Cultures, i (1974), no.1. New Patterns of Musical Behaviour

Unesco et la Baconniére/ HMSO




The new Unesco periodical will appear quarterly ]n separate English and French editions, and is available (on a subscription basis only) from HMSO. Its first volume devotes nearly 300 pages to “Music and Society”. The English version inaugurates a new genre; not science fiction; but art fiction. It relays mysterious messages from some other world , in which Unesco has been at the forefront of musical life everywhere for 25 years, contributing enormously to the diffusion and knowledge of music, which has itself become a universal language-the only one, to judge from the present text. Perhaps this is no-one's fault. Transcendental French in translation always sounds like Teilhard de Chardin, for whom communication was difficult to the point of excommunication. On present evidence, there is intelligent life in Paris. Some rare spirits are trying to make contact; but the medium hasn't got the message. Here's a typical manifestation from Pierre Schaeffer on “Sound and Communication” : “Such is the canonical decomposition by waggonloads of the train which runs through this fertile country from aesthetics to symbolism, from the symbol to muscular effort, from the muscle to the frequencies, from the frequencies to the auditive nerves, and from the nerves to you know what”. You may, but I don't; and there are waggonloads more on the same lines. In the original French, this essay (and those of Frangois Màche on “Musical Composition Today” and Alfred Willener on “Music and Sociology”) may well be lucid and penetrating. But in translation, some terms of what the editor calls “the equation Sound + Musician + Society = Communication merely remind usthat one appropriate suffix is “-phony”.

   In this rarefied atmosphere, even the English contributions sometimes sound weirdly garbled. Joseph Eger on “The Audience Revolution” - certainly exemplifies his thesis that the arts are in a state of confusion. He begins by saying that now­adays it is as if the artist writes in cipher, while the atom has shed its mystery. But then, hey presto!, music becomes a new international language, and the atom contains a whole universe. We are not told how the cipher was rendered so much less mysterious, and the atom so much more so.This is just how things happen in that other world, where (we are assured) many scientifically-minded people have come to accept astrology, and the word “vibrations” or “vibes” is widely employed to denote the emanations of an inner spirit. If vibrations, - especially in vacuo, - give you the shudders, steer well clear of these brain-waves.

   The prose style of R. Murray Schafer on “The Music of the Environment” also suffers from the odd attack of the vibes. “When the yogi recites his mantra, he feels the sound surge through his body. His nose rattles. He vibrates with its dark narcotic powers.” The reader feels amazement surge through his mind. How did that nose become not only dark but narcotic and vibrant? By taking the whole thing with several pinches of snuff, perhaps: A pity; this intelligent dynamo could have illuminated new regions of experience, if only the Niagara of notions and name-dropping that thunders over these pages could have been diverted and harnessed.

   Edith Gerson-Kiwi on “The Musician in Society: East and West”, and Tran van Khe on “Traditional Music and Culture Change” are both notable for their discipline in every sense. Jack Bornoff writes perceptively on “Technology, Techniques and Music”; and his five candid camera interviews are the highlights of this volume. Perhaps some of the views are under-developed and some of the subjects over-exposed. But the sharp focus takes some memorable snapshots, as follows. Berio makes a fitting case for music as an instrument of intellectual development. Boulez eloquently advocates eclec­ticism; music, he says, suffers from too many snubs and too many snobs. The Menuhins explain that many factory workers have immense leisure but don't know how to use it; as the failure of Arnold Wesker's centre showed, “all they wanted was Knees up Mother Brown and a glass of beer”. Ravi Shankar says that musicians were once arro­gant because their future was assured; but that has now entirely changed, at least in India. Andrew Lloyd Webber reveals the secrets of the creative process. He writes most of the music, and Tim writes most of the lyrics afterwards. “Then we kick them around together”. Thus unto us a Superstar is born. The heart of the mystery is that “nobody has ever used microphones and technical equipment in quite that way”.

   Rock of ages indeed. Its foundations have been expertly surveyed by Kurt Blaukopf in his exemplary factual and analytical report Young Music and Society: an Essay in New Patterns of Behaviour. That same text also underpinned a symposium held in Vienna in 1972 under the aegis of the International Institute of Music, Dance and Theatre. The pro­ceedings, now published as New Patterns of Musical Behaviour, include some 30 other papers from specialists in youth musical activities in 18 countries. The resulting pattern-book will suit students of comparative popology. But most of the researchers (like their subjects) employ highly sophisticated means for extremely naive ends; and after the prelude, all is centrifugal. A typical title is “The Politico-Cultural Aspects of Beat in Copenhagen”. Thence we move to Bucharest, Moscow, Vienna and so on. But each particular capital yields little general interest. Surely an industrialized art-form needs an overall view?

   The widest perspective comes from John Paynter in his preliminary sketch for the York experiment. This five-year project, to be financed by the Schools Council; isdesigned to investigate Music in the Secondary Schools. It is said to be “as far as possible, an unprejudiced exploration of possibilities”: Yet from the title onwards (“Music Education and the Emotional Needs of Young People”) the essay repeatedly assumes, and nowhere argues, that the function of music in education is to “meet emotional needs”. If you think this sounds more like therapy for neurotic invalids than education for healthy children, well, that's just typical of your prejudiced attitude - to which Mr Paynter prefers his own. His planned first step is to ask “What is this school for?”, and then “Where does music fit into this school's particular scheme for” - guess what­ – “meeting the emotional needs of young people ... ?”.

   So now we know how far the exploration can get without prejudice, namely as far as its second question, which begs the first. This is just not far enough for someone who is so evidently equipped with ideas, enthusiasm and musicianship, and is quite possibly poised on the verge of a major breakthrough into a rich and rarely explored territory - how best “to educate that part of intelli­gence which is concerned with feeling. An admirable and perceptive aim; but not one that justifies the replacement of intelligence by feeling in the conduct of the inquiry itself. Otherwise the opponents of Mr Paynter's thesis will be able to say that such projects are designed to meet the emotional needs of researchers. This publication will prove timely and salutary if it draws attention, even belatedly, to the need for an objective approach. It may smack of the old school to say that the first need of pupils is for discipline rather than involvement; but the former is surely the first need of scholars.       


The Musical Times, May 1975 (pp. 441-442) © the estate of eric sams