Unreal Nature

May 22, 2012

Power and Its Opposite

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:40 am

… With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion.

This is from Noise: The Political Economy of Music by Jacques Attali (2011; 1977):

… Looking only at the numbers, in certain countries more money is spent on music than on reading, drinking, or keeping clean. Music, an immaterial pleasure turned commodity, now heralds a society of the sign, of the immaterial up for sale, of the social relation unified in money.

… Music makes mutations audible. It obliges us to invent categories and new dynamics to regenerate social theory, which today has become crystallized, entrapped, moribund.

Music as a mirror of society, calls this truism to our attention: society is much more than economistic categories, Marxist or otherwise, would have us believe.

Music is more than an object of study: it is a way of perceiving the world. A tool of understanding.

… Fetishized as a commodity, music is illustrative of the evolution of our entire society: deritualize a social form, repress an activity of the body, specialize its practice, sell it as a spectacle, generalize its consumption, then see to it that it is stockpiled until it loses its meaning. Today, music heralds — regardless of what the property mode of capital will be — the establishment of a society of repetition in which nothing will happen anymore. But at the same time, it heralds the emergence of a formidable subversion, one leading to a radically new organization never yet theorized, of which self-management is but a distant echo.

In this respect, music is not innocent: unquantifiable and unproductive, a pure sign that is now for sale, it provides a rough sketch of the society under construction, a society in which the informal is mass-produced and consumed, in which difference is artificially recreated in the multiplication of semi-identical objects.

… Undoubtedly, music is a play of mirrors in which every activity is reflected, defined, recorded, and distorted. If we look at one mirror, we see only an image of another. But at times a complex mirror game yields a vision that is rich, because unexpected and prophetic. At times it yields nothing but the swirl of the void.

Mozart and Bach reflect the bourgeoisie’s dream of harmony better than and prior to the whole of nineteenth-century political theory. There is in the operas of Cherubini a revolutionary zeal rarely attained in political debate. Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix say more about the libaratory dream of the 1960s than any theory of crisis. The standardized products of today’s variety shows, hit parades, and show business are pathetic and prophetic caricatures of future forms of the repressive channeling of desire.

… More than colors and forms, it is sounds and their arrangements that fashion societies. With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion. In noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among men. Clamor, Melody, Dissonance, Harmony; when it is fashioned by man with specific tools, when it invades man’s time, when it becomes sound, noise is the source of purpose and power, of the dream — Music. It is at the heart of the progressive rationalization of aesthetics, and it is a refuge for residual irrationality; it is a means of power and a form of entertainment.

Everywhere codes analyze, mark, restrain, train, repress, and channel the primitive sounds of language, of the body, of tools, of objects, of the relations to self and others.

All music, any organization of sounds is then a tool for the creation or consolidation of a community, of a totality. It is what links a power center to its subjects, and thus, more generally, it is an attribute of power in all of its forms. Therefore, any theory of power today must include a theory of the localization of noise and its endowment with form.

… Science, message, and time — music is all of that simultaneously. It is, by its very presence, a mode of communication between man and his environment, a mode of social expression, a duration itself. It is therapeutic, purifying, enveloping, liberating: it is rooted in a comprehensive conception of knowledge about the body, in a pursuit of exorcism through noise and dance. But is is also past time to be produced, heard, and exchanged.

Thus it exhibits the three dimensions of all human works: joy for the creator, use-value for the listener, and exchange-value for the seller. In this seesaw between the various possible forms of human activity, music was, and still is, ubiquitous: “Art is everywhere, for artifice is at the heart of reality.” [Baudrillard]

… It is a mirror, because as a mode of immaterial production it relates to the structuring of theoretical paradigms, far ahead of concrete production. It is thus an immaterial recording surface for human works, the mark of something missing, a shred of utopia to decipher, information in negative, a collective memory allowing those who hear it to record their own personalized, specified, modeled meanings, affirmed in time with the beat — a collective memory of order and genealogies, the repository of the word and the social score.

But it reflects a fluid reality. The only thing that primitive polyphony, classical counterpoint, tonal harmony, twelve-tone serial music, and electronic music have in common is the principle of giving form to noise in accordance with changing syntactic structures.

… The noises of a society are in advance of its images and material conflicts.

Our music foretells our future. Let us lend it an ear.




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