The following samples are taken from the book
Noise: The Political Economy of Music by Jacques Attali. The open ended ideas in the writing can be used to comment on any form of music, but we have found it useful to connect it to the subversive, autonomous and political implications of techno.
It is a book of contradictions and enigmas – not least those concerning the author himself: a former advisor to François Mitterand he was lately the Head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development before he was forced to resign from his post because of scandals surrounding the amount of funds he had spent on furnishings for his office in Broadgate and his own private jet plane.
With this in mind Noise is the testament to the way that it is possible to use language to fabricate an aura of radicalism whilst remaining reactionary (ie. He is an academic). Or the book may be a heartfelt outburst, the secret scribblings of an
aide tramping the corridors or power and smelling smoke…
Or…a book 132 pages long.
Our science has always desired to monitor, measure, abstract, and castrate meaning, forgetting that life is full of noise and that death alone is silent…Noise bought, sold or prohibited ( “wholly or predominantly characterised by an emission of repetetive beats” – Clauses 58/60 CJB)…Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise.
Among sounds, music as an autonomous production is a recent invention. Ambiguous and fragile, ostensibly secondary and of minor importance it has invaded our world and daily life. Today it is unavoidable, as if, in a worlk now devoid of meaning a background noise were increasingly necessary to give people a sense of security.
Music heralds, for it is prophetic. It obliges us to invent categories and ew dynamics to regenerate social theory, which has become entrapped. Music makes mutations audible. It has always been in its essence a herald of times to come…if it is true that the political organisation of the twentieth century is rooted in the political thought of the nineteenth, the latter is almost entirely present in embryonic form in the music of the eighteenth century.
More than colours and forms, it is sounds and their arrangements that fashion societies. With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion. In noise we can read the codes of life, the relations among people. Clamour, Melody, Dissonance, Harmony. It is at the heart of the progressive rationalisation of aesthetics, and it is a refuge for a residual irrationality; it is a means of power and a form of entertainment.
Any theory of power today must include a theory of the localisation of noise and its endowment with form. Equivalent to the articulation of a space, it indicates the limits of a territory and the way to make oneself heard within it, how to survive by drawing one’s sustenance from it. And since noise is the source of power, power has always listened to it with fascination.
Eavesdropping, censorship, recording and surveillance are weapons of power. The technology of listening in on, ordering, transmitting and recording noise is at the heart of the apparatus. To listen, to memorise – this is the ability to interpret and control history, to manipulate the culture of a people, to control its violence and hopes.
The theorists of totalitarianism have all explained, indistinctly, that it is necessary to ban subversive noise because it betokens demands for cultural autonomy, support for differences or marginality: a concern for maintaining tonalism, the primacy of melody, a distrust of new languages, codes, or instruments, a refusal of the abnormal – these characteristics are common to all totalitarian regimes. They are direct translations of the political importance of cultural repression and noise control…to make music tranquil, reassuring and calm.
Everywhere we look, the monopolisation of the broadcast of messages, control of noise, and the institutionalisation of the silence of others assure the durability of power.
Musical distribution techniques are today contributing to the establishment of a system of eavesdropping and social surveillance – channels for the circulation of orders. The monologue of standardised, stereotyped music accompanies and hems in a daily life in which no one had the right to speak anymore.
The distinction between musician and non-musician undoubtedly represents one of the very first divisions of labour, one of the very first social differentiations in history, even predating the hierarchy of class.
What is called music today is all too often only a disguise for the monologue of power. Music now seems hardly more than a somewhat clumsy excuse for the self-glorification of musicians and the growth of a new industrial sector, the channelisation of desire into commodities to such an extreme as to become a caricature.
But a subversive strain of music has always managed to survive, subterranean and pursued, the inverse image of noise control: popular music, an instrument of the ecstatic cult, and outburst of uncensored violence. Here music is a locus of subversion, a transcendence of the body. At odds with the official religions and centres of power, these gatherings of marginals have at turns been tolerated, offered integration into official culture and brutally repressed (“13 people were arrested after 70 police in riot gear surrounded a derelict block of flats…barricaded by 200 party goers, some of whom threw missiles” – Liverpool, 1991). Music, the quintessential mass activity, like the crowd, is simultaneously a threat and a necessary source of legitimacy: trying to channel it is a risk that every system of power must run.
We are condemned to silence – unless we create our own relation with the world and try to tie other people into the meaning we thus create. That is what composing is. Doing soley for the sake of doing. Inventing new codes, inventing the message at the same time as the language. Playing for ones own pleasure which alone can create the conditions for new communication. A concept such as this relates to the emergence of the free act, self-transcendence, pleasure in being instead of having.
Composition thus appears as a negation of the division of roles and labour as constructed by the old codes. To listen to music in the network of composition is to rewrite it. The listener is the operator.
Composition, then, beyond the realm of music calls into question the distinction between the worker and consumer, between doing and destroying; its beginning can be seen today, incoherent and fragile, subversive and threatened, in techno’s anxious questioning of repetition, in its foreshadowing of the death of the specialist.