There are two musics (at least so I have always thought): the music one listens to, the music one plays. These two musics are two totally different arts, each with its own history, its own sociology, its own aesthetics, its own erotic; the same composer can be minor if you listen to him, tremendous if you play him (even badly). (Barthes, 1992, p.231)
The dichotomy presented by Barthes is interesting for PaaLabRes because it places music in an activity to be done whereas it is often only presented as a product to listen to. We will try to understand how important this distinction is for the diversity of music practices.
The music to be listened to is not very difficult to define: it is what we generally call « Music ». This is the implicit definition found in the (many) aphorisms on music:
« Music drives out hate in those who are without love. » Pablo Casals
« Without music, life would be a mistake. » Friedrich Nietzsche
Music is here no more than a pure sound product with which we are confronted, which could only exist for the ear. As a product, music is adorned with extra-ordinary virtues, even with magical powers that can go as far as saving man (it works even better with « the poor fellows » generally considered as cultural sinners). Even in the attempted distinction proposed by Duke Ellington – « There are only two kinds of music: the good and the bad » – music is still conjugated in the singular, because reduced to the one function: to be listened to.
But the consequence of this is that to be listened to, the music must be well played. Music to be listened to – and I do not speak here only of classical music – has to be made by specialists, played by specialists who have learned to do it with specialists, thereby excluding, without realizing it, a common practice of music.
Even if one thinks of the multiplicity of music in as many different musics as there are styles (rock, jazz, classical, variety, experimental, etc.), these musics always have in common the fact of being well played.
Yet, in Barthes’ quote, the most important point lies in the parenthesis “(even badly)”! The difference between music to be played and music to be listened to is contained entirely in this parenthesis. Barthes defines it as « the music that you or I can play, alone or with friends, with no other audience than its’ participants (that is to say, safely removed from any risk of theatricality, any hysterical temptation) ».
For us, we prefer to use the term « music to be made » instead of « music to play », it retains the sense that Barthes attributes to it in the last sentence of his article: “What is the point of composing, if it means confining the product to the concert hall or the loneliness of radio reception? To compose, at least by propensity, is to give to be made, not to give to hear but to give to write.” “To make” seems to us less symbolically weighty than “to play” (obviously, music is always played!) and than “to write”. Although it points to the idea of a fabrication, the verb “to make” implies above all the idea of an ordinary, banal, or common act.
In order to exist, the music to be listened to, however, must be produced in extra-ordinary and spectacular conditions: the concert. The systematization and sacralization of concert practice in the nineteenth century made us conceive all music as a music to be listened to, by putting the communication relationship between a producer and a receiver at the center of the device. The room and the moment of the concert were exclusively turned towards the activity of listening. The advent of recording has further amplified – in both senses of the word – this relationship to music. The only difference between the concert and the recording lies in the temporal and spatial separation of the places of production (concert hall, recording studio, etc.) and reception (living room, car, etc.). Recording, thought of as fixing the playing and affording a possibility of infinite re-listening, has made the ear even more demanding of a product well played, even « perfect » which eliminates possible imperfections of the playing (just notice the time spent and efforts made in re-recording, editing and mixing a recording to polish the sound product). But what one gains in musical « purity » or « quality », one could well lose in the diversity of practices…
In the media, music is currently often presented as a recorded/listened to music. For example, a widely published article, ‘French people ready to sacrifice their TV rather than music’, resuming a recent survey, presents music as a product whose consumption, that is to say by listening, is essential to the proper functioning of a home. d’un foyer. However, it’s not just about « music to listen to » in this article. The last sentence quotes with astonishment, practices that can fall into our category of « music to do »:
More fun, 10% of respondents admit to being surprised by their loved ones dancing naked, 23% indulging in » air guitar « , or 30% training in front of a mirror.
But the way of presenting these practices marks them directly with the stigma of a certain inadmissibility…
If music to listen to is above all a product, whose focus on the quality to be achieved hides the social, ecological and political conditions of its production, music to be made is primarily a social activity whose end can not justify the means. Mistaking one for the other, to assume they are the same, means the musical death of the latter.
Singing in the shower, playing in your room, singing loudly over a radio, scratching a guitar by the fire with friends, playing a piece of Bach badly, playing a quartet with only three instruments, and so on, are all invisible practices because « unspeakable » – we can not call them « music » – especially where musicians who produce music to listen to are taught: the conservatory. We should therefore be able at least to specify the circumstances of the production of « music », even more so in the places where it is taught, in order to avoid any « misunderstanding », so as not to take one practice for another. It is certainly this that gives rise to the misunderstanding of what « making music » means: the use of the substantive « music » without explicitly attaching the circumstances of its production.
To illustrate explicitly the circumstances of production of the object « music », let us try to finish by clarifying what is generally implied in the expression « to learn music » in the conservatory:
Is to learn classical music
that is to say, learning classical music in a classical way
that is to say, learning with others to read a score written in the Western language stabilized in the nineteenth century with a music theory teacher and learning to play alone a modern musical instrument of equal temperament with a teacher of the same instrument of modern music of equal temperament to be able to then rehearse with other musicians who received the same training, but on another modern musical instrument of equal temperament with a teacher of this modern instrument of equal temperament, to form the set that corresponds to the nomenclature of the piece of Western art music composed by a genius between 1685 and 1937 in order to interpret this under the direction of a conductor as correctly as possible on the raised stage of a concert hall adapted to receive a public also adapted.
If this definition has at least the merit of being clear, perhaps allowing one to avoid some misunderstanding, it could nevertheless in the long run prevent any practice of classical music by displaying too crudely its conditions of production, today implicit but nevertheless very real, as a director of one Conservatory says: “A musician who comes here to simply play in his room, ultimately has no place here.” So we may be interested in maintaining the misunderstanding and in being not too explicit about what is expected so as not to discourage those who play in their room … and who do not particularly want out. However, and without going as far as an impossible description of the specific conditions of each practice, one could nevertheless wonder a little more about the different models of practice that exist and thus not limit oneself to using only the categories of practice provided by the institutions and their actors. By developing practices centered as much on the music « to be made » as on the musical product « to listen to », or to put it differently on music as a social activity, as much as on an artistic practice separated from everyday life, one could give the possibility of a legitimate existence to practices other than those aimed at an endless perfection induced by the practice of performance on stage, even if these other practices remain in their room.
For further reading:
Barthes, R., « Musica practica », L’obvie et l’obtus, Essais critiques, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1992, p. 231-235.
Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J.-C. (1965). Language and relationship to language in pedagigical situations, in Rapport pédagogique et communication, Bourdieu, P., Passeron, J.-C., & Saint Martin, M. de., Paris La Haye Mouton.
Bozon, M., Vie quotidienne et rapports sociaux dans une petite ville de province : la mise en scène des différences, Lyon, Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1984.
Chagnard, S., (2012) Modèle de pratique et pratique du modèle en conservatoire – Un musicien, c’est fait pour jouer. Master’s research essay under the direction of G. Combaz – Institut des Sciences et des Pratiques de l’Education et de la Formation – Université Lumière Lyon 2.
Lahire, B., « Logiques pratiques : le “faire” et le “dire sur le faire” », in L’esprit sociologique, Textes à l’appui, Paris, Éditions La Découverte, 2005, p.141-160.
Levine, L. W. (2010). Culture d’en haut, culture d’en bas : l’émergence des hiérarchies culturelles aux États-Unis. Paris: Éditions la Découverte.
. ”The gravity of the linguistic misunderstanding in the pedagogical report stems from the fact that it has to do with the code. (…..) Learning means acquiring knowledge and inextricably, acquiring a knowledge of the code by which this knowledge is likely to be acquired. In other words, the code can only be learned here through the less and less clumsy décryption of the messages. No doubt this is the logic of all real learning either in the case of diffuse socialization or acculturation, but is not pedagogical communication entrusted precisely to technicians of learning whose specific function is to work continually and methodically at minimizing misunderstanding about the code? » [Bourdieu & Passeron, 1965, p. 15]