Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening Paperback – Jul 31 1998
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"Christopher Small has something of the guru's gift of saying wise things in the simplest but also most engaging way. The book is instructive and enlightening, interesting to think about, and even to differ with . . . stimulating and rewarding." (Ross Chambers)See all Product Description
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But Small, as I said, wishes to challenge this. What we need, instead, says Small--is to resort to the verb -"to music." To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, listening, by rehearsing, or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is commonly called composition), or by dancing. This is true for active participation or passive participation, and Small means it in a descriptive, not prescriptive sense. To take part, is for Small, the important aspect over all--for it refers to the forging of relationships.
Small discusses at length the structure and evolution of modern spaces in which Western classical music is musicked. As the repertory has fossilized, modern orchestras have doubled since WWII. These spaces are built, especially in developing countries and growing metropolitian areas, as signals that these communities have reached a certain threshold of intellectual and cultural "development." Not only do these buildings rise as a sign of certain attitudes and assumptions about the world, they enforce those codes for others in the community---that classical music is a sui generis cultural form in its own right. Also, these halls typically enforce a kind of continuity with European past, particularly Renaissance or Ancient past. Not too many Gothic music halls.
Typically the space has a portion devoted to purchasing tickets (permission to enter this space) and to pick up tickets already purchased--which is the preferred entrance method culturally. There are at least two spaces inside--one smaller one designed for standing and talking, seeing and being seen. The other is very large, opulent, and designed for individual ceremonial seating--to inspire a sense of grandeur. Concert hall seating is designed to inscribe a one-way enclosed directional flow of value, rather than a reciprocal or multivalent direction, as in other forms of musicking. There are no outside windows in a Concert Hall. This is certainly different than in previous centuries, where this music would be played as part of a lively social scene which included many other facets.
Here in this new Concert space, the past is visited always in terms of the present. Rather than the historical past, we visit a mythical, idealized past through concert ritual---Small refers to it as a "theme park" made safe through canonization of works, bits and pieces of biography, and smug, safe distance.
One of the most significant contributions Small brings to the musicking table is his discussion of the anthropologist Gregory Bateson's philosophy of mind. In a refutation of Cartesian dualism, Bateson postulates that in their ability to respond and adjust to information received from their environment, all organisms have the property of mind. Thus, wherever there are patterns of matter called life, there is mind. In giving and responding to information, organisms shape their environments and each other, just as they are shaped by their environment and each other. These exchanges of information and respsonse creates a network of relationships that all activties of life and its environment are embedded in. Knowledge constitutes a relationship between knower and known--certainly interwoven with both context and content in these relationships. Thus, to try to gain knowledge of all things would to try to forge a priviledged position with respect to all things--domination.
These relationships are mediated by language, according to Small and Bateson--but it usually a language of gesture, rather than of words. Gestures are multivalent, complex, and often contradictory forms of communication, all at once. But in communicating gestures, the end parties of the relationship (relata) are not named--they are taken for granted. Thus what is gestured is the relation itself--an "affirmative" and "here-and-now" form of communication. Gestures are iconic, and yet still reflect a choice of representations. Drawing on the work of American philosopher Mark Johnson--Small elucidates Bateson's gestural language in terms of what Johnson calls 'metaphorical thinking."----and what Small winds up with ultimately is a somatic theory of knowledge--a bodily epistemology, if you will.
Thus, music we like makes us feel good in that it enacts relationships we belong in. We may also feel bad if we sense the illusory nature of those relationships. We may feel distant or upset if the relationships evoked are not what's "really going on" or are not ones we fit or belong in. But the experience of the relationship belongs more to the world of gestural paralanguage, rather then discursive verbalness. So words cannot fully express it. But nor is it simply emotive.
According to Small, there is no such thing as "absolute music"--musical works that exist solely to be contemplated aesthetically and abstractly. To take part is a musical work, either as performer, listerner, or janitor, is to take part in a dramatic representation of personal relationships, which is no less real for having numbers for a title or not having a written libretto. The distinction between music and that evoked by the music -"extra-musical" is thus collapsed--dramatic meanings taken from the piece are part of the musical meaning of the musicking.
The brilliance of this book lies in its use of the philosophy of somatic and ritual knowledge as productivity, and an willingness to untangle the sociocultural threads that enmesh any musical performance. This rightly deemphasizes musical emotivism and formalism, and allows us instead to examine the cultural phenomenology that is at work in any act(s) of musicking. However, the connections between emotion and gesture in the book are less than fully elaborated, and without that it is difficult to know precisely how to handle the emotions that are evoked in musicking, and so attempting to structure the relationships between emotions and bodily knowledge becomes confusing.
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