Sept 1 Reading Response

“Noise: The Political Economy of Music”
Attali argues that the distribution of music and the control over noise shapes societies. This is a direct reflection of power and control. Attali characterizes music as perceived order and noise as subversion. In totalitarian regimes, noise is strictly controlled and banned in order to achieve primacy of melody and deny the abnormal a voice. As a tool of power, Attali divides music into three zones of "strategic usages" (Attali 38). Music can be used to make people forget violence and fear, to make people believe that there is harmony in the world, and to silence by mass-producing music and censoring all other noise. Within these three zones, Attali further characterizes music by its role. Music becomes a ritual sacrifice or scapegoat when it is used to make people forget. When music is used to make people believe in a harmonious world, it is representation. Finally, as a tool of enforcing silence, music is repetition. However, as an act of subversion, a fourth musical practice emerges: composition. According to Attali, composition is an act of freedom that suggests the arrival of a new social order. Ultimately, Attali argues that music "runs parallel to human society" as economic and musical revolutions often occurred side-by-side (Attali 35). He criticizes tradition of teaching musical history as a linear evolution, as neither scientific nor human history is structured this way.

“Prelude: Music and Musicking”
Small asserts that music is not an object, but an activity. Furthermore, he criticizes the championing of musical works as the ultimate source of musical meaning. The concept of music-as-work over music-as-event is problematic because reduces the performer to a passive role (as the conduit of musical meaning) and implies that only the musically literate can be privy to the innermost meanings of music. Additionally, the concept of the work limits the channels of communication to one direction: from composer to audience. This limits the responsibilities of the audience as they are not expected to communicate in return to the composer (nor is it expected of the composer to listen). Small also argues that the concept of the musical work divorces the music and its potential meaning from its original context. When Bach’s Saint Matthew’s Passion, is performed in concert halls, for example, it is presented as a singular work of art, not a religious piece to be performed on Good Friday in the Lutheran Church. When presented in this manner, Small argues that the meaning of the piece is “trivialized” (Small 7). Thus, in response to these issues, Small proposes the reinstitution of the verb “to music” and its present participle “musicking”. In doing so, Small aims to broaden our notions of music making: to music is to contribute to a musical event. When music is conceptualized as a verb, Small argues that any kind of participation, be it active or passive, is allowed. Ultimately, Small’s goal is for musicking to become a framework for understanding how and why participating in music effects “our existence as individual, social, and political beings” (Small 12).

“Participatory and Presentational Performance”
Like Small, Turino finds fault with predominant conception of music as an object rather than an active social process. According to Turino, music making occurs in relation to four specific “fields of artistic practice”: presentational, participatory, high fidelity, and studio audio art (Turino 25). Turino emphasizes that these fields are not meant to correlate to any preconceived notions of genre and style; a single musician or band can fluidly operate within all four fields throughout their career and a single musical event can be comprised of overlapping qualities from each field. This chapter in particular discusses the characteristics of presentational and participatory performance practices. In the presentational performance field, there is one group of people designated to provide music (the performers) to another group (the audience). Participatory music, on the other hand, is framed as a social activity where there is no audience. Instead, there are performers and people who can join in and become performers as well. Unlike Small, Turino emphasizes that the kind of participation in this field needs to demonstrate active contribution to the music, such as clapping or playing shakers. In participatory music, the primary value is inclusivity. Presentational music, however, places priority on individuality and contrast. Turino uses form, texture, and timbre to explain the musical manifestations of these priorities. In presentational musical practice, the form is closed as there are definitive formal sections of predetermined length. Additionally, the texture is deliberately made transparent to ensure that the audience understands the details of the performance. In participatory music, instruments are often tuned to wider intervals to accommodate the participants’s different skill levels. As a result, the pitches will not always sound unified. Highly repetitive phrases and cyclical forms, with a repertoire of stock beginnings and endings also help participants of all skill levels feel secure in participatory music. Moreover, the repetition of form and musical phrases heightens the potential for “social synchrony” (Turino 41).

Discussion Questions:

  • Attali states the presently, music is a "somewhat clumsy excuse for the self-glorification of musicians and the growths of a new industrial sector" (Attali 34). How does this compare to Small's criticisms of conceptualizing music as work? Does Attali's opinion bear any weight in today's musical/political climate?
  • Turino opens this chapter by discussing the cultural shift from perceiving music recordings as a representation of a musical event to becoming the “real thing” (Turino 25). The “real thing,” according to Turino, is based on the musician’s successes in producing and distributing products: CDs, music videos, etc. From this, I interpreted these products to be proof of musical skill and professionalism. How does the idea of professionalism (or even skill) tie into the use of computer programs that correct out of tune pitches in presentational/high fidelity fields?
  • How can Small and Turino’s frameworks be adopted or integrated into the social life within a school of music?

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