Fear Anger Love

CTM 2017 Theme

»Music expresses that which cannot be said yet about which it is impossible to remain silent.« – Victor Hugo

Fear, Anger and Love are entry points into confrontation with desire, empathy, despair, grief, euphoria, hatred, fragility, disgust, nihilism, rage, loneliness and other sensations. Music conjures emotions more intensely than most art forms, and makes it possible to experience the ambiguous effects and possibilities of intentional emotionalisation. CTM 2017 Fear Anger Love seeks to present musicians and artists that are working with emotion in various ways to respond to urgent societal issues and conflicts that increasingly seem to be emotionally driven.

The worrisome upswing of political populism clearly demonstrates the relentless power of emotions to boil over into dangerous explosive forces. Whenever successfully deployed, its calculated emotions amplify resentment, supporting bigotry and homogenizing, reactionary policies. Yet, if things get out of hand, such tactics don’t simply fail, but the emotions unleashed might flare up into even greater instability. Wherever we look these days, the emotionalisation of politics prevents solutions, exacerbates polarisation and escalates conflicts.

But are emotions themselves the problem, or is it the way in which they are exploited by those who virtuosically play with mass media’s mechanisms in order to mobilise anti-democratic, essentialist and nationalist agendas? Don’t emotions also give a powerful voice to those who are excluded from equal participation, and their demands for more just, diverse, inclusive and open societies? How do we distinguish between progressive and reactionary, or democratic versus anti-democratic, use of emotion? And what does this all have to do with music?

As an art uniquely placed to express and engender emotions, music has always been firmly tied to the explosive janus of its emotionality. In fact, the debate about the manipulative, seductive, or emancipatory potential of resonant emotion is as old as music itself.

»When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.« – Plato

As far back as ancient times, music’s potential to threaten moral and political order due to its physical power and hypnotic sensuality was apprehensively discussed. It was feared that music could undermine individual autonomy, induce uncontrollable group dynamics, feminise and soften male self-control. Musical sirens threatened delusion and ruin. This problem was met with the attempt to spiritualise music by coupling it to a heavenly harmony and by describing it in purely mathematical terms, such as to detach it from our real bodies. Even today musical positions exist, which abandon its emotional possibilities and search for a rational, context-free music or conceptually driven social criticism. Such movements are not least due to the experiences of 20th century totalitarian systems and of the hegemonizing mechanisms of the cultural industry.

But don’t we need emotions as much as we should fear them? And is analytical criticism really the primary task of music and art? On the other end of the spectrum stands a music that wants to be an expression of radical subjective feelings. Such music is born out of personal and social conflicts, and rallies against the suppression of dissonant feelings and types of experience. If not channelled strategically and manipulatively, real emotions, however difficult they may be, give us access to experiences beyond social norms. They inevitably bring into focus the social conditions and conflicts that both trigger intensive reactions and are simultaneously their target. They challenge individuals and societies to consider how to deal both with emotions and with those enthused by them, to ask how open we can be, how much space we want to give those with a different emotional makeup, and how great a capacity we have for integration and resilience.