social inculcation, musical rigidity and the political power of [musical] performance (or an approach to music and/as power)

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The Score and the State:

social inculcation, musical rigidity and the political power of [musical] performance

(or an approach to music and/as power)




by Dr Zachar Laskewicz

Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA)

Theatre & Performance Studies

Nr.1 Hsieh-yuan Rd., Kuan-Du,

Peitou 211, Taipei



Music and musical performance in occidental culture has always played a complex role on all different cultural levels and social hierarchies. Even though it doesn't contain 'words' as such and therefore cannot make a direct statement about the way the state uses it to influences its people; we can observe the enormous influence it has on the way people behave as well as the desire society in general wishes to have over the way its people uses musicality during the dynamic aspects of its performance. I have used the terms Top-Down (See Laskewicz 2003, 2002, 2001) to refer to the dominant way artistic forces such as music can be used by society to influence the way a given people interact with their environment, or in other words are gradually educated to 'inculcate' a certain way of behaving and therefore 'being' as Bourdieu would have it.  On the other hand, I've made references to more dynamic adoptions of Bottom-Up adaptations where artists use dynamic forces such as music to bring about dynamic change which represents personal dynamic development often from the perspective of the avant-garde, offering something new, standing against the status quo.  In both cases, music can sometimes be used as violent tools to bring about social ends; one only has to think of the well-known works of art which have 'celebrated' this somewhat frightening aspect of musicality, looking back to the use of Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange or the far more horrifying use of Schubert's Töd das Mädchen in the play and film with the English translation Death of a Maiden in Polankski's film (1994).  At the same time, the transcendental aspect of the two-above mentioned examples aside, the whole notion of music has also its animal instinct aspect and is often connected to sexuality, especially when it involves dance.  The bland environments in which socially accepted music is presented where people applaud at the socially ordained time and otherwise don't make a sound or movement are good as far as society is concerned.   Far more dangerous is the sexuality implicit in the touching and passion brought about by musical transgression.  Dance, as I have frequently stated is difficult to neatly divide from the experience of musicality and sexuality, actually being the place where music and sexuality come the closest and is often the place where politics can and often does attempt to restrict the freedom of individuals. What happens in the bedroom, however, is hard for society to have control over, although in the Anti-Utopia presented by Orwell (1949) in 1984 Big Brother and his associates of inner-party members tried to come as close as they could by installing television screens in everyones's room (who was considered important/dangerous enough).  In this paper, however, the main topic is music realised socially from Top-Down, particularly the rigidity of contemporary realizations of 'classical' music through the Score as a Barthesian Work , very much as a form of disembedded textuality. It is important firstly to discuss the way the 'episteme' of the current culture differs from the way it originally was when the music was composed; contemporary classical rigidity to musical performance is a socio-cultural tool. Serialism and serial performance is also discussed as the ultimate form of disembedded musical behaviour, one wished for by Boulez and his school at Ircam which is rigid conformity incarnate and will be discussed in more detail. Other forms, however, from the multimedial to the the disco and even movements against the dangerousness of this rigid musical behaviour is made so that we have ultimately more choices in the way we can use music to enrich our live rather than restrict it.  It is clear, however, that musical performance in many different fashions is used both by politics through its musical institutions and its folk-culture through socially created 'spaces' like the disco to create a form of social control but also offers unique forms of social freedom some of which I hope to introduce in this essay.


Selection of References


Bourdieu, Pierre (1980) Le sens pratique, Paris : Les Editions de Minuit.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1990) The Logic of Practice, R. Nice (trans.), Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1991) Language and Symbolic Power, J. B. Thompson (official trans.), Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1992) Les rčgles de l'art, Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Born, Georgina (1995) Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brindle, Reginald Smith (1989) The New Music: The Avant-Garde since 1945, Oxford University Press.

Burgess, Anthony (1962) A Clockwork Orange, London: Norton W. W. & Company.

Laskewicz, Zachar (2001) "The Self-Reflexive Cultural Myth: Bali and the Western Anthropological Fantasy Fulfilled" in Myths, Rites, Simulacra: Semiotic Viewpoints, Vienna: Austrian Association of Semiotics, pp. 235-250.

Laskewicz, Zachar (2002) "Pop Music & Interculturality" in Refashioning Pop Music in Asia, A. Chun, N. Rossiter (eds.), London: Routledge.

Laskewicz, Zachar (2003) "[radical] Experimentation, [enforced] Machination and [involuntary] Stage-Fright: the utter terror of the non-discoursal" in Homo Orthopedicus, Paris: L'Harmattan: 369-392.

Whiteley (ed.), Sheila (1997) Sexing the Groove: popular music and gender, London & New Your: Routledge.

McClary, Susan (1985) "Afterword" in Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Manchester University Press.

Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1990) Music and Discourse: Towards a Semiology of Music, C. Abbate (official trans.), Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Orwell, George, (1949), 1984, New York: The New American Library.

Parkin, David (1992) "Ritual as Spatial Direction and Bodily Division" in Understanding Rituals, D. de Coppet (ed.), London: Routledge.

Polanski, David (film-director)

                        --(1997) Death and the Maiden

Ricour, Paul (1986) Du text ŕ l'action, Paris : Éditions du seuil.

Said, Edward (1985) Orientalisms, Harmondsworth: Penguin.




© May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)
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Last modified:
6 June, 2008