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On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity


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This article develops a theoretical analysis of music and mediation, building on the work of Theodor Adorno, Tia DeNora and Antoine Hennion. It begins by suggesting that Lydia Goehrs anthropology of art, the article outlines an approach to mediation that incorporates understandings of musics mediations have taken a number of historical forms, which cohere into assemblages, and that we should be alert to shifts in the dominant forms of musical assemblage. In the latter part of the article, these tools are used to conceptualize changing forms of musical creativity that emerged over the twentieth century. A comparison is made between the work concept and jazz and improvised electronic musics. Three contemporary digital music experiments are discussed in detail, demonstrating the concepts of the provisional work and of social, distributed and relayed creativity. Throughout, key motifs are mediation, creativity, and the negotiation of difference.
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On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and
twentieth-century music / Volume 2 / Issue 01 / March 2005, pp 7 - 36
DOI: 10.1017/S147857220500023X, Published online: 09 December 2005
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century music, 2, pp 7-36 doi:10.1017/S147857220500023X
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On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity
This article develops a theoretical analysis of music and mediation, building on the work of Theodor Adorno, Tia
DeNora and Antoine Hennion. It begins by suggesting that Lydia Goehr’s account of the work concept requires such
a perspective. Drawing on Alfred Gell’s anthropology of art, the article outlines an approach to mediation that
incorporates understandings of music’s social, technological and temporal dimensions. It suggests that music’s
mediations have taken a number of historical forms, which cohere into assemblages, and that we should be alert to
shifts in the dominant forms of musical assemblage. In the latter part of the article, these tools are used to
conceptualize changing forms of musical creativity that emerged over the twentieth century. A comparison is made
between the work concept and jazz and improvised electronic musics. Three contemporary digital music exper-
iments are discussed in detail, demonstrating the concepts of the provisional work and of social, distributed and
relayed creativity. Throughout, key motifs are mediation, creativity, and the negotiation of difference.
Music is perhaps the paradigmatic multiply-mediated, immaterial and material, fluid quasi-
object, in which subjects and objects collide and intermingle. It favours associations or
assemblages between musicians and instruments, composers and scores, listeners and sound
systems – that is, between subjects and objects. Music also takes myriad social forms,
embodying three orders of social mediation. It produces its own varied social relations – in
performance, in musical associations and ensembles, in the musical division of labour. It
inflects existing social relations, from the most concrete and intimate to the most abstract of
collectivities – music’s embodiment of the nation, of social hierarchies, and of the structures
of class, race, gender and sexuality. But music is bound up also in the broader institutional
forces that provide the basis of its production and reproduction, whether e´lite or religious
patronage, market exchange, the arena of public and subsidized cultural institutions, or late
capitalism’s multi-polar cultural economy.
In what follows I want to expand on the analysis of music’s mediation, linking this to
recent attempts to theorize music’s changing ontology. I begin with Lydia Goehr’s critique
of the concept of the musical work, suggesting that she raises but does not pursue the
I am grateful to Simeran Gell for supporting my request to use material from Alfred Gell’s work. Gell’s figures are
reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press; other images are reproduced by permission of the rights holders,
as noted in the captions. I would like to thank Dhiraj Murthy and Mariam Fraser for sharing their work with me at an early
stage, and Neil Robertson for useful conversations and websites. I also thank these colleagues for ideas and feedback on
various drafts: Robert Adlington, Nikolaus Bacht, Andrew Barry, John Bowers, John Butt, Judith Green, Björn Heile, Eric
Lewis, Charles Wiffin; and my co-members of the research group ‘Improvisation in the Performing Arts’ based at the
University of California Humanities Research Institute in 2002, particularly George Lewis, Susan Foster, Simon Penny
and Jason Stanyek.
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importance for contemporary music of an approach that incorporates understandings of the
social, technological and temporal dimensions of music. Such an approach is offered by
theories of mediation, and in the course of the article I outline three related arguments that
build on this perspective. The first concerns music’s social and temporal mediation and its
nature as a distributed object. Here I draw on recent work in the anthropology of art,
specifically Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency. I want at once to stress music’s particular properties,
and to spend time on Gell’s analysis because of the fertility of his propositions when we take
them to music. I use this approach to reveal music as a medium that destabilizes some of our
most cherished dualisms concerning the separation not only of subject from object, but
present from past, individual from collectivity, the authentic from the artificial, and produc-
tion from reception. The second argument is that music’s mediations have taken a number of
forms, cohering into what we might term assemblages, which themselves endure and take
particular historical shapes.
The third is that this approach has value in highlighting shifts in
the dominant historical forms of musical assemblage. In the later part of the article I focus on
jazz and improvised musics and, in particular, on recent digital experiments in music. The
aim is to show how we can use these tools to conceptualize changing forms of musical
creativity, which themselves evidence new music ontologies that became ascendant over the
course of the twentieth century. Taking three examples in which music is engaged with digital
technologies and which evidence new kinds of creative process, I develop concepts of relayed
creativity and of the provisional work. Throughout, key motifs are mediation, creativity, and
the negotiation of difference.
Ontology historicized and relativized
I begin with two contrasting takes on the concept of mediation; or rather, the first requires a
theory of mediation and implicitly calls one forth. Lydia Goehr, in her seminal book The
Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, sets out a strong argument for the necessity of
ontologies of music being informed by history – for the indispensability of history to
philosophy, and an empirically informed social, cultural and economic history of music at
that. Charting the rise from around the year 1800 of the romantic, idealist philosophy of the
musical work, Goehr embeds that rise in a constellation of changes, many of them subsum-
able under the Weberian thesis of the progressive rationalization and autonomization of
music and art. Among these changes were the rise of the romantic principle that musical
invention depended on the self-expression of the individual composer-genius, who must
refuse to follow established rules or submit to external controls; and the arrival of a
‘work-based practice’ centred on the belief that musical works were perfectly formed,
finished and ‘untouchable’, and transcended any particular performance. This in turn
entailed new heights of precision in notation, the vesting of an unprecedented authority in
1 I define a (musical) assemblage as a particular combination of mediations (sonic, discursive, visual, artefactual,
technological, social, temporal) characteristic of a certain musical culture and historical period. This definition draws
on chapter 3 of Rabinow’s Anthropos Today, and on Deleuze’s reading of Foucault (in Foucault).
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the score and a strict division between original and derivative works, as well as moral norms
and legal codes that enshrined notions of the composer’s originality and the need to protect
him from plagiarism through intellectual property rights. Under the work imperative, the
musical division of labour became rigidified. A new norm of ‘transparency through fidelity’
to the work guided both conducting and performing, auguring hierarchical relations be-
tween composer and interpreters, and between conductor and players. Audience behaviour,
disciplined by the dedicated architecture of the new concert halls, also came under its sway:
audiences were expected to be motionless, contemplative and silently attentive, in order to
enable the truth and beauty of the work to be heard. As composers underwent ‘social
emancipation’ from the extra-musical demands of church and court and experienced the
vagaries of independence, there arose professional organizations, private musical societies
and a new species of music institution
intended to embody the ideal of musical autonomy.
At the outset, Goehr highlights the separation in the work concept of the ideal musical
object from its mundane embodiment or mediation: in performance, music notation or
score. She asks: ‘What kind of existence do works enjoy, given that they are a) created, b)
performed many times in different places, c) not exhaustively captured in notational form,
yet d) intimately related to their performances and scores?’
And at the end of the book she
restates this theme: ‘There is nothing about the concept of a work, the relations between
works and performances, or works and scores, or works and experiences of them, that is
going to tell us where the locus of musical meaning ‘‘really’’ resides.’
In this way she seems
to recognize that there is no single privileged location of musical meaning, but that it may be
distributed across and configured by the relations between its several mediations.
In the last part of the book Goehr sets out to consider mid to late twentieth-century
challenges to and shifts in the musical work concept. She argues that both formalism as a
movement and what (echoing Benjamin) she calls ‘mechanical reproduction’ and glosses
innocently as ‘one development in the history of music’
might be seen to have undermined
the romantic associations and power of the work concept; and yet she concludes that both
have failed to achieve this. From another direction, experimental music in its various
manifestations – Cageian chance operations, Fluxus-like performance art and happenings,
and Max Neuhaus-type sound installations – is also charged by Goehr with productively
undermining the work ideal.
Yet, astutely, she notes how these post-modern experiments, in
their antagonistic protest, were caught up in a paradoxical intimacy with the very terms of the
romantic and modernist work ideal.
Jazz is mentioned, in passing only, to note the threat of
the work ideal colonizing what, it is implied, amounts to another musical world.
2 Such as, in Britain, the Philharmonic Society in 1813 and the Royal Academy of Music in 1826 (Goehr, The Imaginary
Museum, 241).
3 Goehr, The Imaginary Museum,3.
4 Goehr, The Imaginary Museum, 278.
5 Goehr, The Imaginary Museum, 266. The reference is to Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art’.
6 On these elements of experimental music, see Nyman, Experimental Music.
7 On the antagonistic counterpoint between modernism and postmodernism in music, see chapter 2 of Born, Ration-
alizing Culture.
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What is striking, from the perspective of the present, is that having noticed the role of the
heroic discourse of individual genius, romantic performance practice, score-based deter-
minism, the authoritarian orchestral division of labour and so on in reproducing and
buttressing the work ideal, Goehr fails to articulate the need for a more systematic account of
the changing mediations that she probes. She does not follow through her own programme
for a radically revised conception of music’s ontology. Compounding the lack of follow-
through, and suggesting the limits of her project in this book, is her reluctance to pursue the
significance of technologies of music production and reproduction for the shifting ontology
of contemporary music. And this despite the oft-discussed prompts issued by Adorno and
Benjamin, to speak only of the classical critical theorists, and despite the ubiquity and
prominence of technological mediation in each element of contemporary musical experi-
ence – creation, performance and reception.
Later, I want to show the implications of the
new technologies and associated practices for the work concept, which, I will propose, is
more destabilized than Goehr allows.
Mediation as the negotiation of difference
From another vantage-point, the philosopher Bruno Latour, in a provocative pamphlet
written in the wake of 11 September 2001, argues that ‘a war of the worlds has been raging . . .
throughout the so-called ‘‘modern age’’ ’. He continues that the ‘unity’ it was imagined the
West might, through modernization, bring to the world has been revealed to be illusory:
‘Unity was never more than a future possibility to struggle for. Unity has to be the end result
of a diplomatic effort; it can’t be its uncontroversial starting point.’
The modernist vision
was founded on a combination of mono-naturalism and multi-culturalism: ‘Different
cultures existed, with their many idiosyncrasies, but at least there was only one nature with its
necessary laws....Differences of opinion and violent conflicts remained, but they all had
their source in the subjectivity of the human mind without ever engaging the world, its
material reality, its cosmology and ontology’.
Thus, ‘the many diverse cultures known to
social and cultural anthropology stood out against a background of natural unity. They could
be compared synoptically not unlike the way a museum’s white wall helps to bring out the
differences between exotic masks hung side by side’.
In this context, Latour asserts,
modernist civilizers engaged in ‘latent wars, which never even recognised the enemy’s status
as an enemy, which considered themselves to be no more than simple police operations
undertaken in the name of an indisputable mediator, . . . a mediator far above all possible
forms of conflict: Nature . . . , Science . . . , Reason’.
Against the background of contemporary heightened anxiety and conflict, and in what for
us is a telling metaphor, Latour argues that
8 Recent analyses of music’s technological mediation include Mowitt, ‘The Sound of Music’; Chanan, Repeated Takes;
Théberge, Any Sound You Can Imagine; and Taylor, Strange Sounds.
9 Latour, War of the Worlds,3.
10 Latour, War of the Worlds, 6–7.
11 Latour, War of the Worlds, 5–6.
12 Latour, War of the Worlds,27and26.
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The common world we took for granted must instead be progressively com-
posed....Nobody can constitute the unity of the world for anyone else, as used to
be the case in the times of modernism and post-modernism, by generously
offering to let the others in, on condition that they leave at the door all that is dear
to them: their gods, their souls, their objects, their times and spaces – in short,
their ontology....From now on the battle is about the making of the common
world and the outcome is uncertain.
Only one thing is asked of the modernists: ‘that they cease to consider universality as their
own already established territory’.
Latour points to the necessity of modernists mourning
the loss of the totemic belief in a supervening reason – or, we might add, aesthetics – that
would order or subsume, control or police all that it encountered. He calls for a new practice
of what he calls diplomacy: ‘What is at stake is war, negotiation, diplomacy.... Peace
negotiations are not possible unless both sides give up exoticism and its perverse
complacency. . . . Diplomacy cannot begin until we suspend our assumptions about what
does or does not count as difference.’
He ends that, of course, the diplomats’ ‘offer of
mediation . . . may fail’.
Mediation, then: from one perspective, as the clue to transcending idealist ontologies of
music; from a second, mediation as diplomacy, as the negotiation between apparently
incommensurable worlds. Later in this article I want to see if I can negotiate these meanings.
In particular I want to pursue the implications of Latour’s tract about the end of false unities
for rethinking the ‘universal’ and cultural relativism, and to open up alternative models of
inter-cultural diplomacy – of the negotiation of difference – in music, models that contrast
with modernist subsumption or appropriation.
More specifically, I will track how musi-
cians are engaging with digital technologies to generate new models and new practices of
difference and interrelation in music – what Latour might call negotiation without any
modernist presupposition of universalism.
Music and mediation
Theories of mediation have rightly been central to the development of both critical musicol-
ogy and the cultural study of music. The problematic was set out initially by Adorno in his
philosophically-overdetermined and sociologically partial account of the dialectic between
autonomous music and the commodified music of the culture industry, the ‘torn halves’ of
13 Latour, War of the Worlds, 29, 30 and 33.
14 Latour, War of the Worlds, 36.
15 Latour, War of the Worlds, 20 and 42–43.
16 Latour, War of the Worlds, 51. Latour’s notion of diplomacy must be distinguished from approaches, such as
Habermas’s discourse ethics (see his Moral Consciousness), which are predicated on the goal, and the possibility, of
consensus; here consensus is not specified in advance. For similar criticisms of Habermas see, for example, papers by
Mouffe and Young in Benhabib, Democracy and Difference.
17 On modernist appropriation in music, see Born and Hesmondhalgh, Western Music and its Others.
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twentieth-century music.
Rejecting idealist ontologies in favour of a materialist aesthetics
predicated on the analysis of mediation and of the evolution of musical materials, Adorno
began the project on which later writers such as Tia DeNora and Antoine Hennion are now
In his method of immanent critique, a critical engagement with music’s formal properties
as given by compositional procedures, Adorno sought to diagnose autonomous music’s
inherent logic, one that at times he portrayed as isomorphic with or reflective of larger social
processes, while at others he saw it as giving evidence of ‘objectively subjective engagements
with the reality external to the musical text’.
Thus, in his study of Schoenberg, the
subject-object dialectic appears in the guise of a compositional process in which classical and
prior musical techniques and norms are absorbed and then determinately negated, yielding
a ‘dialectical . . . relationship between tradition and the new’ through ‘relentless subjectifi-
In this way Adorno conceived the subject-object dialectic as a dual movement: in
terms of the composer’s agency in reworking musical materials (that is, ‘everything which
confronts [composers], everything about which they have to decide’);
and in terms of the
‘human-made quality of musical discourse and the ways in which musical material [is]
pre-formed by history’.
Paddison identifies three linked modalities of the dialectic in
Adorno’s concept of mediation: between artist and material (in the structure of the artwork,
particularly the productive tension between mimesis and rationality, expression and con-
struction); between the autonomy of artworks and the commodity regime of market societies
(in which artworks take on both normative and critical cognitive functions); and between
individual and social totality (an antagonistic relationship experienced by the individual as
Weber’s ‘iron cage of rationality’).
But Adorno’s exploration of these three levels is unbalanced. If, in his analysis of auton-
omous music, he appears to bequeath a relational understanding of the subject-object
dualism, and thence of how the social gets into music, it is one ruled by a narrow dialectic.
Focused on the interaction between composer’s subjectivity and musical text, it provides
only a weak theorization of the relations between autonomous music and broader socio-
historical processes, in which the social appears primarily in its metabolization in musical
form. A telling lacuna is Adorno’s aversion to interrogating the specific institutional arrange-
ments of autonomous music, the field in which he was himself enmeshed, and how these
condition the music.
In comparison, his portrait of music’s assimilation by the culture
industry weighs entirely the other way, abandoning negative dialectics and brooking no
contradictions. As a result, held up against historical realities, his analysis of the dynamics
and output of the music industry is woefully reductive. In short, as Peter Martin comments,
18 The full quotation (in translation) is: ‘Both are torn halves of an integral freedom, to which however they do not add
up’ (Adorno, Letter to Walter Benjamin, 123).
19 Leppert, ‘Commentary and Notes’; cited in DeNora, After Adorno, 26.
20 Jarvis, Adorno, 136, commenting on Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music.
21 Jarvis, Adorno, 107.
22 DeNora, After Adorno, 14.
23 Paddison, Adorno’s Aesthetics of Music, 146–7.
24 This is precisely the substance of my book Rationalizing Culture.
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‘It is far from clear that Adorno did in fact provide a coherent account of the relationship he
claimed between musical and social structures.’
Yet paradoxically, if we bracket out its totalizing flavour, Adorno’s account of the culture
industry and its musical products is exemplary in probing the several dimensions in which
music’s existence is permeated by commodification – be it musical form, performance mode,
filmic exposure, radio play, production or reception. In this way it points to a constellatory
conception of music’s multiple mediations, understood now in the non-dialectical sense of
the assemblage – of music’s many simultaneous forms of existence. If Adorno’s concept of
music and art is ‘simultaneously descriptive and evaluative’,
then, unburdened by his
normative project, the task of recent theories of mediation has been to sharpen the tools of
description and analysis so as to make them adequate to this complex, multiple object,
including the existence of contradictions operating within the assemblage.
The claim of
later writers on mediation has been that it is only through empirical and historical research
that it is possible to analyse both how music and its meanings are constructed by wider
discursive and social formations, and how in turn music – its emotive, symbolic, corporeal
and material properties – become a resource, as Tia DeNora puts it, ‘for semiotic activity – for
doing, being and naming . . . social reality’.
DeNora summarizes her approach thus: ‘Music is active within social life: just as music’s
meanings may be constructed in relation to things outside it, so, too, things outside music
may be constructed in relation to music’.
Her emphasis is on agency, interaction and
‘world-building’; on how those who listen to music make connections, in their everyday
consumption practices, between musical and non-musical domains. Music is engaged in
constituting the self; it is set to do biographical, memory and emotional work in the creation
of self-identity.
Mediation in this sense refers to what DeNora calls the ‘co-productive’ or
two-way interrelations between music and social life. While drawing on Adorno, she insists
that these co-productive dynamics cannot be specified in advance. Instead, she stresses the
need to trace such connections empirically through a focus on ‘music-as-practice, . . . [on]
music as a formative medium in relation to consciousness and action, . . . [on] what music
makes possible’.
To refine this approach she borrows the concept of affordance from
perceptual psychology, where it refers to ‘what things furnish . . . [or] afford the observer’.
In DeNora’s words, ‘ ‘‘Affordance’’ captures music’s role as . . . a ‘‘mediator’’ of the social
....Ithighlights music’s potential as an organising medium, as something that helps to
structure such things as styles of consciousness . . . or modes of embodiment’.
25 Martin, Sounds and Society, 112; cited in DeNora, After Adorno, 34.
26 Jarvis, Adorno, 110.
27 See Born, ‘Understanding Music as Culture’ and Rationalizing Culture on the challenge of analysing tensions and
contradictions within diverse musical assemblages.
28 DeNora, Music in Everyday Life, 40.
29 DeNora, Music in Everyday Life, 44.
30 DeNora, Music in Everyday Life, 45.
31 DeNora, After Adorno, 46.
32 The idea of affordance was developed by Gibson (The Senses Considered as a Perceptual System; ‘The Theory of
Affordances’); quotation from Gibson, The Senses, 285; cited by Clarke, ‘Music and Psychology’, 118.
33 DeNora, Music and Everyday Life, 46–7.
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points, then, to the properties or potential of objects as they are proffered to and may be
engaged with or used by subjects. Her aim is to avoid the extremes both of radical construc-
tivism (the conviction that music’s meanings and uses are extrinsically constructed, whether
by discourse or social context) and of an equally unilateral musical determinism (the idea
that music’s effects are determined purely intrinsically, by its acoustical or formal proper-
ties). Taking my cue from its analogous application to the analysis of human-technology
I later employ the notion of affordance when discussing the properties of
music technologies.
Antoine Hennion, another formative writer on mediation, in his historical analysis of the
growth of the ‘love of Bach’ argues similarly that it is not enough to study Bach reception and
the development of a taste for Bach – that is, the production of musical subjects – without
grasping also the formation of their object – that is, both the Bach oeuvre and the recognition
of Bach’s genius. Bach affords a new way to love music; he is ‘both the object and the means
of our love of music’.
Hennion advocates a positive analysis of taste through an account of
its mediation: ‘Taste, pleasure and meaning are contingent [and] conjunctural; and they
result from particular intermediaries considered not as the neutral channels through which
predetermined social relations operate, but as productive entities that have effectivities of
their own’.
He contributes to mediation theory a stress on the enduring, long-term
potential of amateur practices, of innumerable individual musical ‘attachments’, to swell,
aggregate and thereby ground larger trends in musical tastes and markets, which themselves
have effects on the ‘music itself ’. Laudable in this approach is the aim of tracing the specific
practices and connotations that clothe music and endow it with meaning, and of taking
dissemination, attachment and the roles of amateur and music-lover in history as seriously as
those of composer or professional musician.
A fundamental theoretical question arising from these approaches is how to move beyond
the tendency, derived from interactionist sociology, to take the observable micro-social
patterns of musical experience and behaviour as the privileged locus for an analysis of
musical meaning, and as amounting to the entire socio-musical reality. If we accept that the
patterns of meaning projected into music are routinely stabilized, that they can attain some
kind of reproduction or closure over the long term, then it behoves us to ask under what
conditions this is so. Such stabilities of meaning can be repeatedly observed in music history,
as powerful discourses or metaphors come to structure musical experience; moreover they
are performative, conditioning future musical expressions and compositional practices.
Historically, it is this kind of stability that Goehr identifies over the longue dure´e of the work
concept. Lawrence Kramer points to similar processes with his notion of ‘constructive
descriptions’, meanings that attach themselves to music while appearing to be ‘its own
34 See, for example, Hutchby, ‘Technologies, Texts and Affordances’.
35 Hennion, ‘Music and Mediation’, 86.
36 Hennion, ‘Music and Mediation’, 84. His implicit target is Bourdieu’s negative account of taste as class domination
in another guise (see Bourdieu, Distinction).
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seeming’ and that have historial agency, installing ‘the past in the present’.
It is these
stabilities that Foucault captured theoretically with his concepts of discursive formation and,
later, apparatus.
But although such stabilities may be made up of many small acts and individual experi-
ences, they cannot be reduced to them. They depend on the construction of institutional and
economic foundations, authority and legitimacy, and charismatic figures; it is these that
provide for the power and reproduction of dominant Western music ontologies, as indicated
by Goehr and examined by DeNora in her account of the construction of Beethoven’s
These processes are central to my study of the computer music institute, IRCAM.
In this work I charted the rise of a certain aesthetic and philosophy of musical modernism
from the early twentieth century via the agency of its musical and critical proponents, its
social networks and institutional settings, its aesthetic boundaries and discursive contents.
By analysing the mechanisms of its cumulative cultural power, its methods of accruing
authority and economic strength via the charismatic leadership of its post-war champion,
Pierre Boulez, I was able to account for IRCAM-modernism’s remarkable capacity to stay the
same, to achieve an inertial, ‘mobile stasis’.
It is no coincidence that aesthetic stasis – the
ability to occupy large slices of historical time – may be taken to signify universality: if
the aesthetic is fertile and rich in invention, then surely nothing is lacking and there is no
need for significant change. We might call this state of affairs anti-inventive.
attempts to construct an enduring authority were evident too in its particular philosophy of
technology which, again, mobilized universalizing claims to model cognitive structures,
rather than adopt a more fragile and open sense of the specific aesthetic universe that the
technologies were encoding.
On social creativity: Gell and after
If the example of IRCAM requires us to probe the gap between the discourse of invention and
its actuality, it also illustrates a basic property of creativity: that it is social. Many influential
sociological analyses of art and cultural production affirm the social and distributed nature
of creativity. I refer here to the work of Janet Wolff on the social production of art;
Becker on art worlds;
Pierre Bourdieu’s account of the cultural field and the role of cultural
the structuralist and post-structuralist concern with codes, conventions
37 Lawrence Kramer, ‘Subjectivity Rampant!’, 128–31. Kramer’s historical hermeneutics point, however, to the need for
socio-historical analysis of how it is that certain meanings become dominant, cohering into cultural systems, while
others fade away.
38 On discursive formations, see Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things; on apparatus, see
Foucault, Discipline and Punish.
39 De Nora, Beethoven and the Construction of Genius.
40 Born, Rationalizing Culture.
41 Rationalizing Culture, 326; for this analysis, see chapters 2, 3 and 11.
42 On the concept of anti-invention, see chapter 9 of Barry, Political Machines.
43 See Wolff, The Social Production of Art and Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art.
44 See Becker, Art Worlds.
45 See Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production.
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and the institutions of authorship;
and the recent interest in intellectual property, copy-
right and the legal constitution of creativity and authorship.
The social and distributed nature of creativity is more obvious in large-scale, bureaucra-
tized, highly capitalized cultural industries such as film and television than in the individual
production of music and art. But banal observations on the complex division of labour in
modern media can obscure the more interesting point that, as Alfred Gell suggests in his
book Art and Agency in relation to a range of apparently individualistic and object-based
forms of art – from Polynesian and Melanesian carving, tattooing, fetishes and other
sculptures to Western painting and visual arts – all cultural production constructs and
engages relations not only between persons, but also between persons and things, and it does
so across both space and time. I want to explain more about Gell’s ideas, which I find in some
ways immensely fruitful in considering creativity.
Gell starts by stubbornly delineating the boundaries of his anthropological theory of art
and agency from the sociology of art worlds. He locates his account in a central anthropo-
logical tradition: Marcel Mauss’s analysis of gift exchange, in which prestations or gifts are
treated as extensions of persons.
It is worth noting at the outset that in rejecting links with
the sociology of art and art history, Gell impoverishes his approach. With its Maussian
perspective, it stands as much as an account of social relatedness or kinship, with the
exchange of art objects an element in their extended reproduction, as of artistic creativity per
se. Yet the anthropological scope that Gell adopts nonetheless yields tremendous insights.
His theory of agency in art centres on the idea that the objects that result from creative agency
condense or embody social relations, and that they do so by spinning forms of connectedness
across time and space. Through the art object, these social relations are distributed and
dispersed both temporally and spatially. But in the process the social relations are also relayed
and transformed, as are the objects themselves. The art object has a kind of career; it changes
not only via its changing interpretation in performance and reception, but it can change even
in its very physical form.
Gell points us towards an ontology not of persons and things, nor
of instants and processes, but of what the philosopher A. N. Whitehead, attempting to
transcend these dualisms, termed ‘events’.
46 See, for example, Foucault, ‘What is an Author’; and for a collection of essays exemplifying this tradition, Caughie,
Theories of Authorship.
47 On these issues in relation to music see Frith, Music and Copyright, and Frith and Marshall, Music and Copyright.
48 Mauss, The Gift.
49 It is striking also how similar aspects of Gell’s theory are both to Actor Network Theory, in its concern with the
construction of networks of connection between human and non-human agents (typically, texts, technologies and
other objectifications which bear semiotic inference and mediate social relations; see Latour, We Have Never Been
Modern, and Law, Organizing Modernity); and to Marilyn Strathern’s and Nicholas Thomas’s concern with distrib-
uted persons and with the ‘entanglement’ of objects, such that the properties of objects are only concretised by their
interrelations with other human and non-human actors (see Strathern, Property, Substance and Effect; Thomas,
Entangled Objects).
50 See Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, especially chapter 5, ‘The Romantic reaction’, on the concept of events
and their embeddedness in his theory of organic mechanism. Events can be defined as combinations of human and
non-human entities which have effects that are under-determined by context – which evidence, that is, retentions of
the past and protentions of the future.
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Gell’s illustrative stories take us from the nail fetishes of the Congo to a re-worked
Vela´zquez painting which Gell calls the ‘Slashed’ Rokeby Venus. Both are read analogously
for the trail of social relations that lie behind and are condensed in them. The creation of
the Congolese nail fetishes (Fig. 1) were described by a missionary anthropologist in 1906
A palaver [meeting] is held and it is decided whose Kulu [soul] it is that is to enter
into the Muamba tree and to preside over the fetish to be made. A boy of great
spirit, or else, above all, a great and daring hunter, is chosen. Then they go into the
bush and call his name. The Nganga [priest] cuts down the tree, and blood is said
to gush forth. A fowl is killed and its blood mingled with the blood that they say
comes from the tree. The named one then dies, certainly within ten days. His life
has been sacrificed for what the Zinganga consider the welfare of the people. They
say that the named one never fails to die....[The fetish is then carved from the
Muamba wood.] People pass before these fetishes . . . calling on them to kill them
if they . . . have done such and such a thing. Others go to them and insist upon
their killing so and so, who has done or is about to do them some fearful injury.
And as they swear and they make their demand, a nail is driven into the fetish and
Figure 1 Nail fetishes from the Congo region of Africa. Source: the British Museum, London,
MM023467; reproduced by permission of the British Museum. (Gell, Art and Agency, 60, Fig. 4.4/1).
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the palaver [business] is settled . . . The Kulu of the man whose life was sacrificed
upon the cutting of the tree sees to the rest . . .
The anthropologist’s account is of a chain of human and non-human agency, ‘an invisible
skein of relations, fanning out into social space and social time’, which is embodied in the nail
fetish, which is itself a bearer of potent agency. The resulting artefact – which Gell calls an
index – ‘[objectifies] a whole series of relations in a single visible form’.
Figure 2 shows
Gell’s representation of the chain of agency and relations in the index.
Gell’s analysis of the ‘Slashed’ Rokeby Venus (Fig. 3) is similar: he says wryly that this work,
‘though belonging to the West, has so far not entered the canon of Western art’.
The ‘Slashed’
Rokeby Venus is the work of a suffragette artist, Mary Richardson, and Vela´zquez. The work
only existed for a few months, before it was superseded by the ‘restored Rokeby Venusthe
work of Vela´zquez, Richardson and the National Gallery’s picture-restoration staff, which can
be seen in the museum today. However, Mary Richardson’s version of the picture was photo-
graphed, which is how we now know of it. Mary Richardson attacked Vela´zquez’s Rokeby
Venus in 1914 with a kitchen knife, slashing it deeply several times. ‘Slasher Mary’ gave this
account of her action in 1914: ‘I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman
in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, the
most beautiful character in modern history’.
Gell comments that
Richardson equated the woman in the picture (Venus) with Emmeline
Pankhurst, and the ‘sufferings’ of the picture with Mrs Pankhurst’s sufferings in
prison.... In effect, Mary Richardson was an artist who produced a ‘new’,
51 R. Dennett, At the Back of the Black Man’s Mind; or Notes on the Kingly Office in West Africa. 1906, reprinted London:
Haarlem, 1968, 93. Quoted in Gell, Art and Agency, 61.
52 Both quotations from Gell, Art and Agency, 62.
53 Gell, Art and Agency, 62.
54 Gell, Art and Agency, 64; Gell, in turn, takes the quotation from D. Freedberg, The Power of Images, Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1989, 502.
Figure 2 The fetish as an index of cumulative agency and as the visible knot tying together an invisible
skein of spatio-temporal relations. Source: Gell, Art and Agency, 61, Fig. 4.4/2; reproduced by permission
of Oxford University Press.
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modern Rokeby Venus, now a representation of Emmeline Pankhurst (standing
for modern womanhood as Venus stood for mythological womanhood)....The
contrast between the supremely controlled and detached agency exercised by
Vela´zquez...,andthefrenzied gestures of Richardson defacing the image so that
its ‘death’ corresponds to that of Pankhurst, creates the space in which the life of
images and persons meet and merge together.
The structure of relations and of agency traced by Gell that surrounds the ‘Slashed’ Rokeby
Venus are shown in Figure 4: the image can be conceived as an index that both condenses
social relations and itself has agency. Critical here is a distinction between the ways in which
all artworks are successively reinterpreted – in the repeated interpretations of the perform-
ance arts, and the evolution of interpretive communities – and Gell’s insistence on tracing the
projection of social relations into the object, and the effects of this projection in constituting
the object.
Gell on collective processes: the extended mind
Gell takes the analysis to another plane with a discussion of style in which he analyses the
‘relations between relations’ or transformational processes that link numerous instances of
Marquesan art. It is a heavily structuralist, indeed a Durkheimian reading, culminating in the
proposition that ‘the relationships among motifs and figures in the Marquesan art style are
55 Gell, Art and Agency, 64.
Figure 3 The Rokeby Venus by Vela´zquez slashed by Mary Richardson, 1914. Source: the National
Gallery, London; reproduced by permission. (Gell, Art and Agency, 63, Fig. 4.4/3).
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akin to the relations which existed, on the social plane, between the Marquesans them-
The word for images, Tiki, is the same as that for the original Marquesan ancestor,
the first man; just as individuals are seen by the Marquesans as ‘portions’ of the collectivity
they participate in and divide from – that is, individuals are fragments of the imaginary
totality of an indivisible kinship system – so Marquesan art objects are fragments of the
‘larger unities’ to which they belong by stylistic linkages. ‘Artworks are . . . portions of a
distributed object corresponding to all of the artworks in the Marquesan system, distributed
in time and space.’
This leads Gell to propose ‘the notion of a ‘‘corpus’’ of artworks as a kind
of spatio-temporally dispersed ‘‘population’’ ’, where such a corpus is a product of what he
calls the ‘extended mind’ – that is, externalized and collectivized cognitive processes.
telling, Gell’s analysis here hints at a kind of closure by echoing the traditional anthropologi-
cal topos of a bounded, homogenous social whole, whereas his critique of orthodox concepts
of art and agency, as we have seen, envisages a different ontology, one of mediation and the
forging of social relations, which need not invoke such closure.
Gell on time, tradition and innovation
But Gell goes further, introducing time into the frame. He does this by discussing the œuvre
of Marcel Duchamp and, by analogy, the stylistic unity of the architecture of Maori meeting
houses. At this point he draws on Husserl’s model of time-consciousness, itself coterminous
with Duchamp’s early work. For Husserl, concerned to probe the experience of event in
relation to tense, the same event is modified when apprehended from the point of view of
present, past or future. The past and future are themselves dynamic, continually altering in
cognitive time. Central to this dynamic experience of time is the existence of retentions
56 Gell, Art and Agency, 220.
57 Gell, Art and Agency, 220; italics in the original.
58 Gell, Art and Agency, 221 and 222.
Figure 4 The chain of relations and of agency surrounding the ‘Slashed’ Rokeby Venus; for Gell, ‘The
shared biographical space of persons and things’. Source: Gell, Art and Agency, 65, Fig. 4.4/4; reproduced
by permission of Oxford University Press.
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(memories or traces of the past) and protentions (projections or anticipations): the past is
always experienced through a retention of previous events – a construct of the present – just
as the future is experienced as a protention of possible eventualities – also a present construct.
Both constructs, of past and future, alter as the present evolves through the shifting relations
between prehending subject and prehended object.
Gell shows how such a Husserlian perspective illuminates the relations between works in
any artist’s œuvre: how later works are anticipated in earlier ones, and how retentions or
traces of earlier works are found in later ones. To illustrate, he argues that almost all of
Duchamp’s work from 1913 onwards was intentionally part of a single, coherent project. ‘It
is literally the case that Duchamp’s œuvre consists of a single distributed object, in that each
of Duchamp’s separate works is a preparation for, or a development of, other works of his,
and all may be traced, by direct or circuitous pathways, to all the others’.
An œuvre, Gell
concludes, is an object distributed in time, where the relations between individual artworks
map out a web of retentions and protensions (Fig. 5). He takes the corpus of Maori meeting
houses constructed between 1870 and 1930 as a collective instance of the extended mind,
proposing that it represents a composite object distributed in time and space (Fig. 6): ‘Maori
meeting houses may have been the collective production of many separate artists and
builders, working in separate communities at different times, each striving to produce
something distinctive; yet all are expressions of a common historical trajectory, a common
cultural system, of common ideological and political purpose.’ They embody the ‘physical
expression of ‘‘Maoridom’’ as a collective experience in [this] period’.
Gell insists that the
model works at an individual and a supra-individual level – for a corpus of works, or for styles
over time (or genres) that integrate particular instances of creativity into a higher-order
unity. The artefacts in such a network are not ‘symbols’ of another agency, placed elsewhere,
but are themselves forms of agency (or indexes, in his terms).
Finally, Gell draws out from this time-model the implications for theorizing tradition and
An artefact or event is never either traditional or innovatory in any absolute sense.
. . . A ‘traditional’ artefact . . . is only ‘traditional’ when viewed from a latter-day
perspective, and as a screen . . . through which its precursors are adumbrated. The
traditional object is grasped as a retention, a retention of retentions, and so on.
Conversely, an ‘innovatory’ object . . . is innovatory only on condition that we
situate ourselves anterior to it in time . . . so that we can likewise see it as a screen
through which still later objects may be protended, as a protention, protention of
protentions, etc.
What I draw from this is the interesting idea that invention can be grasped as the nature of
those objects (or assemblages) that enable the ‘protention of protentions’; or in Whitehead’s
59 I borrow the concepts of prehending subject and prehended object from chapter 2 of Whitehead, Process and Reality.
60 Gell, Art and Agency, 245.
61 Both quotations from Gell, Art and Agency, 252.
62 Gell, Art and Agency, 256.
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terms, those events that open out new possibilities not only for the next event, but for the
anticipation of the anticipation of . . . a series of further objects and events extended forward
in time. It is, of course, a property that can only be apprehended post hoc.
Where does this take us? In the rest of the article, and with reference to music’s engagement
with technology, I expand on Gell’s illumination of the four kinds of dispersal of creative
agency: the way that creative agency can be distributed across time, across space, the way it
forges relations between persons, and between subjects and objects. In developing these
themes, I offer a criticism similar to that I made earlier of certain mediation theorists: for all
Gell’s concern to defend the properly anthropological scale of his ideas, we cannot divorce his
analysis from the insights provided by sociology and history. This is because, for a theory of
creativity in art or music, the microsocial has to be reconnected with the macrosocial, and
with historical analysis. His own examples show this: Duchamp as the exemplary figure of
artistic modernity; Mary Richardson as exemplary of the invasion of art by other orders of
discourse (in this case by early twentieth-century feminist politics). I also return to ontology,
Figure 5 The artist’s oeuvre as a distributed object in time. Source: Gell, Art and Agency, 235, Fig. 9.4/1;
reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.
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proposing that music indicates how Gell’s scheme must be refined by reference to the
existence of distinct and changing ontologies.
Creative agency as distributed in time
It seems to me unarguably true that, as genre theory shows us, each art or musical work
constructs connections to both prior and future or prospective works: that it acts on time in
this dual way and can produce temporality – the ‘outer time’ of cultural history.
But I would
make two additional points. First, that in the existential condition of producing a work,
the retro, past-oriented and the anticipatory, future-oriented temporal agencies are not
symmetrical. The anticipatory is more speculative and uncertain. The new work can fail
convincingly to become part of the overall œuvre-in-formation. It can fail also to open up
new directions and to be generative of anticipations; that is, it can fail to be innovative.
Moreover, not every work that opens out further possibilities will be innovative. Conversely,
there are innovative works that fail to generate protentions – works that extend their creative
possibilities. It is therefore important to retain scepticism towards those styles or corpuses of
works which self-consciously adopt the appearance of innovation, but the component works
of which do not really add up to generative anticipation of the new. An obvious case are those
63 The contrast implied is with Schutz’s idea of ‘inner time’, influenced by Bergson’s concept of dure´e, as ‘the very form
of existence of music’ (Schutz, ‘Making Music Together’, 170).
Figure 6 The Maori meeting house as an object distributed in space and time. Source: Neich 1996;
reproduced by permission of Roger Neich and Auckland University Press. (Gell, Art and Agency, 235,
Fig. 9.6/3).
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twentieth-century avant-garde movements which clothe themselves in the rhetoric of inven-
tion, but which – for all this – result in a form of aesthetic stasis. As I mentioned, this is an
argument I make in relation to IRCAM: that the tradition culminating in IRCAM attempted
a kind of blocking of aesthetic alternatives through its hegemony; while the appearance of
innovation was effected by various displacements – through association with technological
change and progressive scientific discourses.
It is important, then, to build on Gell’s
account with reference to those aesthetic systems which, conscious of the value attached to
innovation, ape its appearance; and by considering those systems that, in reality, occlude the
anticipation of the new through anti-invention.
Secondly, outer or cultural–historical time is not innocently experienced. It forms part of
the calculative agency of musicians and artists. From at least the late eighteenth century, and
with greater burden through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, time consciousness and
intentionality are formed by discourses of art’s role in the reflection and speeding up of social
progress, by working concepts of artistic progress, vanguardism, radicalism and so on. And
philosophy colludes; it is performative. These processes have been examined by Renato
Poggioli and Peter Osborne, who show how ‘modernity’, ‘avant-garde’, ‘tradition’ and
‘postmodernity’ are categories of historical consciousness that inhabit European philosophy
at the same time as they mediate cultural experience and artistic practice.
Gell’s bounded
anthropological universe has, then, to be reconnected to cultural history in order to grasp
the different broader discourses of time and their internalization in creative agency, and
how they powerfully inform artists’ and musicians’ intentionality. Discourses of time are
entangled in and inform agency. The phenomenological account of innovation must be
coupled with due recognition of ‘innovation’ as a category and a preoccupation of Western
But while characteristic of art and high culture, this is not the limit of the insight. Research
on genre in popular music shows how variable such discourses of time can be in popular
culture. In a fascinating essay, Will Straw contrasts two historically coexistent genres,
industrial rock and electronic dance music.
Central to the analysis are the very different
temporalities (and spatialities) constructed by these musics, and by the subcultures that they
subtend: industrial rock a kind of static and repetitive, canonic classicism; electronic dance
music issuing a restless stream of innovation manifest in continual generic branchings
that result in a proliferation of sub-genres – in Gell’s terms, protentions, protentions of
protentions and so on.
Creative agency as distributed between persons, between subjects and objects, and across
space: from jazz to digitized musics
I want initially to distinguish two aspects of the social distribution of creative agency. First,
there are those relations spun between musicians or artists and their projected or envisaged
64 See Born, Rationalizing Culture, chapter 11, especially 314–27.
65 See Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-Garde; Osborne, The Politics of Time.
66 Straw, ‘Systems of Articulation’.
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listeners or audiences. Gell’s stress on the relaying of creativity through gifts exchanged,
artworks made and distributed, and on the dual nature of the process – its simultaneous
anticipation of social connections – is fundamental. It equates with the phenomenologist
Schutz’s account of ‘mutual tuning-in’ and of the construction by the musical work of a ‘we’,
of communicative relatedness, across chasms of time and space.
But to draw out the full
theoretical interest of this insight, it is imperative to see how this process varies, how it can be
systematized or negated – as in the history of the avant-garde, in which the necessity of any
immediate connection with an audience is rebuked, projecting such a connection over the
heads of present audiences into an ideal future.
Or we might take the opposite historical
tendency – how the connection between producer and audience has been rationalized
and scientized in twentieth-century mass media through recourse to market research: in
film through the screening of pilots; in television and radio through continuous audience
research. In these practices, reified, metonymic representations of the ‘audience’ come to
stand in for real audiences in the instrumental attempt by the industries to control the
uncertain circuit of production and reception.
Second, and for the remainder of the article, I want to consider the distribution of creative
agency between different producers, as in collaborative forms of musical authorship; and
between subjects and objects, human and non-human agents. I focus on the way that
electronic and digital technologies afford and enhance a dispersed and collaborative
creativity. If music notation and recording were the means by which musical ideas, and then
sounds, became spatially mobile – released, or alienated, from both place and co-presence
– then digital media have accelerated those processes. With centrifugal force, and more easily
than in its commodity forms, music is scattered, flung via the internet in near-real time from
any point of creation and departure to any number of points of destination. Moreover,
digitized music’s immateriality and hyper-mobility as code cause both the economic and
legal property regimes associated with the pre-digital era to become outdated and impotent.
This is all well established.
Writing on the electronic recording studio and its multi-track aesthetic and practice, Paul
Théberge has noted the contradictory tendencies of this analogue technology.
On the one
hand, there is its potential for a democratised and collaborative creative practice – as Chris
Cutler has it, echoing Walter Ong, a new orality that incorporates improvisation and realizes
the studio’s potential for an empirical and re-socialized music-making, one encapsulated in
popular music’s notion of the ‘group’.
On the other hand, he identifies the studio as a site
of rationalized and alienated musical labour, evident in the way that tracks are built up
67 See Schutz, ‘Making Music Together’.
68 See Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, and for a sociological account, Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural
69 For an account of the use and effects of systematic market research in television, see Born, Uncertain Vision,
chapter 7.
70 Chanan, Musica Practica and Repeated Takes; Taylor, Strange Sounds.
71 Frith and Marshall, Music and Copyright; Wallis, ‘Real Threats to Copyright?’.
72 Théberge, ‘The ‘‘Sound’’ of Music’.
73 See Ong, Orality and Literacy; Cutler, ‘Technology, Politics, and Contemporary Music’.
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through a sequence of separated, often individual takes in which any possibility of co-present
aesthetic response and mutuality is lost. The illusory organicism and simulated ‘co-presence’
of the resulting recordings, in which the edits are imperceptible, has made critics reach for the
concept of ideology: for whatever its governing vision, this is in reality a music made of bits
and pieces of players and performances, rendered as the idealized image of ‘community’ and
technical perfection in music.
Digital music media both extend these potentials and afford entirely new modes of
collaborative authorship. Through their capacity to ‘decompose’ aural and visual objects into
basic binary representations, digital media re-open creative agency. They do this by render-
ing musical, photographic and filmic objects, in the immaterial form of code, open to
re-formation, to repeated re-creation. That is, digital media supersede the capacity of
material artefacts to stop the flow of re-creation. Music shows this remarkably well: digitized
music, distributed via MP3s, CDs and the internet, is continually, immanently open to
re-creation. Distributed across space, time and persons, music can become an object of
recurrent decomposition, composition and re-composition by a series of creative agents. We
need a new term for this capacity: I suggest relayed creativity.
But similar potentials were evident in another guise in the analogue era. Innovative
practices of re-composition were central to a number of black electronic musics, including
dub, toasting, scratching, rap, hip hop and their derivatives. These were musics in which, in
performance and utilizing mundane technologies, sounds were remixed live with other
Théberge observes, ‘By isolating break beats and other bits of recorded sound and
music, DJs ([or] ‘‘turntablists’’) could extend and intensify the effect of rhythmic passages
and combine them with other music to create a new form of live, improvised music’;
goes on to track the mutation of these analogue forms into live mixes using digital sampling.
But the precursor of these practices, from which they were protended – albeit through a quite
different constellation of improvised performance and technological mediation – was jazz,
the prototypical African-American music of the twentieth century. Jazz’s ontology and its
embeddedness in a particular assemblage of mediations are portrayed in seminal studies by
Paul Berliner and Ingrid Monson.
From these studies jazz can be grasped as a lateral
assemblage, one illuminated by comparison with the vertical hierarchy of mediations charac-
teristic of the work concept.
The ontology of the musical work envisions a hierarchical assemblage: the composer-hero
stands over the interpreter, conductor over instrumentalist, interpreter over listener, just
as the work ideal authorizes and supervises the score, which supervises performance,
which supervises reception. In its idealism, manifest in the conviction that the work is not
74 See Toop, The Rap Attack; Hebdige, Cut ‘n’ Mix; Rose, Black Noise.
75 Théberge, ‘Technology, Creative Practice and Copyright’, 148.
76 Berliner, Thinking in Jazz; Monson, Saying Something.
77 I am aware of the dangers in referring to the ‘work concept’, ‘jazz’ and ‘digitized music’ as though uniform categories.
My defence is that only by treating them in this way, as akin to Weberian ideal types, is it possible to draw out
comparatively some core features of these complex musical cultures. I do not intend to fuel any evolutionist reading
of these musics as successive stages of historical development, nor to imply that they are isolated, immune from
mutual influence, or determined by technological change.
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instantiated in any particular material or social form, the philosophy of the work insists that
neither music’s objectification in recording (wax cylinder, vinyl disc, CD) nor music’s
sociality form part of the creative process. Indeed, at the same time that it effects hierarchies,
the work ontology disavows each of the three orders of social mediation set out at the start of
this article through its belief in music’s transcendence of the social. The sociality of music-
making, the embeddedness of the work in broader social relations of class, gender, race and
nation, its dependence on patronage or market exchange: none are understood as immanent
in the musical object; all are disavowed and denied.
Performance and recording are
adjuncts; recording spawns a proliferation of mere variant, commodified and reified inter-
pretations, none of which augment the work, in the sense of musically altering or extending
it. Movement is confined to changing traditions of performance and reception that, it is
believed, leave no trace in the primary musical object.
The work ideal is therefore experi-
enced as unchanging: it exists outside and supervises history. Yet paradoxically, it invites
historicism and an obsession with authenticity, a historicism that music’s commodification
and recording have only intensified.
The work ontology sits uneasily, then, with the
dynamics analysed by Gell.
The jazz assemblage, in contrast, is lateral and processual. Jazz entertains no split between
ideal musical object and mere instantiation, no hierarchy between composer as Creator and
performer as interpreter of the Word. There is no final, untouchable work that stands outside
history. This is not to deny jazz’s specific capacity for self-idealization, evident in a pro-
nounced metaphysics of (co-)presence. But jazz’s ontology is primarily material and social,
focused on the movement or oscillation between two phases, two crucibles of creative
practice. On the one hand, there is the moment of performance (P
) as a dialogical,
participatory creative act grounded in an aesthetics of collaborative improvisation, one that
entails a particular experience of musical intersubjectivity and place, in which the interaction
is at once musical and social. On the other hand, there is the capture of that moment in
commodity form by recording (R
), an objectification that is productive in enabling impro-
vised performance to be disseminated and known beyond its original time and location – in
which form it becomes the aural means of educating and socializing other musicians and
later generations, who are thereby empowered to create something new or to cover, re-work
or transform the original (P
) in subsequent improvised performances (P
The history of jazz is a history of this cumulative movement between focal musical
events – P
. . . – in which successive re-creations are afforded
and communicated both by recording technologies and by a détournement of the commodity
78 My use of disavowal and denial is indebted to Bourdieu’s concept of de´ne´gation, itself akin to Freud’s Verneinung,
which denotes also negation. See Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, chapter 2, and particularly the
translator’s note on 74, which refers to Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, 261–263.
79 But see chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Butt, Playing With History, where he amends Goehr’s analysis of the work ideal with a
subtler account of the changing historical interrelations between composition, notation and performance. For
example, his contention that for much of modern music history notation was ‘exemplary rather than mandatory’ and
that ‘the score can be considered as much the record or echo of performative acts and dialogues [including
improvisation] as the blueprint of a ‘‘work’’ ’ (113); or the evidence that some notated works were considered not
‘untouchable’ but malleable, depending on particular performance opportunities.
80 Butt, Playing With History, and Taruskin, Text and Act.
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In this way the distributed object that is the jazz corpus condenses and relays at once
subject-object relations, human and non-human agencies, and the social relations immanent
in its history and (re-)creation – the latter including both the immediate, dialogical socialities
of jazz performance, and the experiences of race and class articulated in this ‘black counter-
culture of modernity’.
In jazz’s distinctive ontology, as in that of many of the African-
American derived popular musics of the twentieth century, the sociality of music-making, its
musical issue, recording technologies, music’s commodity forms: all bear agency, all contrib-
ute to the composite musical object (or index). In marked contrast to the ontology of the
work, then, jazz embraces each of the three orders of social mediation, all of which – dialogical
creative and performance practices, the encompassing realities of race and class, jazz’s depen-
dence on commodity exchange – are experienced as integral to jazz’s aesthetic operations and
its socio-musical being. Monson demonstrates how the interactional qualities of jazz embody
African-American aesthetics as they are manifest in linguistic techniques such as verbal duel-
ling, mimicry and signifying, themselves characterized by ‘repetition with a difference’ and
ironic intertextuality.
By analogy, she explores jazz’s ‘intermusicality’, its inventive aesthet-
ics of musical allusion, parody and pastiche, suggesting in this way that jazz is a music ‘about
the relations between [different] musics’.
This is a music that exemplifies Gell’s analysis.
In light of this brief genealogy, it is possible to assess how digitized music both compounds
the jazz assemblage and is distinctive. Even more than its precursors, with music’s commod-
ity form rendered liquid as code, digitized music encourages an open sequence in which the
closing down of a musical object and its circulation are followed by its potential re-opening
and re-creation. The website ‘ccmixter’, for example, declares itself ‘a music sharing site
featuring songs licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up
or interact with music in whatever way you want . . . [and then] upload your version for
others to . . . re-sample’.
Similarly, in digital art music ‘the status of [musical] material
becomes extraordinarily fluid – what might have been a relatively complete musical ‘‘state-
ment’’ can reappear as a sample source for improvisatory inclusion in another work;
distinctions between ‘‘source material’’, ‘‘transformations’’ and ‘‘completed sections’’ are
contingent . . . [and] a degree of continuity is established between works’.
In both cases the
work is rendered provisional, its finitude or openness a matter of pragmatics. The conceptual
dualism of authenticity or artificiality is obsolete; there is no original and no copy, only
rapidly proliferating, variant versions (or materials). The musical object eschews any
absolute state as it is repeatedly relayed and transformed across time, space and persons.
81 For the Situationist International, détournement refers to the misappropriation of an object or activity from its
normal purpose, a key practice of subversion in commodity-based societies (Debord and Wolman, ‘A User’s Guide’).
I hijack the term to point to jazz’s inventive subversion of the commodity through its re-embedding in non-alienated
social relations.
82 Gilroy, The Black Atlantic.
83 Monson, Saying Something, 103–4; on signifying, see Gates, The Signifying Monkey. For a discussion of popular
music’s intertextuality, one that stresses popular music’s ‘otherness but also relation’ to ‘work thinking’, see
Middleton, ‘Work-in(g) Practice’ 72–3.
84 Monson, Saying Something, chapter 4; the phrase is from Bowers, ‘Improvising Machines., 29.
85 See the Creative Commons website, <> (accessed April 2005).
86 Waters, ‘The Musical Process’, reflecting on his own compositional practice as conditioned by digital technologies.
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Double mutability: digitized music and South Asian diasporic flows
I turn now to three examples in which music is engaged with digital technologies. In doing so,
I do not necessarily mean to endorse them, but to explore their implications as indicative
forms of contemporary musical mediation. A first example of the properties that I have
identified in action is the role that digitized music genres are playing in the formation of a
diaspora of affluent South Asian youth based in major urban centres in a number of
countries including Britain, the USA, Australia and Singapore.
Dhiraj Murthy is currently
studying the way that music circulating through the internet and via the diasporic Asian
cultural industries, music which is then ‘realised’ and remixed in local club performances
through the intercession of DJs, is binding these young people into a dispersed and global
subculture: ‘South Asian DJs in the subculture appropriate, through sampling, everything
from Brick Lane to Harlem to Bollywood to construct a music they label ‘‘Asian’’.’
result is a prolix hybridity of Asian and other musics. The music is formative of a sense of
collective ethnic identity. But the particular power of the music in this mediascape of
diasporic cultural flows is contradictory.
The mercurial speed at which the music circulates
on the internet, and its translation in each location from virtual form and spatial ubiquity
into the grounded materiality of performance, dance, bodies and place (whether in Bradford,
New York or Melbourne) and therefore new musical contacts, new musical hybridities, give
the music the property of mediating the extended social relationships that constitute both its
history and its (re)making. The ‘mutual tuning-in’ is both globally virtual and locally
corporeal. And the gift exchange continues; it does not end. Styles that were hip in Britain
reach New York four months later; they hit Melbourne a couple of months after, and
circulate on to Singapore and New Delhi. This is ‘diplomacy’ on a grand scale: music’s
agentive movement between and mediation of both a globally dispersed, virtual community
and a localized, co-present public; its oscillation between deterritorialization and place.
As Paul Gilroy has proposed, the microsocial sphere of co-present musical performance
and corporeal experience, the fluid roles in contemporary popular musics between
musicians, DJs and audience, favour the ongoing formation, in microcosm, of collective
identities – of ‘musically imagined community’.
Black identity formation ‘remains the
outcome of practical activity: language, gesture, bodily significations, desires.... These
significations are condensed in musical performance, although it does not monopolize them.
In this context, they produce the imaginary effect of an internal racial core or essence by
acting on the body through the specific mechanisms of identification and recognition
produced in the intimate interaction of performer and crowd’.
It is, then, the double
mutability, the flux-form-of-existence of digitized music, that gives it a special capacity in
spinning social connectedness. That is, first, its mutability in the guise of the oscillation
87 It is important to acknowledge here that access to the infrastructure of digitized music – personal computers, the
internet and downloading – continues to be unequal and to depend globally on high socio-economic status. The
potential of these technologies is therefore circumscribed, and their eventual scope cannot be known.
88 Murthy, ‘Globalization and South Asian Musical Subcultures’.
89 On the concept of the mediascape, see Appadurai, ‘Disjunction and Difference’.
90 Gilroy, ‘Sounds Authentic’; Born and Hesmondhalgh, Western Music and its Others, 35.
91 Gilroy, ‘Sounds Authentic’, 127.
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between an immaterial, globally spatialized internet form and a localized corporeal form, as
remixed sounds and performances – music’s capacity to shift between deterritorialization
and reterritorialization; and second, its mutability in terms of the potential for relayed
creativity, through cumulative hybridities, yielding a provisional musical work which both
retains and blurs the traces and boundaries of individual and collective authorship.
In short, what we see in these processes is the potential for a new music ontology, as
anticipated in jazz and implied by Latour: from the modernist logic of universality and
identity – the musical ‘I’ who, isolated and apart, appropriates and frames musical others
within the musical work – to one of the weaving and spinning of musico-social relatedness.
This is a music in process, predicated on the suspension of any master discourse – an
aesthetics of mutual encounter, of bridging and negotiation, not an aesthetics of appropria-
tion and subsumption of an other. It augurs a relational aesthetics,
one with roots in the
movement between performance and reified object and the dialogical musico-socialities of
Yet if digital media and their networks proffer in this way a new diplomacy in music, a
meeting of apparently incommensurable aesthetic worlds, they do not guarantee them.
Indeed what is striking in the South Asian youth diaspora studied by Murthy is that these
hybrid and motile musical powers result, at least in the contexts of their consumption, in
something suspiciously like new essentialisms, new exoticized conceptions of musical
‘Asianness’. Murthy’s sober hypothesis is that a range of Asian intra- and inter-racial essen-
tialisms are discernible, emanating variably from Asian and mainstream music industries.
In both this case and that of IRCAM, then, a hardening or involution of the processes of
mediation can be discerned. The methodological point is that the outcome of such processes
cannot be known in advance, but must remain open to empirical investigation; and that there
is a need to resist the equation of mediation simply with mobility or progressive change.
The fluid circuit of translations: subject becomes object becomes music becomes . . .
Another experiment in the negotiation of difference – here between subject and object,
humans and technologies – is evident in my next two examples. Both invoke a different
genealogy: that of the postmodern, experimental music initiated by John Cage and his
associates. In particular, they echo the commitment to live electronic installations and
improvisation manifest in the artisanal, low-tech bricolages of such experimental groups as
the Sonic Arts Union and Musica Elettronica Viva.
If the use of live electronics suggests
evidence of parallel invention to the black popular musics mentioned before, there is a telling
difference. For in this lineage, each instance of improvisation or installation is limited and
sufficient to itself; it generates only the performance event. Unlike the jazz genealogy, here
recording and its circulation in commodity form play no role in distributed musical
92 See Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics.
93 DJs, musicians and groups associated with this scene include Nitin Sawhney, Panjabi MC, Stereo Nation, Corner-
shop, Talvin Singh, Bass Dhol and Badmarsh & Shri Remix.
94 This is arguably a tendency in some contemporary sociological theory (Urry, Sociology Beyond Societies).
95 See Nyman, Experimental Music, chapter 5; and Born, Rationalizing Culture, chapter 2, especially 56–61.
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development; there is no cumulative creative relay, no building of an aesthetic language. In
experimental electronic music the emphasis is on open processes and unpredictability in
performance, and on the design of circuitry as itself a mode of ‘composition’; both point to
a refusal of the telos of the finished work.
Thought Conductor #2 (TC2) is a real-time performance installation conceived by artist-
engineer Bruce Gilchrist, whose work exploits raw neurophysiological material to generate
art and musical events.
In TC2 ‘the signals generated by an individual hooked up to an
electroencephalogram are converted in real time, via a relational database devised by soft-
ware writer Johnny Bradley, into a musical score’.
The score appears on monitors, ready to
be played by a string quartet. As the quartet plays the music derived from the wired
individual’s internal processes, the music affects the neurophysiology of the wired individual,
which in turn affects the derived EEG readings, the musical score, and so the quartet’s
playing. In TC2, then, music derives from a continuous circuit of mediations and transla-
tions which demonstrate the mutable boundaries and connections between human bodies
and subjectivities, scientific and visual representations, technologies and musical sounds.
Brainwave patterns are converted into immaterial form (EEG readings, digital signals),
which are translated into material form (the score, the quartet’s playing), and thence into
musical sound, and thence back into the responsive consciousness of the original (wired)
body. TC2 exemplifies multiple transitions between subject and object, or rather between
subject becoming object (EEG readings) and object (score, music) becoming subject (string
players, wired listener’s response).
In a knowing inversion of the stimulus-response model of human-machine interaction, in
which human agency is understood as driving a purely instrumental system, the musical
‘consciousness’ of TC2 is entrusted to the relational database. This software, which translates
functional brainwave patterns into musical instructions, encodes and proffers an aesthetic.
Its design was not left to chance but informed by research:
[We accessed] the creative process of a number of composers in Oslo. We
achieved this by making brainwave (EEG) recordings of the composers as they
made notations of spontaneous mental music in their own style. We then corre-
lated the notations with [their] brainwave recordings. This mass of interactions
[was] made into a database, forming a wealth of musical output possibility residing
on a hard-drive.
In TC2’s playful assemblage, creative agency is vested in an aesthetic machine, while human
agency dwindles to involuntary brain emissions and the standard musical gestures of the
96 On TC2, see the Thought Conductor web site, <>
(accessed April 2005).
97 Fraser, ‘Making Music Matter’, 173.
98 A clear precursor to TC2 was Alvin Lucier’s Music for Solo Performer (1965), in which the performer wired
himself/herself to pick up alpha brain rhythms, activated when the eyes are closed, which were then amplified
through ordinary hi-fi equipment and loudspeakers. Lucier was a member of the Sonic Arts Union. See Nyman,
Experimental Music, 89–91. I am indebted to John Bowers for this connection.
99 Quotation from the TC2 website (note 96), italics added.
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quartet. Rather than rendering human-technology interactions according to a ‘preferred
theory of subjectivity or sociality’, in TC2 the mediations and translations are themselves
conceived, as John Bowers puts it, as an ‘arena where our varied relations to machines can be
Having its ‘own sound’: the computer as encultured agent
A similar ontology of the machine as creative agent is apparent in a piece and a technology,
Voyager, created by the African-American composer and musician George Lewis.
But he
takes it further, deconstructing prevailing orthodoxies both of the universal, culturally
neutral machine and of human-computer interaction. Lewis, who held residencies at
IRCAM earlier in his career, has subsequently developed his work on the basis of a critique of
what he considers the Institute to represent in aesthetic, philosophical and technological
terms. Uniting in his person the genealogies of American experimental electronic music and
of the African-American tradition of free improvisation, notably Chicago’s AACM, Lewis
portrays Voyager as a computer music composition that intentionally constructs the com-
puter as having interactive agency and as endowed with particular aesthetic propensities.
This is no universal cognitive machine. For Lewis, ‘Notions about the nature and function of
music are embedded in the structure of software-based music systems and . . . interactions
with these systems tend to reveal characteristics of the community of thought and culture
that produced them.’
Lewis conceives Voyager as ‘a non-hierarchical, interactive musical environment that
privileges improvisation. Improvisors engage in dialogue with a computer-driven, inter-
active ‘‘virtual improvising orchestra’’. The computer program analyses aspects of a human
improviser’s performance in real-time, using that analysis to guide an improvisation pro-
gram that generates both complex responses to the musician’s playing and independent
behaviour that arises from its own internal processes.’
Lewis argues that ‘interactivity has
gradually become a [metaphor] for information retrieval rather than dialogue, posing
the danger of commodifying and . . . reifying the encounter with technology’.
aesthetic of variation and difference, he contends, is at variance with this paradigm. A
performance of Voyager exhibits multiple parallel streams of music emanating from
computer and humans – as Lewis puts it, ‘an improvisational, subject-subject model of
discourse, rather than a stimulus-response set-up’. To this end, the computer is endowed
with musical autonomy: it ‘does not depend on real-time human input to generate music; . . .
the program exhibits generative behaviour independently of the improvisor’.
Moreover the program’s simulated subjectivity embodies aspects of African-American
aesthetics, identified by Lewis as an ‘aesthetics of multidominance’. By this he refers to ‘the
100 Bowers, ‘Improvising Machines’, 23.
101 Released on audio CD: George Lewis, Voyager. Avant, 1993, catalogue number AVAN014.
102 Lewis, ‘Too Many Notes’, 1.
103 Lewis, ‘Too Many Notes’, 1.
104 Lewis, ‘Too Many Notes’, 5.
105 Both quotations Lewis, ‘Too Many Notes’, 4.
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multiple use of colours, [textures, shapes] in intense degrees’, in music the use of ‘multi-
dominant rhythmic and melodic elements’. Multidominance resonates with the AACM’s
practice of multi-instrumentalism, in which players performed numerous voices on a variety
of instruments. This ‘extreme multiplicity of voices [was] embedded in a highly collective
ensemble orientation’, permitting great timbral diversity. Extending the idea of the
computer’s aesthetic subjectivity, Lewis says:
In the context of improvised musics that exhibit strong influences from African-
American ways of music-making, . . . one’s ‘own sound’ becomes a carrier for
history and cultural identity....‘Sound’ becomes identifiable with the expression
of personality, . . . the assumption of responsibility and an encounter with history,
memory and identity. Part of the task of constructing Voyager consisted of
providing the program with its ‘own sound’, . . . a kind of technology-mediated
He links this in turn to the trope, found in a number of African traditions, of musical
performance as communication between two intelligences. The resulting improvising ma-
chine is one that ‘incorporates a dialogic imagination’, its interactivity based in ‘negotiation,
difference, partial perspective’.
In a wilful, reflexive anthropomorphism, Lewis inscribes
in the machine unprecedented quasi-human agency – aesthetic subjectivity, and a capacity
for intersubjective negotiation informed by the experience of alterity. He proffers, then, a
dialogical socio-technical-musical assemblage, one that models diplomacy and the ‘anti-
authoritarian impulse in improvisation’. The machine, we might say, de-instrumentalized.
I have suggested that theories of mediation, which I approached principally through the work
of Gell, offer a way of understanding both how meaning becomes attached to music, and how
music exists as a decentred and distributed object, with changing interrelations between its
component mediations. These perspectives reveal music to be a medium that makes mutable
some of the central dualisms of Western metaphysics: the separation of subject from object,
authentic from artificial, present from past, individual from collectivity. Routinely, as I have
indicated, music forms hybrids and transitions between these ‘pure’ states. In the face of such
complexities, it is unhelpful to divide the study of music itself from the study of its social,
technological and temporal forms. Rather than assume a division between music and its
sociology, theories of mediation from Adorno onwards begin from a recognition that music
exists in and through its complex and shifting mediations. Gell offers an account of media-
tion focused on the relational nature of such mediations, as they cohere into assemblages and
I have argued that music’s ontology and its mediation must be grasped as historical.
Although musical mediation takes place in specific, often local settings, it takes a number of
106 Lewis, ‘Too Many Notes’, 6.
107 Lewis, ‘Too Many Notes’, 7 and 8.
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characteristic historical forms. In this context, accounts of mediation need to address
technological, social and cultural changes heralded early in the twentieth century and now
sweeping across the production and reception of art and popular musics, developments that
signal a new ontology of the provisional work. Probing the mutual construction of music and
time, I have suggested that theories of mediation should move beyond the sphere of
micro-social interactions and trace the historical trajectories of musical assemblages, recon-
necting them to analyses of the macro-dynamics of cultural history and technological
change. The tendency to focus on music’s micro-social properties, while important, can
displace attention from two critical dimensions. First, how temporality is continually con-
structed and reconstructed in music, in the Husserlian sense of the shifting perspectives of
past, present and future. But in addition, the vantage point afforded by what Foucault called
a history of the present makes clear that, on the basis of empirical research, we must be alert
to both continuities and discontinuities in historical formations.
It is possible to discern
how the operations detailed in this article can lead not only to new openings in musical and
discursive possibilities – to invention – but also to closure, reification, discursive and musical
stasis, processes in which supervening forms of power are often at work. Through an analysis
of its mediations, finally, music is revealed as the exemplary locus of diverse modes of
creativity: social, distributed and relayed. In this way it offers unparalleled grounds for
rethinking creativity itself.
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36 Born On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity
Drawing primarily from unpublished archival data, this article reconstructs the Musicians’ Union long embargo on library recording in Britain (1965–1978), retracing the immediate as well as long-lasting implications of the ban for the shaping of library music practices and discourses. The article demonstrates how crucial relations with the Union were in shaping the nascent library music industry as well as the working lives of the many individuals and groups involved in it, including London-based session musicians and music publishers. More theoretically, the article argues for a horizontal, ecological approach to library music culture, acknowledging its many intermediaries and prompting us to consider (musical) history in its unfinishedness, heterogeneity and ambiguity. The methodological challenges of researching ephemeral or ‘secondary’ music are also highlighted.
Recent ethnomusicological research concerning affect has mostly favoured contexts with lively and flexible performance standards at the expense of traditions that emphasise strict restraint and conformity to prescriptions. This gap in understanding risks erecting a new orientalism, and so this study aims to prevent such a possibility by demonstrating how a ‘restrained’ performance tradition does indeed affect. The forms and arrangements of mediators are highlighted as critical to producing the uniqueness of affective experiences, and subsequently, a more diversified approach to studying affect is proposed by introducing and delineating the term ‘shades of affective experience’.
Music is both universal, appearing in every known human culture, and culture-specific, often defying intelligibility across cultural boundaries. This duality has been the source of debate within the broad community of music researchers, and there have been significant disagreements both on the ontology of music as an object of study and the appropriate epistemology for that study. To help resolve this tension, I present a culture-cognition-mediator model that situates music as a mediator in the mutually constitutive cycle of cultures and selves representing the ways individuals both shape and are shaped by their cultural environments. This model draws on concepts of musical grammars and schema, contemporary theories in developmental and cultural psychology that blur the distinction between nature and nurture, and recent advances in cognitive neuroscience. Existing evidence of both directions of causality is presented, providing empirical support for the conceptual model. The epistemological consequences of this model are discussed, specifically with respect to transdisciplinarity, hybrid research methods, and several potential empirical applications and testable predictions as well as its import for broader ontological conversations around the evolutionary origins of music itself.
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In this article I offer a history of the digital music archive at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR). Within the last decade, DR has complemented their music archive with an in-house digital music platform called /Diskoteket,1 on which I see not only a lively and educational space for making contextualized searches in regard to recorded and commercially released music, but also a determinative discourse on music information. As a conceptual point of departure I investigate the supposition that DR has an institutionalized understanding of music history, and building on this supposition I aim to throw light on the following question: how can an institutionalized music history at DR be traced in online music presentations?
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En 1974, Carlos Alberto Coba, para aquel entonces becario del Instituto Interamericano de Etnomusicología y Folklore, llevó de Ecuador a Caracas ocho cuadernos manuscritos con música de los siglos XVIII y XIX, con la idea de que formaran parte de la muestra Cuatro mil años de música en Ecuador. Allí serían expuestos y devueltos al terminar a su país de origen. Eso jamás sucedió. Los cuadernos se quedaron en Caracas, y con ello comenzó un viacrucis de enredos y malentendidos que continúa al día de hoy. El propósito de este capítulo es estudiar los innumerables avatares que han sufrido estos cuadernos a la luz del concepto de “archivo” desarrollado por Michel Foucault y Jacques Derrida. Tal aproximación nos permitirá aplicar a este caso particular el marco teórico desarrollado por estos dos pensadores, verificar hasta qué punto contribuyen a comprender cómo se generan los vacíos, los silencios, las fracturas, las regiones prohibidas, los saltos, las omisiones del archivo, y qué podemos hacer para solventarlos.
This paper provides an in-depth cultural analysis of the album Blue, by Mostly Other People Do the Killing – a detailed, note-for-note recreation of Miles Davis’s jazz classic, Kind of Blue. While the group’s undertaking has been widely regarded as a postmodern deconstruction of genre and history, this paper adopts a new materialist framework to demonstrate how the re-enactment makes perceptible the material contingency of sound and music. Focusing on the processes of emergence, it argues that Blue calls attention to the material-energetic flows that underlie both the production and reception of music. As such, the album might encourage us to rethink the notion of musical works via a materialist model of intensive forces and their immanent capture within musicking assemblages.
Music sociology has proven a fertile arena for the study and theorization of object–subject interaction, with the work of scholars such as Tia DeNora and Antoine Hennion marking its key contribution to the ‘new sociology of art’. Recent years have, however, witnessed no little debate amongst music sociologists about the broader purchase and value of such scholarship, especially considering its apparent challenge to Bourdieu’s critical cultural sociology. This article seeks to contribute to debates in this area by advocating a novel approach to questions about music’s relation to the social, one that seeks less to map the social distribution of taste profiles or explore how listeners make use of music’s affordances than understand the variable ways in which music emerges as something to be attended to (or not) in the first place. Drawing on recent work in relational sociology, the mature philosophy of pragmatist John Dewey as well as new materialist thought, this article explores the potential of a trans-actional prospectus for music sociology. This is an approach that advocates a ‘flat’ social ontology in order to focus on questions about the constitution and configuration of musical events. In so doing, the article argues that if we are to gain a better understanding of music’s varied relation to the social, it is necessary to transcend the residual substantialism implicit in ‘new sociology’ and mediation-focused accounts and adopt an approach capable of integrating concerns of object-ness, emergence and attention with questions of power and inequality.
The discipline of anthropology is, at its best, characterized by turbulence, self-examination, and inventiveness. In recent decades, new thinking and practice within the field has certainly reflected this pattern, as shown for example by numerous fruitful ventures into the "politics and poetics" of anthropology. Surprisingly little attention, however, has been given to the simple insight that anthropology is composed of claims, whether tacit or explicit, about anthropos and about logos--and the myriad ways in which these two Greek nouns have been, might be, and should be, connected. Anthropos Today represents a pathbreaking effort to fill this gap. Paul Rabinow brings together years of distinguished work in this magisterial volume that seeks to reinvigorate the human sciences. Specifically, he assembles a set of conceptual tools--"modern equipment"--to assess how intellectual work is currently conducted and how it might change. Anthropos Today crystallizes Rabinow's previous ethnographic inquiries into the production of truth about life in the world of biotechnology and genome mapping (and his invention of new ways of practicing this pursuit), and his findings on how new practices of life, labor, and language have emerged and been institutionalized. Here, Rabinow steps back from empirical research in order to reflect on the conceptual and ethical resources available today to conduct such inquiries. Drawing richly on Foucault and many other thinkers including Weber and Dewey, Rabinow concludes that a "contingent practice" must be developed that focuses on "events of problematization." Brilliantly synthesizing insights from American, French, and German traditions, he offers a lucid, deeply learned, original discussion of how one might best think about anthropos today.
This book is an important contribution to the philosophy of music. Whereas most books in this field focus on the creation and reproduction of music, Bruce Benson's concern is the phenomenology of music making as an activity. He offers the radical thesis that it is improvisation that is primary in the moment of music making. Succinct and lucid, the book brings together a wide range of musical examples from classical music, jazz, early music and other genres. It offers a rich tapestry incorporating both analytic and continental philosophy, musicology and performance-practice issues. It will be a provocative read for philosophers of art and musicologists and, because it eschews technicality, should appeal to general readers, especially those who perform.