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Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Politics of Music Talk, part II

I have to give some elucidations from a different angle on the previous blog entry - the malignant one about the way classical music's Radio 4 speaks to me and my daughter.

The previous blog entry was written from emotion; from my experience; from a 'phenomenological' standpoint, if you want, describing what listening to those voices while driving my car does to me. This blog entry will try to give some distantiated thoughts about it. Those thoughts were triggered by reading an article by Charles Goodwin in which two professional ways-of-dealing-with-the-world are described: the archeologist's and the policeman's.

Goodwin's article showed that professionals not just look at objective facts in the world. They have a specific way of looking at the world, which creates the facts they see. Archeologists, by knowing how to look, create archeological traces by their way of looking; a policeman, by analyzing a video of the beating of Rodney King, can create a way of looking at the video in which King becomes an aggressor and the policemen beating him up are simply performing professional police work (they are performers, rather than human beings).

What struck me while reading the article was not only the mere fact that people create their world by being 'in' it. What  struck me were the power relations involved. In the Rodney King case, attorneys succeeded in convincing the jury that the policemen's account - in which King was the aggressor - was the valuable account not because it was necessarily true or better, but because it was the account of a professional. The policemen beating King were in court supported by a professional way of looking at video images and turning those images into distantiated, scientific talk. King, initially, was supported by 'just' a common-sense viewing of the images. And as Goodwin so aptly states: "Victims do not constitute a profession",

It is something similar that bothers me in the 'official' music world I work in. Music, in that world, is an area of expertise; an area of expertise which requires experts doing the talking about playing music and listening to music. It is, as any area of expertise, an exclusive area of expertise, an area in which some people have more expertise than others and in which speaking time is allotted to people on the basis of their expertise, which is judged on their proficiency in the specific expert language belonging to that area of expertise.

In other words: talking publicly about music, or deciding about it, can only be done either by the specialists or after having consulted the specialists. That's why 'ordinary' people are so reluctant to talk about music in public - "I know nothing about it, really". And that is also why many 'non-specialist' music lovers do not understand - often are not even interested in - the formal music world: it's a world inhabited by another species speaking another language.

To be radical: this specialist music world is not a world of disinterested specialists, of people who simple know a bit more. It is also a world of people possessing the power of public speaking and defending that by many (sometimes by any) means.

But that tide actually is changing (to quote Dylan again - compare my last blog entry). Less and less, music is considered to be a professionalism; less and less, people are in awe of the opinions of the music professionals; and less and less, people feel that their musical lives should be sanctioned by the expert in our formalized music world in order to be worthwhile. And more and more  people feel free to do 'their own thing' (which is not only simply 'their own thing' - but that's another topic).

The thing is that many of the experts themselves don't seem to realize that. They feel, maybe, that they are losing their power of professional expertise. But it seems to me that they mistakenly think that this power will be reinvested in them as soon as they will have convinced enough people that their expertise is the only worthwhile basis for truly legitimate ways of 'musicking', really.

Which will not happen. Hence the volcano in the previous blog.

Charles Goodwin. 'Professional Vision.' American Anthropologist 96/3 (1994).

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