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Originaltext publicerad i Nutida Musik, # 5, Stockholm 2004
English translation first published in Patricide 4., Conwy, Wales 2011

MUSIC IS NOTHING.

Johannes Bergmark

My article in Nutida Musik # 1, 2004 "Music is a verb! Christopher Small and the future of the musical ritual." had two purposes: to make Christopher Small's views on music more known and from this also raise a number of critical questions for self-reflection amongst us in contemporary music life. The article was not a manifesto, although some personal opinions were accounted for. I was of course hoping for debate but had to wait for a reaction until # 3-4 and Thomas Millroth's "Instead of criticism: music is first of all positive energy”.

It's sad when a debate is not about essential questions but about how you are misperceived and misinterpreted by your opponent. To a certain degree i feel like a windmill as Millroth doesn't comment on Small's ideas, which were the point of departure for my reflections, but pose his comments as a contrast to single loose opinions that are alien to me (however, he doesn't explicitly say that they are mine!):
- to be against heroes, individualism and personality but “for the collective” (which collective?);
- to be against using the media;
- to be against virtuosity;
- to think that support for musicians self-evidently put them into a culture of repressive tolerance;
- to be against low dynamism in music (something I don't mention in my article)

It's tiring to answer suspected misinterpretations, so I try to be short and avoid the trap myself. Actually, Millroth, in his polemics against me (or whoever he thinks about) arrives at certain ends that I also embrace.

I'm not against heroism, individuality and personality. However, I think that the commercialization of these properties, in the media stress for finding something to write about that can be sold, leads to false or incomplete presentations of these. This in turn repercussions to further launching of superficial, quickly produced and easily understood such things for fastest possible profit of money or fame. The economy of the personality market is a parallel to the rest of economy. I call for consciousness about it and thus suspiciousness against media, not fundamental denial. Otherwise I wouldn't write articles myself. I wrote that personality is worshiped in mass media, the religion of our times. I think this is true, but personality (where it appears at all) is simplified and distorted by the commercial function of mediation, and thus it is withered and denied at the same time. This is the paradox. True personalities and rebels are used as soon as there is an opportunity, if not before so when they are dead.

I'm not against virtuosity but suspicious about how it's used (as above) and thus defined.

I'm not against state support for musicians but think that the support in itself is part of the politics of repressive tolerance, i.e. the modern bourgeois (social democratic) cultural politics which consisted of making room for all in the same happy family of supported free competition. How the support is used and interpreted is up to the individual musician's understanding and morals.

I'm not against “low key” music. All expressions in music must be available but the sound structures aren't the only important ones but the whole environment in which significance is created. To listen to a record is one kind of ritual, to hear a concert with “the same music” is another, to dance to it a third one, and the significance is created in the moment and in the space.

The utopian element is found in every ritual, I find it hard to deny that, but an artistic ritual is at the same time a realization of some sort of ideal, or identity within the frames of art. It is, thus, something of actuality, not just a reference to a future. This is a way of looking at art, not an ideology or “prescription” about how it should be or should be interpreted. So I believe that all art practice has this utopian and even ideological element, however the contents of this utopia is different from case to case, and most of the time it is a natural expression that doesn't have to be conscious among the practitioners at all. I don't agree that the musicians Millroth mentions necessarily sabotage any ideology, no matter what they believe themselves. Music exists in the present as well as in wishes, hopes and fears, not one or the other. Art uses mythical time to create a distance to the present but also to reach an absolute now.

That music “first of all is positive energy” is an extremely general, on the verge of nonsensical, and at the same time too narrow definition. I find it hard to understand what it would mean. Music is a human activity where the aesthetic object (some would say “the music itself”) is just a non-independent part. The sound structures are part of a much larger structure and insufficient to form an expression or significance by themselves. Music, or rather the activity, Christopher Small's "musicking", can create or liberate energies in all possible directions. What is considered positive, negative, constructive or destructive depends on one's point of departure and isn't absolute. The power is created in the meeting between the structures of the sounds and the different structures of the human being and their different directions. Art (music) can confirm, examine and make conscious the feelings of identity and the interconnected relations of the participants when this meeting takes place.

This aspect, noone has commented (in print), as far as I've seen, so far.

Johannes Bergmark


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