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Noise: The Political Economy of Music

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“Noise is a model of cultural historiography. . . . In its general theoretical argument on the relations of culture to economy, but also in its specialized concentration, Noise has much that is of importance to critical theory today.” SubStance“For Attali, music is not simply a reflection of culture, but a harbinger of change, an anticipatory abstraction of the shape of “Noise is a model of cultural historiography. . . . In its general theoretical argument on the relations of culture to economy, but also in its specialized concentration, Noise has much that is of importance to critical theory today.” SubStance“For Attali, music is not simply a reflection of culture, but a harbinger of change, an anticipatory abstraction of the shape of things to come. The book’s title refers specifically to the reception of musics that sonically rival normative social orders. Noise is Attali’s metaphor for a broad, historical vanguardism, for the radical soundscapes of the western continuum that express structurally the course of social development.” EthnomusicologyJacques Attali is the author of numerous books, including Millennium: Winners and Losers in the Coming World Order and Labyrinth in Culture and Society.


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“Noise is a model of cultural historiography. . . . In its general theoretical argument on the relations of culture to economy, but also in its specialized concentration, Noise has much that is of importance to critical theory today.” SubStance“For Attali, music is not simply a reflection of culture, but a harbinger of change, an anticipatory abstraction of the shape of “Noise is a model of cultural historiography. . . . In its general theoretical argument on the relations of culture to economy, but also in its specialized concentration, Noise has much that is of importance to critical theory today.” SubStance“For Attali, music is not simply a reflection of culture, but a harbinger of change, an anticipatory abstraction of the shape of things to come. The book’s title refers specifically to the reception of musics that sonically rival normative social orders. Noise is Attali’s metaphor for a broad, historical vanguardism, for the radical soundscapes of the western continuum that express structurally the course of social development.” EthnomusicologyJacques Attali is the author of numerous books, including Millennium: Winners and Losers in the Coming World Order and Labyrinth in Culture and Society.

30 review for Noise: The Political Economy of Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    In sum, the history of music should be rewritten as a political effort to channel violence through noise, which by its nature is unwieldy and acts as a safety valve, to put it too simply. This effort is as old as power. Specifically, music is said by Attali to have been first created as a way to commit symbolic violence against the other, to preempt the need for ritual murder which in "ancient" societies was the act that identified a scapegoat, an other, thereby giving everyone else a sense of In sum, the history of music should be rewritten as a political effort to channel violence through noise, which by its nature is unwieldy and acts as a safety valve, to put it too simply. This effort is as old as power. Specifically, music is said by Attali to have been first created as a way to commit symbolic violence against the other, to preempt the need for ritual murder which in "ancient" societies was the act that identified a scapegoat, an other, thereby giving everyone else a sense of tribal in-ness. As time went on, music became a representation, a mirror of its original purpose whose aim was to stand as spectacle. This period in musicality includes all of concert music and lasts into the 19th or 20th century. Finally, music moved into a period of repetition, where spectacle was no longer possible because everything was always the same. This was made possible by the advance of capitalism and technology. Even concerts, in this stage, trailed the mass-produced object in meaning and importance. Finally, there may yet be a final stage in musicality, a stage of composition, where people produce music for their own pleasure, without profit or repetition. Attali's purpose in tracing this history is economic and prophetic. (By training he is an economist, and he worked as a finance minister under Mitterand. Now he runs a microfinance NGO.) Because the production of music requires no labor, humanity can mold it infinitely almost as soon as it imagines some new political possibility. So relations are enacted through music that will eventually come to inform other areas of society, including economics and government. Thus we can look to music as a foreshadowing, which Attali demonstrates historically.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thorsten

    absolutely genius book tracing the origin and development of music, but so much more - showing music as a reflection of, and a precedent for, the structure of production within society, by focussing on the relationship between music, power and money. It takes it starting place atop Rene Girard's theory of memetic desire and the essential violence, showing musics birth and utility in the midsts of time amongst primal society and the ritualised slaughter of a scapegoat. That seemed a bit hard to absolutely genius book tracing the origin and development of music, but so much more - showing music as a reflection of, and a precedent for, the structure of production within society, by focussing on the relationship between music, power and money. It takes it starting place atop Rene Girard's theory of memetic desire and the essential violence, showing musics birth and utility in the midsts of time amongst primal society and the ritualised slaughter of a scapegoat. That seemed a bit hard to swallow at first but after reading a bit more depth via wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A... - i could go with it. The book describes four networks/stages of musical, and hence, societal, structures - sacrificial being the first, in which music was inscribed in ceremony and ritual, music was a very public thing and part of the background noise of life. 'Representation' is the second network structure, where music was abstracted from daily life, presented as spectacle, in concerts and private performances, where money was exchanged, charged for admission. This was reflected in society with the industrial revolution, where labour was also abstracted from ones own form of production and sold as an hourly commodity. 'Repetition' is the third network structure, and is brought about through the technology of recording, beginning with Edison's phonograph in 1877, as the commercialization of records began; this was reflected in society as a distribution of power as it dispersed throughout society, tying in well with Foucauldian ideas of power being intangible and elusive. The fourth and final stage of the musical production cycle he terms 'Compositional'. I was keen to see what examples he would give of this stage, but unfortunately the chapter is more open, more of a prediction of what is to come. He defines composition as the melding together of production and consumption, in which time and usage are not stockpiled as in repetition nor abstracted such as in representation. In composition, he presents quite a strongly optimistic view of society in which each person is personally responsible and powerful, living in the moment and taking pleasure in the act of production. Interesting to note the book was first published in france in 1977, so i'm not sure what effect or level of knowledge he would have had of punk at that point, as he never mentions punk. It can all seem quite prescient, as the idea of a compositional network can easily be imagined as first the DIY ethos of punk which fuelled the whole 80s and spread of lo-fi noise bands and music scenes, and as technology moved into the 90s and this present decade, how the widespread adoption and cheap cost of software has enabled mass amounts of young music producers, remixers, djs. How those same ideas and technology are also shaping society and the structures of power through open source software and open data movements, ideologies of transparent government etc. The history of copyright is also very impressively explained from original guild of copyists who were pissed at the invention of the printing press, so the law came up with the idea of "copy-right" for who could use these new printing press devices. AT first this only covered dramatic works, as music in the middle ages and into the renaissance was still very much a fluid part of society - still in its sacrificial/ritual network stage - With the move into the Representation stage of the 1700s and 1800s and the emergence of musical stars and celebrities, we see the first musical collections society forming in 1850 - SACEM in france, to "demand, on behalf of the authors and editors, payment of royalties for every representation of a musical work, regardless of its importance". This was to collect money for the composers for their works which were being published in song books and used in mechanical playback machines, but for which the original composers were not being paid. The birth of publishing rights. As another technology breaks the existing order - the phonograph - and the move into the Repetition network stage, the musicians and publishers were upset at not being paid for recordings taken of performances, and from here the need for mechanical copyright arises. aye, well recommended!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    This was some heavy and heady stuff. Attali posits that music (at least in Western culture and history) is not just a reflection of its social, political, and economic times but also a predictor of change, an abstract anticipation of the new conditions ushered in by these changes. He traces the development of music in Western society through its progressive positions as ritual, representation, spectacle, and repetition, elucidating what these have meant in terms of the production of music and This was some heavy and heady stuff. Attali posits that music (at least in Western culture and history) is not just a reflection of its social, political, and economic times but also a predictor of change, an abstract anticipation of the new conditions ushered in by these changes. He traces the development of music in Western society through its progressive positions as ritual, representation, spectacle, and repetition, elucidating what these have meant in terms of the production of music and the economic and political structures of each stage of development. Attali then posits the coming of a new stage, which he dubs composition, where music is produced individually for personal pleasure, and makes some conjectures about the political and economic conditions this stage may predict. I am going to be thinking about these ideas for a long time. Some of it resonated with me a lot, some I'm not sure I entirely buy. My two main criticisms are that Attali equates and conflates the content and form of music (e.g., atonality) with the way music produced and disseminated (e.g., the recording industry), and that he kind of ignores the role of the subjective experiences of musicians and listeners in favor of the workings of systems. On the other hand, I found a lot of his ideas about the end of the repetition stage and the possibilities of the composition stage very intriguing, and surprisingly prescient for a book written in 1977.

  4. 5 out of 5

    jamie

    Attali goes back as far as the middle ages to show how industrialism and capitalism have attempted to commodify music in the last 200 years, and how legislation has sought to discipline noise, restrict sound, and alienate both musicians and audiences from the cultural labor of creating music. But he also argues that industry has failed to complete this process, and that society not only has the power to reclaim music and noise-making, but that this reclamation is inevitable. While this Attali goes back as far as the middle ages to show how industrialism and capitalism have attempted to commodify music in the last 200 years, and how legislation has sought to discipline noise, restrict sound, and alienate both musicians and audiences from the cultural labor of creating music. But he also argues that industry has failed to complete this process, and that society not only has the power to reclaim music and noise-making, but that this reclamation is inevitable. While this over-arching thesis is compelling, Attali makes other arguments that are far more esoteric (that noise is murder and that music is like ritual sacrifice? That bubblegum pop music will destroy the family and eventual result in a sort of Brave New World where children are raised as pop stars from infancy?), and often in language that is dense and difficult to slog through. Attali is clearly a Marxist, so his rhetoric is somehow both thrilling and boring. He's also French, and while Massumi's translation is well-done and readable, it also captures how academic French tends to make everything sound really fascinating, but also really dull. But even if it's not the easiest read, Noise and the ideas contained therein are worth the effort, if you can find a copy. Highly recommended to anyone who expresses their love of music and/or noise by overthinking it and microanalyizing their favorite songs.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Levi

    Premise sounds good until you find Atali jumping through the extremes of employing a rigid/ mechanistic type of Marxist analysis and non-scientific postructuralist 'readings' Case in point: Atali equates noise to the raw, untamed violence beyond social order. Musical movements like Russolo' futurism are revolutionary for emancipating noise from the bourgeois romantic musical tradition. But this kind of analysis cannot account for the contemporary "noise" aesthetic common among artists regardless Premise sounds good until you find Atali jumping through the extremes of employing a rigid/ mechanistic type of Marxist analysis and non-scientific postructuralist 'readings' Case in point: Atali equates noise to the raw, untamed violence beyond social order. Musical movements like Russolo' futurism are revolutionary for emancipating noise from the bourgeois romantic musical tradition. But this kind of analysis cannot account for the contemporary "noise" aesthetic common among artists regardless of political leaning. The connection between the sonic arts and its inherent politics is not as clear-cut as Atali claims them to be.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Hurdis

    This book will change the way you think about music, unless you've already read books similar to this one (Adorno, Bataille, Dolar, or Goodman). Thinking about music as a product of labour is important and challenging. Attali provides a very interesting analysis of music as violence related to sacrifice. What is weak in this book is the connection to technology in musical production and reproduction. Even worse, perhaps, is that any discussion of leisure time vs. productive time, fixed capital, This book will change the way you think about music, unless you've already read books similar to this one (Adorno, Bataille, Dolar, or Goodman). Thinking about music as a product of labour is important and challenging. Attali provides a very interesting analysis of music as violence related to sacrifice. What is weak in this book is the connection to technology in musical production and reproduction. Even worse, perhaps, is that any discussion of leisure time vs. productive time, fixed capital, or knowledge production is absent. Regardless, as a a fairly short read this book will provoke thought.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is one of the three books that have changed the way I listen to the world. Attali posits that music is a leading indicator not of the health of the political economy, but the very structure of it. And as a bonus, it's not nearly as obtuse as most contemporary French philosophy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James Carroll

    An important statement about the challenges of the avant-garde, this book can sometimes read as a bit dated. It's still something that finds its way into most people's bibliographies when writing about contemporary music.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Henry Murray

    Bloody arduous.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amy Conrad

    I love this book. I have used it to enhance my reading of many texts, both fiction and non-fiction. Highly recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    As an investigation into the fetishization of music and the regression of listening, Noise: The Political Economy of Music manages to fail in interesting ways. Attali attempts to provide a historical investigation into the development of music from its origins in ritual through to the development of modern recording. To achieve this, he draws on an approach heavily influenced by Theodor Adorno and Critical Theory. The result is at times brilliant as it traces the economics of nineteenth and As an investigation into the fetishization of music and the regression of listening, Noise: The Political Economy of Music manages to fail in interesting ways. Attali attempts to provide a historical investigation into the development of music from its origins in ritual through to the development of modern recording. To achieve this, he draws on an approach heavily influenced by Theodor Adorno and Critical Theory. The result is at times brilliant as it traces the economics of nineteenth and twentieth century music production and reception and frustrating in its overly broad and oftentimes unsubstantiated claims of the ur-history of music prior to the age of capitalism. The failure of the book rests on three factors, each in its own way undermining the whole of the thesis. First, as a materialist history of music, the book takes in a much too broad aesthetic category over a too large period of time. In the nineteenth century alone, the divergent musical forms distributed over both high and low cultures would require a tome of considerable length, but Attali glosses over this and not only includes the one century but the entire history of music. As a consequence, we end up with the second factor undermining the book, a series of unsubstantiated generalizations such as music is ritualized human sacrifice. Attali does not have the time or the capacity to substantiate the claim, but instead relies on an interpretation of a work of visual art, Brueghal’s Carnival’s Quarrel with Lent, to assert his thesis. Finally, because the theory relies so heavily on Adorno, Attali fails to give sufficient consideration to the liberationist elements within music, so that musical innovation can only be reducible to market demand and exploitation. There is no dialectic of technological repetition. To this end, the book could use a little Walter Benjamin and the revolutionary potential of Technological Reproducibility. At the same time, though the book fails, it does fail in interesting ways. When Attali is focused on the political economy of nineteenth and twentieth century music, he does offer fresh insight into the economic exploitation of music. The history of copyright ownership, technical reproduction, commercial performance and innovation all reveal ways in which external economic factors drive music’s development in the last two centuries. In these discussion, Attali is at his best as he provides descriptions of how musical forms were developed or marginalized depending upon the markets and the technologies of different eras. The history of the relationship between music, technology and capitalist economics, essentially the process whereby music production became a monetized activity, are revealing and instructive for understanding musical history. Frustratingly, here where he is most interesting, Attali is also uninterested in providing a greater degree of depth because his theory of music as murder interferes with the much richer materialist dialectic between music and capitalism. I can’t say I would recommend this book. For a person interested in this general area of music theory, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll offers a much more interesting take on the relationship between technology, economy and music, one that is stronger because of its more narrow focus on twentieth century popular music in America.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chris and Yuri

    The idea that music is a manifestation of political power is probably disgusting to most people. But there is a reason we call people like Haydn "court" composers: Haydn wouldn't have happened without a patron wielding significant political and financial power. This isn't as interesting as where Jacques Attali takes us later in the book: that the devaluing of recorded music by technology, etc. will lead us all back into composition. In other words, Attali predicts a future in which people will The idea that music is a manifestation of political power is probably disgusting to most people. But there is a reason we call people like Haydn "court" composers: Haydn wouldn't have happened without a patron wielding significant political and financial power. This isn't as interesting as where Jacques Attali takes us later in the book: that the devaluing of recorded music by technology, etc. will lead us all back into composition. In other words, Attali predicts a future in which people will write and enjoy their own music, the way people in some communities are already growing and harvesting their own food. It probably sounded like a wild idea 30 years ago, but with the wide availability of things like Garage Band and WiiMusic, he may not be far off the mark.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    "Today, music heralds … the establishment of a society of repetition in which nothing will happen anymore … a society in which the informal is mass produced and consumed, in which difference is artificially recreated in the multiplication of semi-identical objects. The only possible challenge to repetitive power takes the route of a breach in social repetition and the control of noisemaking. In more day-to-day political terms, it takes the route of the permanent affirmation of the right to be "Today, music heralds … the establishment of a society of repetition in which nothing will happen anymore … a society in which the informal is mass produced and consumed, in which difference is artificially recreated in the multiplication of semi-identical objects. The only possible challenge to repetitive power takes the route of a breach in social repetition and the control of noisemaking. In more day-to-day political terms, it takes the route of the permanent affirmation of the right to be different … it is the conquest of the right to make noise … that is, the right to compose one’s own life."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of music, its development into a commodity, the history of what actually was commoditized, and, most importantly, music as something other than a commodity. Not an easy read and requires a considerable amount of attention, thought, and time, but obviously well worth it if you're interested in the above topics. Timeless relevant, which is good news, given that it's well over 30 years old. As a creator, I found it all inspiring, Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of music, its development into a commodity, the history of what actually was commoditized, and, most importantly, music as something other than a commodity. Not an easy read and requires a considerable amount of attention, thought, and time, but obviously well worth it if you're interested in the above topics. Timeless relevant, which is good news, given that it's well over 30 years old. As a creator, I found it all inspiring, particularly the description of the final stage: composition.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    An economist writes about music history, and how the art form is predictive of socio-economic movements throughout human history. Doesn't sound as interesting as it really is. He doesn't know everything about music and he's not 100% successful but his notion of composition, derived mostly from free jazz, provides the framework for a truly positive path for a creative life and society. It's too bad it was written in '78. It would be really nice to see what Attali would have to say about the An economist writes about music history, and how the art form is predictive of socio-economic movements throughout human history. Doesn't sound as interesting as it really is. He doesn't know everything about music and he's not 100% successful but his notion of composition, derived mostly from free jazz, provides the framework for a truly positive path for a creative life and society. It's too bad it was written in '78. It would be really nice to see what Attali would have to say about the subject in the present day.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tiny Pants

    I read this for class. I mean come on people, you know you don't read anything translated by Brian Massumi for fun! I'm glad I finally read it, as it's one of those books that gets cited everywhere, but I had no idea whatsoever what the author's argument is. Basically, Attali is looking to read Western European history through developments in music -- like that changes in musical style presage historical events. It's a bit convoluted at times, but does have a lot of interesting historical I read this for class. I mean come on people, you know you don't read anything translated by Brian Massumi for fun! I'm glad I finally read it, as it's one of those books that gets cited everywhere, but I had no idea whatsoever what the author's argument is. Basically, Attali is looking to read Western European history through developments in music -- like that changes in musical style presage historical events. It's a bit convoluted at times, but does have a lot of interesting historical digressions, like about the history of copyright law in France (yes, I'm a nerd).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sheikhah

    Very informative; I recommend it for those interested in knowing more about different kinds of sounds and their importance starting from mere music and songs and ending in social noise. The history of the evolvement of noise through time is chronologically divided. It is a translated text though and can sometimes get dense and challenging to follow. But all in all, liked it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andre Diehl

    Attali's survey of the relationship between music and capital has been barrel aged for 35 years but still maintains its sharp opening notes of Nietzsche followed by the rich, oakey, flavors of Foucault with a smooth, leathery, Marxist finish. The flavor holds up well against a nice piece of aged beef.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jin Kyun

    Historical and social analysis of noise/sounds and music. I recommend to those who wants to learn the power of sound itself. My quote for the book: "Noise will always require sacrifice, Noise is a sacrifice."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Reads like a economist turned literary theorist wrote a book about music. A little too ideologically focused in chapter 2, chapter 1 has good historical information, great nuggets in chapter 3, but the meat is in chapter 4 on composition.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Attali makes sweeping claims for music's ability to forecast future economic structures, but doesn't provide a lot of detailed evidence. I was not convinced that music (as opposed to visual art, philosophy, film) has any special power to predict economic superstructures.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kunihiro Maeda

    My future prediction method roots

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bennett

    i know it's wrong, but i keep going back to this old warhorse - first book of its kind i ever read, and it still rings in my ears.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kelley

    Jaques Attali is my absolute favorite author of all time. My political/philosophical hero. I've read at least five of his numerous books, more than once.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Klein

    A really good economic twist on music history

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    One of a handful of all time favorites.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    After reading this book I felt I had a better historical understanding of the current power structure for music and musician.

  28. 5 out of 5

    James Lavender

    a kind of insane speculation mixed with improbable rigour. self-fulfilling prophecy?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    One of my favorite books of all time! Takes some serious commitment to read, but every lover of music should do just that!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jsun

    i've read excerpts and outlines. psyched to tear though this lil guy.

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