Noise: The Political Economy of Music

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Manchester University Press, 1985 - Music - 179 pages
Listening - Sacrificing - Representing - Repeating - Composing - The politics of silence and sound, by Susan McClary.

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The book is divided in five chapters, Listening, Sacrificing, Representing, Repeating and Composing. His intention here was not only to theorize about music, but also to theorize through music, making some unusual and unacceptable conclusions about music and society, the past and the future. As he said in the first chapter of the book, “the cardinal importance of music announcing a vision of the world is nothing new.” He makes a comparison of a several different theoretical approaches and interpretations of music, mentioning Karl Marx’s “mirror of reality”, Nietzsche’s “expression of truth”, Freud’s “text to decipher”, general Zhdanov’s military interpretations, but also maintaining Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix said more about the dream of liberation in the 1960’s than any theory of crisis. He claims listening to music is listening to all noise, which makes one believe that its appropriation and control is a reflection of power, that it is essentially political.
According to Attali, noise is the source of power and the power has always listened to it with fascination. This statement is perfectly matched with the old saying “THE STRONGEST POWER IS THE ONE MAN IS NOT AWARE OF.” Attali’s “noise” is exactly that kind of power. Attali’s defining term of NOISE from the first till the last 148th page. In this case paraphrasing would take essence of its specific and profound interpretation, so here are some of them: “… in noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among man”, “…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”, “…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”.
Attali questions himself is a mankind able to make connection between aesthetic codes in form of music, and the political arrangement of society during the history. Are we able to hear the crisis of society in the crisis of music? Are we capable of understanding music through its relations with money? His answer is rather abstract and future oriented based on previous models that repeated during the history, and finally showed him clearly correlation between music and society: “Music is prophecy. Its styles and economic organization are ahead of the rest of society because it explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given code. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible, that will impose itself and regulate the order of things; it is not only the image of things, but the transcending of the everyday, the herald of the future. For this reason musicians, even when officially recognized, are dangerous, disturbing, and subversive; for this reason it is impossible to separate their history from that of repression and surveillance.” Defining musician as a prophet of its time, whether he was just a musician, priest or officiant, he believes it all was in fact a single function among ancient people. “Poet laureate of power” or ”herald of freedom” (as he calls the musician) is at the same tame in the society, which purchases, protects and finances him, and outside it, when he tends to be a treat to it with his visions. “Rumblings of revolution. Sounds of competing power. Clashing noises, of which the musician is the mysterious, strange and ambiguous forerunner – after having been long imprisoned, a captive of power.” Illustrating the power of musician’s vision, Attali tells us about the Charlemagne historical episode where he would forge the cultural and political unity in his kingdom by imposing the universal practice of the Gregorian singing, resorting to armed force to accomplish the end. In Milan, which remained faithful to the Ambrosian liturgy, hymnals were burned in the public square. “A vagabond until the



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