Published December 22, 2022 | Version v1
Conference paper Open

Composing Spinoza's Ethics: Charting a Migration of Spirit Through Sound


Since 2017, Dániel Péter Biró has been working on a series of works based on philosophi-cal texts by Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677). This series of works explores historical dichotomies of re-ligion and philosophy from perspectives of modern-day globalized existence, looking into historical and contemporary concepts of spirit and mind. In this paper, the authors discuss how this composi-tional work has been informed by research in the field of computational ethnomusicology.
In the fall of 2011, Dániel Péter Biró was Visiting Professor in the Department of Computing and Information Sciences of Utrecht University, Netherlands where he worked with Peter van Kranen-burg on the Tunes and Tales Project, supported by the Government of the Netherlands, which fo-cused on the study and transcription of various Dutch oral traditions. During this time, the authors worked with a group of musicologists and computer scientists at the University of Utrecht and Meertens Institute in Amsterdam, recording and transcribing examples of Jewish and Islamic chant as practiced in the Netherlands. Using advanced computer technologies for musical analysis and transcription, the team set out to chart historical developments of these chant traditions within these communities and beyond. This computational ethnomusicology research in ongoing.
Living in The Hague, Dániel Péter Biró found an apartment just down the street from the burial site of Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza. Spinoza, while one of the greatest philosophers in the seven-teenth century, was banned from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam because of his views, which proved to be too radical for his time. In his philosophical treatise Ethics, Spinoza attempted to present a new type of theology, one that was autonomous from organized religion, such as that of his own Portuguese Jewish community and of the dominant Calvinist doctrine of the Netherlands.
The current composition cycle of Dániel Péter Biró, initiated with a Guggenheim Fellowship, ex-plores Spinoza’s philosophy of the mind while considering the historical dilemma of a 17th century Jewish immigrant in the Netherlands from a modern-day perspective. Following this historical tra-jectory, the composition cycle integrates phonetic aspects of Spinoza’s text with melodic material derived from Portuguese plainchant from the time of the Jewish expulsion, Torah trope from the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam, and Indonesian Qur’an recitation. Integrating elements of these chant traditions from Dutch immigrant communities of the past and present into the compo-sition cycle, the composer explores the continuing relevancy and complexity of Spinoza's Enlight-enment project and its relationship to chant practices in the Netherlands of yesterday and today. While Spinoza dealt with problems of persecution, immigration, assimilation, and tradition in a so-ciety dominated by Calvinist thought, these very issues become creatively engaged in his Ethics, as the work transgresses the boundaries of contemporary religious doctrine. The authors discuss how the composition cycle deals with these is- sues, touching on present-day issues of migration and the changing recitation traditions within the context of the globalized Netherlands of today.



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Conference paper: 10.5281/zenodo.7274292 (DOI)