concepts : Denis Laborde
The strange career of »Musicoclash«
It would be pointless to think too long over the term musicoclash. As a participant in the dance of neologisms which this exhibition sets in motion, it is an amused echo to the Iconoclash devised for this occasion by the specialists of the visual image. My musicoclash is nothing more than the acoustic version of the visual Iconoclash; which amounts to say that it is a welcome notion indeed. In essence it is a gesture—claimed to be musical in nature— which produces disorder inside a system of representation of the world. Whether this disruption is deliberate or not is of little importance, what matters only is that this gesture creates trouble; that a great deal of fuss is made over it; that it is debated; and that it is often heavily, although not always openly, sanctioned. The flood of words concerning it, which is broadcast in the media or stored in archival deposits, is considerable.
Thus Machaut was suspected of heresy, Bach was ostracized from Leipzig’s community as early as 1729, the jazz composer Bardo Henning was made responsible for perverting the German national emblems on the occasion of the Tag der deutschen Einheit [Day of German Unity] of 1998, the pop singer Serge Gainsbourg was accused of turning the Frenchmen’s La Marseillaise into »a drug addict’s ditty« … In late summer 2001, crowds of demonstrators assembled in front of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France to protest against the outlawing of raves, while at the same time closely-fought political debates were shaking the Assemblée Nationale which had set out to devise an »adapted legislation« for techno’s musical trances. These are a few instances of musicoclashes to be found in this exhibition. One might also add the daring creations of a John Cage or a Carl Michael von Hauswolff, who both explore the moment when music becomes silence, or, in the punk mode of excess and saturation, the Sex Pistols’ audacious pieces.
These episodes are musicoclashes in that they raised debates which exceeded a strictly musical frame. Whether the argumentative strategies drew on religious or artistic, moral or political domains matters little; whether insult, perjury or provocation, outrage or blasphemy were alleged. What matters is that they were discussed. An action must be incriminated and words must incriminate. There can be no clash if the gesture is taken as a pleasant joke. To the contrary, a musicoclash may be best recognized in the attentive and sustained censorship it attracts from legislating powers drafted in for the occasion. In all these cases, what is debated when a musicoclastic gesture occurs is whether a reference—whether it is religious or artistic, moral or political—may or may not be culturally appropriated. These debates question foundational symbols, signs of belonging, and ritual forms which have shaped a shared culture and which are suddenly challenged by the violence of a gesture dissatisfied by the status quo.
Musical anthropologist and researcher at the CNRS [Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique]
Denis Laborde studied at the Conservatoire national Supérieur de Musique [Paris] and as a conductor dedicated himself to contemporary music. He then studied anthropology at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en sciences sociales [Paris], working on musical ethnology in Western cultures. He currently conducts research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique [CNRS] and is a member of the Mission Historique Française en Allemagne [Göttingen]. His research interests include both improvisation in relationship with the cognitive perspective and »musicoclashes«. He is writing a book on Steve Reich's opera Three Tales.
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