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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Music As Medicine

For work reasons I have to read quite some music psychology and music sociology these days. Yes, I understand you envy me. After having read quite some of the stuff, one of the main topics turns out to be the way people use music as a "technology of the self"(say the sociologists, referring to French philosopher Michel Foucault) or - which basically is the same - as a "regulatory device" (say the psychologists, referring to the human being as a machine with buttons you can turn).

I am not sure if this analysis - music is a regulatory device, a technology of the self - is right. Yes, I often use music to match my mood, playing Bach on the stereo if I am feeling reconciliatory towards the world, and sometimes I even use music to change my mood, playing Simeon ten Holt on the stereo to fall asleep. (By the way, recently a psychologist has found out that people use music to fall asleep, and that most of this music is slow, easy-going, and without much dynamics - may I express my congratulations to science and humanity in general with this major breakthrough in knowledge?) And yes, I often use music to express myself, reason why I am learning to play the 5-string banjo by internet these days (prizes awarded to those of you who can explain which part of Me is expressed there), and sometimes use music to change the expression I want to convey to others, for example by occasionally wearing a black AC/DC-t-shirt while playing the bluegrass fiddle (which shows that wearing an AC/DC-t-shirt is considered by me as a form of musical behavior, a topic I will come back to soon) .

But it all sounds a bit cheap to me. I can't help having the same feeeling as the opera-lover I read about in one of those sociological articles. The sociologist in question wanted to do research about opera lovers, but the opera fan was - rather than being honored to be the object of study of a sociologist - reluctant and distrustful, and at some point asked the sociologist straight away if it would be possible for him that the opera fan was not a fan of opera to express his social status but because he liked opera, for reasons unknown even to himself?

Psychologists and sociologists are right: music may be used as a tool, a medicine for anything, by many people and very often. But that doesn't mean music ís a medicine. Rather, music is music; a human product of which we don't understand where it comes from, which has (despite all wild speculations to the contrary) no evolutionary benefits, but has so many characteristics that makes it usable for (there I go again) a million household uses (psychologist Eric Clarke and sociologist Tia DeNora would speak of the 'affordances' of music) that it pervades human life as little else.

Music is only able to work as a medicine because it is, in essence, so much more than a medicine.

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