‘Schismogenesis as Anamnesis: The Nontranslation of Poststructuralist Music Philosophy’, Music and Philosophy Study Group, King’s College London, 7-8 July 2022

Anglophone universities today generally teach an invented history of poststructuralism in which new ideas about discipline and subjectivity originated in high French theory with an exclusively linguistic focus and then had to be applied to music by ‘new musicologists’ trading in ideas from American philosophy and literary criticism in the 1980s and 1990s. But this narrative erases the work of the francophone music and sound scholars who articulated their work against structuralism in the 1960s and 1970s. The earliest poststructuralist music writing remains untranslated and largely ignored.

My paper introduces the work of the path-breaking music researchers who taught in the now-defunct Centre universitaire expérimental de Vincennes in direct conversation with writers like Hélène Cixous, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Serres and Monique Wittig. The focus will be on Daniel Charles, noted semiotician and co-translator of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality, primarily known to anglophones for his interviews with John Cage published with the help of Semiotext(e) as For the Birds in 1981, and Ivanka Stoïanova, Julia Kristeva’s younger sister, and one of Charles’ first doctoral students. Trained in anthropology, linguistics, phenomenology and psychoanalysis, these musicologists addressed concerns around mediality, affect and embodiment, ecology and evolutionary biology, and gender and sexuality which would only become intelligible in mainstream anglophone musicological discourse decades later.

Discussion will focus on recovering forgotten reflections on affect and memory in Charles’ Le temps de la voïx (1978) and Stoïanova’s Geste-texte-musique (1978), both of which anticipate concepts and critical positions normally associated with Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille Plateaux (1980). Referring to later appropriations of these ideas by Georgina Born, Steven Feld and Gary Tomlinson, I will explain how the forgetting of the experimental music scholarship at Vincennes has engendered a split in anglophone historiographies of poststructuralism, depoliticizing poststructuralist concepts and making them always newly available for application. With the help of new translations of Charles’ and Stoïanova’s contributions, it becomes possible to understand the forgetting as an instance of Batesonian ‘schismogenesis’, dynamically reproducing the boundary between theoretical past and present.


‘How Should a Network Listen? Pierre Schaeffer and European Satellite Policy’, Networks in Music History, Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, 1-3 June 2022

Surveying American techno-utopian writing in the mid 1980s, historian of science Howard Segel describes a widespread narrative trope in which the advancement of social justice is figured as dependent on the attainment of a ‘technological plateau’. Given conditions of material abundance and a flexible, decentralized means of production, every individual on earth would enjoy a personalized balance between work and leisure. The scientific and moral progress of the industrial revolution could safely level off into stasis. For the first two decades after World War II, social and economic forecasters could still assert with relative certainty that the nation state provided the best means of achieving such an equilibrium in the long term. As the postwar boom came crashing to an end in the mid 1970s, however, it became clear to both activists and policy-makers that smaller and more flexible forms of organization were more practical. Expanding communication networks promised a radically new distribution of power in which individuals would no longer be susceptible to direct state intervention: the capacity take action at once more globally and more locally than ever before. As networks spread, this ethos of decentralization travelled with them.

My paper dwells upon a moment when the norms for distributing cultural action across global networks were still up for negotiation. At stake is the political choice between seeing a network simply as a way of cohering, and deploying it as a form of capture. I follow author and broadcaster Pierre Schaeffer through the last decade of his career, a period that saw him shift from music research to advising on media policy for the European Commission and the French Haute conseil de l’audiovisuel. Schaeffer’s ideas about the prospect of decentralization by satellite and cable bring to the foreground previously neglected connections between his writing on music, his commitment to education, and his orientation toward the global mediascape of his time. While conventional wisdom portrays Schaeffer as an ardent futurist, his civil service record suggests otherwise: Schaeffer’s true hope was to slow innovation to a halt.


‘Libidinal Ear: Institutional Memory and Dominique Avron’s L’appareil musical‘, Music Theory in the Plural, online, 22-23 April 2022

Anglophone music studies normally teaches an invented history in which poststructuralism originated in France with an exclusively linguistic focus and then had to be applied to music decades later by Americans trading in new ideas from philosophy and literary criticism. My paper revises this history by returning to an extensive and largely untranslated body of theory written and debated in the classrooms of Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari at the Centre universitaire expérimental de Vincennes in the 1970s.

The translation I will present will be a portion from a short book by writer, teacher and filmmaker Dominique Avron entitled L’appareil musical (Musical devices) published in the 10/18 series in 1979. The text combines work from Avron’s studies at Vincennes between 1971 and 1973 with ethnographic writing from his years teaching in the Yatenga province of Haute Volta (now Burkina Faso) between 1973 and 1977. Using a critical post-Freudian language of machines, assemblages and affects developed in conversation with Lyotard, linking musicians as diverse as Stockhausen, La Monte Young and Milford Graves, and using films and audio recordings as the primary material for his analyses, Avron seeks to develop what I translate as, following Iain Hamilton Grant, a ‘pulsional aesthetics’ [esthétique pulsionnelle] that would direct musicological attention to the primary, pre-individual force of sound. My focus will be on Avron’s account of the Burkinabé song and dance tradition Liwaga, which foreshadows the work of Christopher Small in attending to the dance as a source of new ‘plastic, pedagogical, sociological and moral models to adapt, rethink and rebuild institutions’.