The relationship between map and territory is the simple analogy used to explain the basic premises of the "General Semantics" of Alfred Habdank Korzybski (1880 – 1950), a theory which moves back and forth between linguistics and sociology. Korzybski’s main work, Science and Sanity, is based on the following three postulates:
1. A map is not the territory
2. A map does not represent all of the territory
3. A map is self-reflexive in the sense that an 'ideal' map would include a map of the map, etc., indefinitely.
When we describe or give names to things, the inherent insufficiency of language always forces us to leave out something. In doing so, we abstract such complex and diverse realities (territories) into linguistic maps, which are made to be as generally understandable as possible, and have been formed under the influence of experience and cultural traditions. This fact suggests that abstraction, used to avoid misunderstanding, is the essential basis for interpersonal communication and peaceful coexistence. It also suggests that prejudices can only exist because people with 'false' maps in their heads confuse their own view of the world, distorted by erroneous ideas and superstitions, with the real, extensional world.
Applied to art, this discrepancy between territory and map, and the process of abstraction necessary to reconcile the two, lead to a quite peculiar sort of poetry (one thinks here of the works of René Magritte, the short story Del rigor en la ciencia by Jorge Luis Borges or the 'cartographical' pictures of Adolf Wölfli).
During the process of composing this work, the above thoughts struck me as being particularly relevant to the practice of expressing musical ideas by means of a notational system. If we consider a score to be a 'linguistically' abstracted map legible to the performers, can the audible result (that is, the piece of music as it is heard in concert) be equated with the territory? Or is the acoustic result not, in turn, dependent upon the way in which the performers follow – interpret – the map? Does this not indicate the presence of an additional quality, indispensable to the effect of music? Something, without which the symbols and notational markings on the page would never 'come to life', without which no poetic meaning could be made accessible through them? How can one do justice to the fact, using a notational system that attempts to depict musical intentions in as much detail as possible without, however, denying the performers their freedom to bring out the poetry 'between the lines' (in other words, a notational system that takes psychological factors into consideration)? One must also give thought to the role of the listener – whose being able to experience the work is the whole point of this exercise in reconstruction of the territory – for whom that which is heard may, in turn, only represent a map which makes accessible a piece of his own personal territory.
In his work L’agonie du réel, Jean Baudrillard contends that these days – in the era of simulation – abstraction no longer functions according to the map model, because the territory is no longer the precursor of the map; it no longer gives rise to the map like it used to. The sovereign distance between the two has disappeared. But was it not always so, in art? Was there ever this sovereign distance? Is it not precisely this ambiguous domain between the subject and its expression that requires map and territory to be on an equal footing, this most un-sovereign Ästraddling of the fence' which - in art, as opposed to life – allows poetry to be born?
My three-movement work, commissioned by Klangforum Wien for the European Music Month 2001 in Basel, does not attempt to put theory into practice through music. It was, however, born under the influence of my perplexed fascination with this analogy between map and territory.
Johannes Maria Staud