EXPERIMENTATION IN QUESTION
Issue edited by Matthieu Saladin – IDEAT (Université Paris 1/ CNRS), Le Quai École supérieure d’art de Mulhouse
According to one of the definitions of experimental music formulated by John Cage, the role of experimentation is to ask questions rather than to provide canned answers. This issue of TACET seeks to turn this saying back on experimentation itself, by examining its principles, manifestations and challenges, both historical (provided they question our contemporaneity) and current.
From a historical point of view, the expression “experimental music” has typically been used to describe the practices of musicians and composers, mainly Anglo-Saxons, reunited around the music and ideas of John Cage, or at least directly or indirectly claiming as such. Indeterminacy, process and the interest in “new” sounds are its major lines of research. However, this expression equally refers to previous musical and/or artistic trends (futurism with Russolo and the emergence of sound poetry, the first electronic music works in Russia, etc.) which have contributed to the bringing back of rules that governed sound creation to the drawing board. At the same time as Cage carried out his first experiments with chance, Pierre Schaeffer was also able to use the name “experimental music” in a very different sense. From the 1970s, the field covered by this expression widened under the momentum of improvised music, experiments carried out in the nebulous world of rock, minimalism and electronic music. Today, its application appears to have become so varied that its meaning is no longer clear, as ultimately, due to the lack of appropriate terms, it encompasses any musical practice with “suspect” noises.
The fact remains that this expression “defines” a field of particularly heterogeneous sound practices, or even one with antagonistic issues and modalities, at times. Whilst experimentation has been able to attempt to call into question a progressive thinking of modernity, equally, it has been able to contribute to it in its demands for novelty. Likewise, while a certain experimental tradition calls for the withdrawal of the individual into their project, other forms seek to experiment with limits, both amongst musicians and listeners, or to question relationships with the collective. But the ambitions of experimentation are also to seek to disrupt the boundaries between art and life – or between the arts (polyartistic dimension) -, to invest in the possibilities offered by new technologies as well as questioning their domination and exploiting their shortcomings. To this elusive diversity, however, responds the contextual and local aspect of experimentation as such, which is in a position to question the claim of general or continuous experimentation, or even the ontology of musical trends defined in and of themselves as experimental. Where is experimentation to be found, therefore, within the diversity of experimental music? When is there experimentation? What are the processes used? What may be the differences and the tensions between the multiple uses of the term, which also vary according to the cultures and the socio-historical contexts? What are the forms of sound experimentation today? What movements can be observed, from one generation to the next, in the musical problems, but also the social and political problems that experimentation poses?
Taking the heterogeneity of experimental music as a starting point for reflection means rethinking the scope of the practices that it may involve. Indeed, whilst experimentation is often identified, at least in modernity, as coming under avant-garde music, it cannot be reduced to this and it can just as easily be found in practices which are not immediately “labelled” as “experimental music”, first and foremost in popular music. What forms of experimentation are at work in this music? What devices do they employ? What influence does popular music have on so-called experimental music and vice versa?
Another research perspective could examine the discourse that justifies these practices. Numerous musicians dedicated to experimentation, particularly in the 1960s, were able to gain inspiration, in a more or less critical manner, from philosophical and/or spiritual schools of thought, such as the philosophy of experience, the theories of information or even the Eastern philosophies. What use can musicians make of these theories in their own practice? In what way can these discourses inform us of the challenges and the postulates of the experiments undertaken? Which are the discourses that circulate in contemporary practices? Such discourses often go beyond the scope of experimentation alone and reveal concerns relating to wider cultural phenomenon: what, then, could these paramusical discourses that feed experimentation be a symptom of?
Finally, while we often emphasise the creative processes behind the playing of experimental music, the way experimentation is received appears to be little questioned. Numerous performances in the past have resulted in scandals or have been greeted with a certain reserve, whilst others have given rise to collective experiences that have reached beyond the moment of the concert alone. What are the conditions (social, institutional, cultural) under which experimentation is received? What does experimentation mean to the listeners? Who does it affect? What could be the experience of experimentation of different audiences?
Other lines of reflection may involve:
The concepts that define experimentation, but also the aporias and the myths that surround these practices.
The relationship with technologies, from DIY and détournement to interest, sometimes similar to scientism, for new technologies; the differences and similarities between scientific experimentation and sound experimentation.
The political analogy of experimentation; the social and critical ambitions of certain experimental music practices, their potential or actual recuperation; the modalities and challenges of a collective experiment.
The problem of categories and distinctions in experimental music. The questioning they bring about and the new maps and genealogies that they plot.
The impact and the development of experimental music beyond the West, and in turn, the influences of other musical traditions on Western experimental music.
The relationships with subjectivation and identity which are at play in experimentation.
The issue of gender in traditions and musical trends which are still largely male.
The ways in which subcultures, communities, scenes or networks can come together, unified around an experimental ambition (noise and extreme volume in noise, impromptu meetings in free improvisation etc.)
This issue of TACET seeks to address these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective (aesthetics, philosophy, musicology, cultural history, cultural studies, gender studies, sociology, political science, literature, psychoanalysis etc.) and it aims to bring together an ensemble of studies in which experimentation will be examined in the diversity of its forms and the heterogeneity of its problems. We await general analyses, special cases and cross-disciplinary studies.
The questions proposed in this call for papers are not exhaustive. They represent a few suggested general avenues of research for potential contributors. They do, nevertheless, seek to serve as a reminder that the TACET review expects in-depth studies with a well-argued subject. The Editorial Board will, in addition, pay particular attention to the editorial quality of contributions, considering that literary and poetic dimensions all have their place in the articulation and transmission of a thought. Authors are equally reminded that the journal is aimed at a broadened readership.
Authors should first inform the Editorial Board of TACET of their proposal for an article by email, stating the title of their contribution and attaching an abstract of their proposal. The articles themselves should be sent by email before the 15th of April 2012 to the following addresses: redaction <at> tacet.eu and matthieu.saladin <at> gmail.com