Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jacques Attali and "Noise"

In the interest of being consistent with my blogging, I'll not post for a month, and then post twice in three days. I've been reading Attali's "Noise," and wanted to stew over a few things. [1]

I've studied with a professor who has thought extensively about music according to the ideas of Rene Girard, so I've had a chance to come to terms with perhaps the most disturbing thought in the first two chapters of Attali's book, that music is a simulacrum for ritual murder. That train of thought is another blog post altogether, since agree or disagree, it forces you to consider the nastier aspects of music that most of us don't like to confront.

The thought I want to deal with today comes from the section "Music and Money." Attali states that in either the sense of classical economics or Marxist economics, "the composer of the score is unproductive."[2] Attali explains that someone is productive if their labor "contributes to the accumulation of capital, which creates surplus-value," and that someone is unproductive if their labor "if only of interest to the purchaser for the use-value of its product." A composer is unproductive because not only do they not produce capital, but there is no exchange of use-value. Ignoring the fact that Attali believes that some composers are unsalaried workers since they work on commission (something that obviously not every composer does), there seems a basic economic contradiction in this model when applied to classical musics. A composer is unproductive, since they don't generate wealth; however, for someone to generate wealth "as the employee of someone in the entertainment business," there is almost always a score. So, for wealth to be produced, there needs to be a composition, but the creation of that composition is fundamentally unproductive.

I understand that Attali believes that composers "create wealth in the capitalist mode of production while remaining outside of it," but what about other modes of production?. It was a heavy idea to chew over at 8 in the morning. How does this contradiction change how we think about composers or the act of composing? Should it? Feel free to comment.

Monday, August 23, 2010

First Day of School

To nearly everyone who reads this, today (or last week) marks the start of another academic year, and the start of my first year on the *other* side of the desks. Although I am partially envious of my friends who have gone on to their PhD programs, I have a few friends who are also teaching for the first time this semester. I'm hoping that we can trade ideas (and horror stories) (and funny stories), and that I can learn enough about the terminal degree process that there aren't a lot of surprises when I get there. If anyone wants to contribute a post about their activities this semester, either teaching or learning, drop one of us a line. The next post will probably be from Tyler, the newest regular contributor to our blog. Until then, I hope everyone has a good first day! I'll leave you with a great cover of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic."