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.

[1] I want to clarify that my knowledge of Marxist thought comes from reading Adorno and Wikipedia, which might not be the best foundation for critical understanding.

[2] All quotations refer to pgs 38-39.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that Attali is referring to the "work" under copyright law as the unproductive labor (since it does not produce surplus value), while the score, or "representation" of the "work" (composition)produces surplus values and thus is productive.