ON THE FETISH-CHARACTER IN MUSIC AND THE REGRESSION OF LISTENING: EDWARD MACAN ON THEODOR ADORNO

EPISODE 20 MUSIC ON PHASE SPACE

At one time, music, through impulse, subjectivity and profanation was the adversary of materialist alienation. These days though, music has become corrupted by the allure of commercial success and now it conspires with authority against freedom. Musicians, as representatives of the opposition to the authoritarian schema, have become witnesses to the authority of commercial success. In the service of success they renounce that insubordinate character which was theirs.

It’s Alright, We Told You What to Dream

“individualistic tendencies are liquidated and flawlessly arranged pieces of music are perfectly performed.

The composition hears for the listener. This is how popular music divests the listener of his spontaneity and promotes conditioned reflexes” Structural standardization leads listeners to regard commercial music as “natural,” and anything that deviates from it as “unnatural”.

Furthermore, commercial music promises to deliver two things people desire from their leisure time: novelty, and “relaxation which does not involve the effort of concentration at all”

“To escape boredom and avoid effort are incompatible,”

“The people clamor for what they are going to get anyhow”

FETICHISM

Musical appreciation degrades to “fetishism” — particularly a vulgar materialistic fascination with the technical material of music. For musical materialists, it is synonymous to have a voice and to be a singer. Today, the material as such, destitute of any function, is celebrated. To legitimate the fame of its owner, a voice need only be especially voluminous or especially high. The voice or instruments are made into fetishes and torn away from the function which gives them meaning — the eliciting of moments of sensual pleasure in the idea.

COMMODITY AS FETISH

TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE

“pseudo-individualization”:

the illusion of free choice in the market which lets a listener pick which of the pre-digested music they “prefer”. It must be illusory, or people would resist it. There must also be a like-dislike dichotomy (I like Metallica and dislike Megadeth), despite the “fundamental identity of the material” in order to allow the listener to feel in control.

“It leads the listener to become enraptured with the inescapable. And thus it leads to the institutionalization and standardization of listening habits themselves. Listeners become so accustomed to the recurrence of the same things that they react automatically.”

REGRESSION OF LISTENING

Not only do listeners lose, along with freedom of choice and responsibility, the capacity for conscious perception of music, but listeners come to stubbornly reject the notion that any such perception is possible. They listen atomistically and dissociate what they hear.

“regressive listening is tied to production by the machinery of distribution, and particularly, by advertising.”

“Distraction is bound to the present mode of production, to the rationalized and mechanized process of labor to which, directly or indirectly, masses are subject. This mode of production, which engenders fears and anxiety about unemployment, loss of income, war, has its “non-productive” correlate in entertainment; that is, relaxation which does not involve the effort of concentration at all.”

“Resistance is regarded as the mark of bad citizenship, as inability to have fun, as highbrow insincerity, for what normal person can set himself against such normal music?”

In order to serve reaction, technical development must establish itself as a fetish. By perfecting techniques, the neglected social tasks are represented as already accomplished.

STRAVINSKY AND SCHOMBERG: THE TWO SCHOOLS

The creators of new and radical music do not just aim to contribute to musical progress. They consciously aim to resist regressive listening and battle against those powers which destroy individuality in society. The terror which Schoenberg and Webern spread, today as in the past, comes not from their incomprehensibility, but from the fact that they are all too well understood.

Their music gives form to that anxiety, that terror, that insight into the catastrophic situation which others merely evade by regressing. These musicians are called individualists, and yet their work is nothing but a single dialog with the powers which destroy individuality —

SCHOENBERG

“totally alien to each other and, in their accordance, actually hostile to each other”

“it points out the ills of society, rather than sublimating those ills into a deceptive humanitarianism which would pretend that humanitarianism had already been achieved in the present.

Stravinsky’s Primitivism

“he has excavated the buried origins of music; as, for example, the events of The Rite of Spring might well evoke the simultaneously complex and, at the same time, strictly disciplined rhythms of primitive rites”

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THE ACID TEST

REGRESSION OF LISTENING

THE REGRESSION OF LISTENING

“the composition hears for the listener.”

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