Those few cultural theoreticians who have written about music in a socio-historical setting have done so in retrospective fashion; a symphony might, for example, reflect the dynamic of its own time, or of a slightly earlier time. Jacques Attali's great originality is in his proposal that music does not just reflect society; it also foreshadows new social formations in a prophetic and annunciatory way. Attali - a professional economist and advisor to French president Mitterrand - argues in Noise that the tools commonly used for economic and social theorising - language and mathematics - no longer suffice. In music, the organisation of noise, he finds a radically new theoretical form, which serves as a prophetic indicator in two principal (and interconnected) ways: In its compositional procedures - the ways in which the violence of noise is channelled or formally controlled - and in the modes of producing, distributing, and consuming music.
In Attali's historical account, the reciprocal relation between music and political economy occurs in four overlapping stages, which also define the structure of this book. The first three stages are Sacrifice, characterised by the ritual practices of sacred societies; Representation, music-making as a professional activity tied to the marketplace, with music itself a commodity but still as live performance, and Repetition, the era of recording, when music as commodity is offered in endless reproduction, with live performance secondary and the creation of demand all-important. A fourth stage, Composition, is in Attali's account a Utopian sketch, not yet clear in its implications; people will make their own music, for themselves, prefiguring a free and decentralised society and political economy.
Attali finds in Peter Brueghel's great painting Carnival's Quarrel with Lent vivid images that correspond to his own theoretical stages in music history and political economy. In his hands, the painting becomes a brilliant organising metaphor for Noise, its figures enacting a "symbolic confrontation between joyous misery and austere power, between misfortune diverted into festival and wealth costumed in penitence." According to Attali, Brueghel knew that music, and all noises, are stakes in the game of power, whether that power takes the form of totalitarian government, with its censorship and loudspeakers, or the more subtle but no less pervasive force of political economy in the modern parliamentary democracy.
This is an ex-library book, but in good condition regardless.