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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bookshelves and Biographicity

Yesterday I was at Groningen's 'Night of Art & Science' to give a presentation on the functions of music in everyday life.

After the presentation, a man asked me a good question. He said: "There is a saying that in order to know who someone is, you just have to study his bookshelf. Could you say the same about someone's music collection?"

The answer is clear: no. (I gave it so quickly that he remarked that I did not sound as a researcher at all...)

The secret of the meaning of music lies not in the music collection. It lies in the stories behind the music collection. It is possible to find two people with exact the same collection who attach a completely different meaning to that same collection because of their completely different experiences with the same music.

Simple and straightforward. But at the same time the bookshelf-idea shows one of the most persistent ideas about the value of music: that the value of music resides in 'the music' - and with 'the music' we mean the idea that music is a thing, a 'work'; and that there is something inherently valuable in that work. Eventually the discourse behind it in our culture becomes the discourse of artistic exclusivity: Beethoven in the collection: great! Alban Berg: even better! Rieu: no need at all to even think about taking thát seriously...

But, as I mentioned many times before, music is not a thing. It is human behavior. It is the relationship between the individual and the 'humanly organized sounds' the individual meets on his way through life. And the value of music lies in that relationship; not in 'the music' (as the musical connoisseur seems to think), and not in 'the individual' (as some psychologists seem to think), but precisely in the in-between.

And because this relationship is essentially biographical, music is a matter of what my Doktorvater (I love that word) Peter Alheit calls 'biographicity': the way in which we, on the basis of our biographical experiences, take in the world and try to make sense of it.

Music is the process of making sense of 'music'. Nothing more, nothing less.

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