a most profound
realism applies not only to Picabia, but also to the bulk of the early abstractionists. Here I can only offer some
examples--comments by Mondrian, Malevich, and Kandinsky--as a means of pointing toward what surely
demands more concerted attention. Malevich, for example, defined suprematism as "non-objective representation"
(Kasimir Malevich, "Suprematism," translated in The Non-Objective World, trans. Howard Dearstyne (Chicago:
Theobald, 1959) 61-65). Similarly, Mondrian, in 1919 spoke of his abstractions as "a pure representation of the
human mind," "representations of relations alone," "represent[ations] of actual aesthetic relationships,"
"represent[ations of] balanced relations," and "pure reflections of life in its deepest sense." (Piet Mondrian,
"Natural Reality and Abstract Reality," first published in De Stijl I (Amsterdam, 1919), in Piet Mondrian, The New Art
--The New Life
, trans. Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James (New York: Da Capo, 1993) 82-123). Kandinsky summed
it up most succinctly: "Realism = Abstraction; Abstraction = Realism." (Wassily Kandinsky, "On the Question of
Form," first published in Der Blaue Reiter (Munich: R. Piper, 1912), in Wassily Kandinsky, Complete Writings on Art,
eds. Kenneth Lindsay, Peter Vergo (New York: Da Capo, 1994) 235-257). Statements like these suggest that the rise of abstraction was born out of the very paradox expressed by Picabia: on the one hand, the urge to more fully represent
reality, as it really is, and on the other hand, and fundamentally opposed to the former, to free painting from the
necessity of representation altogether.

20. Buffet and Varèse were part of a small group of young musicians and composers who aimed to put Busoni's theoretical formulations into practice. They even went so far as to build instruments like the dynamaphone that
would produce sounds outside the conventional tonal system of western music.
Later in life, Varèse reiterated
the importance of Busoni to his work. See his comments in Varèse, "The Liberation of Sound," and Gunther Schuller, "Conversations with Varèse," in Music in the Western World, eds. Piero Weiss, Richard Taruskin (New York: Simon
Schuster, 1984) 518-522. Here, for example, is Varèse on the problem of form in new music: "As for form, Busoni
once wrote: 'Is it not singular to demand of a composer originality in all things and to forbid it as regards form? No
wonder that if he is original he is accused of formlessness.' The misunderstanding has come from thinking of form
as a point of departure, a pattern to be followed, a mold to be filled. Form is a result--the result of a process. Each
of my works discovered its own form." In a later conversation, Varèse added: "The essential touchstone for me was
Busoni's prophetic book, Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music. This predicts precisely what is happening today
in music--that is, if you pass over the whole dodecaphonic development, which in my view represents a sort of
hardening of the arteries." (Music in the Western World, pp. 519, 521).

21. Buffet refers to such machines in her 1914 essay on modern music: "Grâce à des bruiteurs mécaniques
et perfectionnés, une reconstitution objective de la vie sonore deviendrait possible. Nous découvririons la forme
des sons en dehors de la convention musical...
" Buffet, "Musique d'aujourd'hui," reprinted by Slatkin, in the
multi-volume reprinting of Les soirées de Paris, vol. II (Geneva: Slatkin reprints, 1971) 181-183.

22. In her introduction to Buffet's various writings on art, Borràs notes Busoni's importance to Buffet.
(Borràs, "Une Jeune Femme appelée Gabrielle Buffet," introduction to Buffet's collection of essays, Rencontres
(Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1977) 13-23). Borràs' analysis, rich as it is in biographical information, nonetheless treats
both Busoni's and Buffet's work in a more or less cursory manner, and as a result, overlooks what I consider below
to be the crucial complexities at work in their organic model of musical composition. I have yet to come across any
scholarly consideration of the chain of influence that leads from Busoni to Buffet to Picabia, a chain I consider
fundamental to an understanding of the painter's conception of the stakes involved in the development of abstract

23. She was, for example, attentive not only to the similarities between music and painting, but the
differences as well: "We cannot completely appreciate musical form without an initiation into the arbitrary laws
of composition and harmony… The entire objectivity of sound had to be created, a convention of the musical
language to be organized. The deepest meaning of a musical composition will escape, in part, the comprehension
of those listeners who are not educated in music, or who have not, at least, the heredity of a long education."
By contrast, she claims that with regard to painting:
The abstract idea in pure line and pure color is conveyed to our understanding more directly… Pure line and color have a definite and particular meaning in themselves which the
normal development of our sense perceptions permits us to appreciate without effort. Everyone has in himself the comprehension of the straight line and the curve, of the colors blue and red. Everyone can seize the relations that
exist between two lines and two colors and the different impression that ensues from different relations of these
same lines and colors. (Buffet, "Modern Art and the Public," Camera Work, special number (after the double issue,
42-43), (June 1913, pp. 11-14): 13).
This privileged place accorded to painting--whether, in the end, justified or not--
was for Buffet the result of a profound consideration of the formal conditions of advanced musical composition.
She was unique among early theorists of music and painting in that she comprehended the role of conventions in the construction of even "absolute" music.

24. For the still standard biographical account see: Edward Dent, Ferrucio Busoni: A Biography
(London: Oxford University Press, 1933). For a more recent account of Busoni's life and work, see:
Antony Beaumont, Busoni the Composer (London: Faber and Faber, 1985).

25. Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, p. 81. One of Busoni's central concerns was the limitation imposed by the conventional system of the octave: "We have divided the octave into twelve equidistant degrees,
because we had to manage somehow, and have constructed our instruments in such a way that we can never get
in above or below or between them. Keyboard instruments, in particular, have so thoroughly schooled our ears
that we are no longer capable of hearing anything else--incapable of hearing except through this impure medium.
Yet Nature created an infinite gradation--infinite!" (p. 89).
In an effort to draw closer to the infinite gradation of
natural sound, Busoni endorses an expansion of the given system: "I have made an attempt to exhaust the possibilities
of the arrangement of degrees within the seven-tone scale; and succeeded, by raising and lowering the intervals, in establishing one hundred and thirteen different scales… One cannot estimate at a glance what wealth of melodic and harmonic expression would thus be opened up to the hearing… With this presentation, the unity of all keys may be considered as finally pronounced and justified. A kaleidoscopic blending and interchanging of twelve semitones
within the three-mirror tube of Taste, Emotion, and Intention--the essential feature of the harmony of today." (Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, pp. 92-93). For an account of Busoni's expanded scales see Daniel Raessler,
"The '113' Scales of Ferrucio Busoni," The Music Review (Feb. 1982): 51-56.

26. Here is a characteristic passage: "How primitive this art must remain!… [Its] means of expression are few and trivial, covering but a very small section of musical art. Begin with the most self-evident of all, the ebasement of
Tone to Noise in imitating the sounds of Nature--the rolling of thunder, the roar of forests, the cries of animals; then
those somewhat less evident, symbolic--imitations of visual impression, like the lightening-flash, springing movements,
the flight of birds; again, those intelligible only through the mediation of the reflective brain, such as the trumpet-call
as a warlike symbol, the shawm to betoken ruralism, march-rhythm to signify measured strides, the chorale as a vehicle
for religious feeling… These are auxiliaries, of which good use can be made upon a broad canvas, but which, taken by themselves, are no more to be called music than wax figures may pass for monuments."(Busoni, Sketch of a New
Aesthetic of Music
, p. 82)

27. "Absolute Music! What the lawgivers mean by this is perhaps remotest of all from the Absolute in music. 'Absolute music' is a form-play without poetic program, in which the form is intended to have the leading part.
But Form, in itself, is the opposite pole of absolute music, on which was bestowed the divine prerogative of
buoyancy, of freedom from the limitations of matter… Per contra, 'absolute music' is something very sober, which
reminds one of music-desks in orderly rows, of the relation of Tonic to Dominant, of Developments and Codas…
This sort of music ought rather to be called the 'architectonic,' or 'symmetric,' or 'sectional,' and derives from the circumstance that certain composers poured their spirit and their emotion into just this mould as lying nearest them
or their time. Our lawgivers have identified the spirit and emotion, the individuality of these composers and their time,
with 'symmetric' music, and finally, being powerless to recreate either the spirit, or the emotion, or the time, have
retained the Form as a symbol, and made it into a fetish, a religion." (Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music,
pp. 78-79)

28. Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, p. 79.

29. Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, p. 85. We will have occasion to address the consequences of an even more extreme conception of the act of notation in Valéry, for whom the poetic
process is an unavoidably artificial act that militates against the sort of unmediated self-expression implicit
in Breton's notion of automatic writing. "A la moindre rature," wrote Valéry, "le principe d'inspiration totale
est ruiné.
" (Littérature, (Paris: Gallimard, 1930) 30).

30. Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, p. 102. Hoffmannsthal's paradox of a language unknown
to the author himself is echoed throughout Busoni's text, at one point citing a letter sent to him by Buffet's
teacher at the Schola Cantorum, in which d'Indy makes reference to "an ideal that one can never attain, but which
we may be able to approach." (Busoni leaves the French text in its original, and quotes only a fragment of the
sentence: "…laissant de côté les contingences et les petitesses de la vie pour regarder constamment vers un idéal
qu'on ne pourra jamais atteindre, mais dont il est permis de se rapprocher.
" (Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of
, p. 97, n. 1) Given that Buffet had been d'Indy's student and that he had gone so far as to write for her a letter
of introduction to Busoni--a letter she used upon her arrival in Berlin--it would be highly unlikely that she would
not have taken note of it.

31. John Cage performed his famous silent piece, 4 minutes and 33 seconds, in 1952.

32. Italics his. Busoni, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, p. 89.