September 21 Reading - Attali

Chapter 1: Listening

The first chapter of Attali’s book, Listening, calls attention to the idea that, throughout history, we have tried to see and write about history, when in fact, we need to listen to it. “Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise.” Pg 3 Attali asserts that we must learn to measure a society by sounds rather than the usual monitoring and measuring. Music is a way of perceiving the world and understanding it. Attali believes that by looking at music and its organization of sound, we can imagine new theoretical forms to understand what is going on. We need to theorize through music.

The chapter is divided into three sections in which Attali develops his theories about music. The first section, The Sounds of Power, talks about noise and politics and how music is linked with politics. To Attali, music and sound are tools for the creation or consolidation of a community and link subjects to the center of power. For without organization, noise has takes on virtually no meaning for a culture. In this way, the ways in which noise is mediated is closely connected to power structures. Eavesdropping, propaganda music, and mass broadcasts of music are all examples of this. Attali asserts that music science, message, and time, all simultaneously, and is the mode of communication between man and his environment.

Attali recounts in the second section, The Musician before Capital, the various roles of musicians throughout history. He sees the musician as either being an outcast or historian, moving from slaves, to servants, and free lance artists in various stages.

The chapter ends with the section, Understanding through Music. Here, Attali traces the political economy of music as a succession of differences called into question by noises which are prophetic because they create or highlight new differences. Attali announces that he will attempt to trace the history of these relations with the world of production, exchange, and desire. He concludes with the three cases in which music is a tool of power and brings to light an emerging fourth. The three uses are: to make people forget, to make people believe, and to silence. The new practice that is emerging is composition, or the putting together of ideas.

Attali believes that through music, by fighting through that battlefield, we can find knowledge.

How would music on the internet fit into the idea of music as mediated for power? Is the internet merely a distribution channel? Or would this be in the emerging practice of composition?

What would Attali say about music now and what it says about our future?

Chapter 2: Sacrificing

In this chapter Attali is trying to establish the codes of music to juxtapose this with capitalism as a commodity exchange system that is an impoverished memory of the former ritual system. As a back-drop Attali draws from the Brueghel painting found on the cover titled "Carnival's Quarrel with Lent". He says the painting is a foreshadowing of the path that music takes up until the present moment as music is trapped in a political economy. He reads the painting as depicting the battle between noise and silence or the norms of society and the festival. Brueghel says that music and all noises are wrapped up in power relations. Attali takes this and says that music when it becomes a commodity is no longer ritualized like the sacrificial code of social organization that predates commercial exchange. Music is no longer an affirmation of existence as it becomes valorized. Commodity serves to entrap, produce, exchange, circulate, and censor music.

To understand music we need to first have a definition of noise. Noise for Attali is "a weapon and music, primordially, is the formation, domestication, and ritualization of that weapon as a simulacrum of ritual murder." Music is noise given some form through the logic of a code, which is also ideological. Music "creates political order because it is a minor form of sacrifice. In the space of noise, it symbolically signifies the channeling of violence and the imaginary, the ritualization of a murder substituted for the general vilence, the affirmation that a society is possible if the imaginary is sublimated." (pg. 26) When this ritual function of music dissipates with the advent of commercial music, people begin to listen in silence and what is left is the purchase and sale of power which is a political economy.

In order to convince the reader that noice can be conceptualized as murder and music as sacrifice Attali makes two key points. First is that noise is violence and it disrupts the natural order, even kills it. Supposedly in all cultures it is associated with the idea of the weapon, blasphemy, plague, or destruction. Noise is a source of pain (but so could anything that negatively impacts a sensory organ). For Attali it is a simulacrum of murder and since it is the threat of death, noise is a concern of power. Second, the music is the channelization of noise and then a simulacrum of the sacrifice. He outlines four networks that make sense of this noise/music distinction. The first is the sacrificial ritual talked about before and the second is called representation. Music in the representation network is a spectacle attended at a specific place for a fee. This is the primitive mode of competitive capitalism. The third is repetition where technology serves to mass produce social relations, a blind spectacle. Here consumption of music is individualized and stockpiled. Lastly is composition where music is performed for ones own enjoyment and self-communication.

Finally when this repetition happens and use-time joins exchange-time music ceases to be 'catharsis' and doesn't construct difference. Attila says music becomes "trapped in identity and will dissolve into noise" (pg. 45) which means that violence can spread across the hollow, repetitive, mimetic society.

Chapter 3: Representing

“Make people believe in a consensual representation of the world” (Attali, 1977, p. 46).
As music develops as a commodity and as harmonic developments display rational progress, music makes us believe in social cohesion. In short, "representation leads to exchange and harmony." (62)

I think it is interesting that Attali brings up the history of the social roles of composers and musicians. He talks about how the concert hall replaces the religious, festival, and official court settings of sacrificial music that was produced in abundance early on. I think we also should remember that there was little if any money to be made during this time in music. Composers or minstrels could only play what they were ordered to by their lords. We should remember that music had not yet become an object in the way we consider it today (later, Attali refers to this type of music as "commodity music"). There was very little freedom of expression during musical performance, and it's likely that musicians didn't think of their performances as expressions of themselves.

As political events, the American Revolution (1776) and then the French Revolution (1789) follow the demand for liberation of composers. The assumed divine rights of kings and lords gave way and the monopoly was broken.

Thus emerged commodity music. Attali calls it commodity music because it was assigned a value, both autonomous status and monetary value. Without contracts with the Lords of the feudal system, musicians and music had to find another way to earn money. The composer started to make an income by selling the scores as well as public performances. By gradual steps, the royal control of copyright becomes private ownership of the musical work. (50)

By assigning monetary value to the music, money is seen to represent the composer’s and performer’s effort, which is seen as integral in the effort connected to the music. Different ticket prices should therefore reflect differences in labor. (58) But Attali points out that it cannot be related to the time taken to create a musical work or to perform it. So "music is outside all measure." Therefore the value is the use-value for the audience. "Thus usage and exchange diverge from the start." (59)

Chapter 4: Repeating

If music and power work in tandem, then recording and its repeatability solidifies this relationship. The act of saving and preserving culture has had profound affects on social organization. We think it obvious for governments to save financial, judicial, and criminal records, but it was not always this way. In fact, in the West modern government records weren't kept until around the 12th century (see Clanchy). While the Roman Catholic Church had kept records and maps for centuries, England felt compelled to keep contractual records because of a rise in the number of territorial disputes. The empire could establish its control on paper rather than physical force. But how is recorded music, as a record of culture, affected by repetition?

It's not just that music is repeatable once it is recorded, but later recording technologies like the gramophone disc (Berliner, not Edison's cylinder phonograph) can be mass produced relatively simply. The disc record does to music what the Gutenberg's printing press did to print media.

The history of the process of the emplacement and generalization of recording is thus the history of an invention which, in spite of its inventors, played a far-reaching role in the restructuring of society (90).

The notion of "emplacement" is no doubt a negative term for Attali. For centuries humans have been infatuated with new technologies, often using them (i.e. "emplacement") well before we understand them, and only retroactively coming up with a reason for their invention. For support Attali uses Emerson's remarks on the laying of the first transatlantic cable between London and New York: "But will we have anything to say to each other?" (91). Additionally, remember that Edison's sound recording medium was intended to keep records of business transactions over the telephone. Businesses did have something to say to each other, but it wasn't over the telephone.

After speech was considered bad business for recording, music stepped in to provide a supply of copyable content. To understand the triumph of music over speech as recording competitors we must ask ourselves what is more likely to be in demand: repeated talking, or repeated music? Repetition for Attali is merely a re-playing of the material he discusses in his "Representing" chapter. One could pay the price to listen to not only a live performer, but as John Peters reminds us, performers who might be dead as well.

The gramophone seemed powerful and original because…it plugged into a stockpile playing on time and space…(95).

That is, the gramophone not only reached back in history, capturing dead sounds, but it kept a record of those sounds so they could be played anywhere. For a business man, this meant the world was your market. Those who have ears are potential customers.

Like Horkheimer & Adorno (indeed Attali cites Adorno), Attali doesn't like the effect of this new relationship between music sound recording. Music is fundamentally recorded time. There is no short way to consume it, such as glancing at a painted work of art. Therefore one must spend one's own time consuming sound recordings. Additionally, one must spend time working in order to earn money to pay for these recordings of time:

people must devote their time to producing the means to buy recordings of other people's time (101).

The effect, for Attali, is that consumers tend to value works they know they will have time to listen to. Collections become popular because listening to a number of shorter musical works can be seen as a sort of accomplishment. This leads to a culture of listening which "stockpiles" recordings to be listened to at a later time.

By the time mass repetition enters the picture after the 1940s, repetition had teamed up with radio. As a promotional tool, radio increased the demand for recorded music, but at a cost. Here Attali seems most in agreement with Horkheimer & Adorno on the effects of mass produced music on the 20th century: "Silencing people is possible in repetition" because a large homogeneous market requires a somewhat constrained message (105); risk is assessed and guarded against (106); the "hit parade" reflects "the democratically expressed preferences of the consumers" (107); more forms of music are "banalized" and "sanitized" (109); and, quoting Iannis Xenakis, "the composer becomes a kind of pilot pushing buttons" (115).

What does Attali mean by "the End of Sacrifice" near the end of this repeating chapter? What does repetition change, and why does this sacrificial ritual no longer happen?

Chapter 5: Composing

First of all, I would like to mention, that I consider the Attalli’s writing being immensely profound and insightful. I greatly support his concepts of immediate pleasure during the artistic process (i.e. composing), the reconciliation between work and play (p.141), and the idea of “labor …[being ]…enjoyed in its own right, its time experienced, rather then labor performed for the sake of using or exchanging its outcome”. (p.142).

Attali has expressed his views on how music culture will be transformed in a new “coming order”(133). A “noise of festival and freedom” (p.133) is to replace the current capitalist mechanism of music mimicking production, stockpiling, consumption, and disposal.

Attali severely criticises the industry of repetition, usage, and exchange. He denounces the colonization of free forms of artistry, (p.138) and current relations between production and consumption. With the destruction of old commerce-inspired codes, music becomes goal-free, not tool-oriented, and thus production melds with consumption. In other words, the listener becomes composer himself. For Attali:

[To] produce is first of all to take pleasure in the production of differences.(p.142)

Furthermore, as the consumer transforms into a producer, musical instrument becomes a tool for
"satisfaction from the manufacturing process itself" (p.144)

Atalli about the collaboration between musicians:

Any noise, when two people decide to invest their imaginary and their desire in it, becomes a potention relationship, future order. (p.143)

It’s noteworthy that he considers the music to be an “ultimate form of production” (p.134), apparently, due to its privileged characteristics of being message and the messenger the same time. Thus music becomes a significant harbinger of the future (p.136) and an important vehicle of social transformation itself. Its mission - is to constitute and establish “new forms of our society”(p.133).

The participation in music activities becomes available to the majority of people and starts to play an important social role.

First there is a resurgence in the production of popular music using traditional instruments, which often are handmade by the musicians themselves - a resurgence of music for immediate enjoyment, for daily communication rather than for a confined spectacle. No study is required to play this kind of music, which is orally transmitted and largely improvised. (p.140)

So, as we see, Attali states a raise of popularity of musical expression as daily social communication. This may be paralleled to the music type, which Turino would call participatory music, or the Small’s concept of musicking. Thus, Jaques Attali proposes two conditions, necessary for of the updated understanding of music: tolerance and autonomy. It means “acceptance of other people [to participate in musicking process, as well as] ability to do without them”. (p.145)

According to Attali, composers will soon regain the natural artistic pleasure during the very moment of composing, instead of being gripped with obligations to follow the market standards, imposed by record companies and corporations. The old codes of ritual, spectacle (representation), and accumulation will be replaced by emergence of regenerated “music for immediate enjoyment”(p.140) . The very process of music activities and their communication will be radically changed. Instead of value exchange, repetition, and stockpiling, new era will manifest "doing solely for the sake of doing", and "pleasure in being instead of having".

In the Fracture section he mentions the composers and movements who helped the new music to emerge and the old models to disappear. Among them: Luigi Russolo , John Cage, Free Jazz movement, and others.

It is worthy to mention that Attali keeps referring to such non-standard conceptions as “self-transcendence” (p. 134), “exchange of the noises of bodies” (p.143), collective imaginary, collective creation, appreciation of the present moment and being, Castaneda's "third stage of the attainment of power"(p.147) with the connection to the technological advances, etc. It gives us a glimpse to author’s knowledge range and his depth of experience.

Two more quotations:

Time no longer flows in a linear fashion. (p.147)

Composition is inscribed not in a repetitive world, but in the permanent fragility of meaning after the disappearance of usage and exchange. (p.147)

I can't avoid sharing this video, because I think it is very deeply connected with the Attali's artistic approach:
Eckhart Tolle - Zavracam, da me svet vodi v norost (I refuse to be driven mad by the world)

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