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Musique Esthétique Sciences Société
Nouvelles Sensibilités

Jean-Marc Chouvel
janvier 2012Traduction de Joyce Shintani


1Since the end of World War Two, the musical avant-garde has been crisscrossed by phases of reconstruction and deconstruction. Doubtless, this upheaval was salubrious in a context marked by a profound crisis of ideas – ideas held aloof with the same obstinacy by ideologues of every shade and hue – and by the triumph of consumer culture. This period has left behind indisputable masterpieces, but also traumas. The most apparent of these expresses itself in an adversarial relationship with society, more precisely, with the audience. If generations of composers have succeeded one another with the legitimate concern of demarcating one generation from its predecessor, generations of audiences have also been renewed, as have the means for accessing art. The traumatic syndrome, maintained principally by a conservative fringe of the musical milieu that counts on it as a kind of absolution and justification for its own regression, rests solely on prejudices, now become obsolete.

2The programmatic inclination of artists involved in the avant-garde often permitted critics to categorise currents under more or less representative banners, aimed at crystallising the most remarkable concepts and polarising aesthetic hostilities. Not so very long ago, serial music served as a foil to spectral music, without concealing the fundamental antagonisms between German expressionism and French colourist music… These categories are obviously useful for the media. But the most recent among them dates from more than thirty years ago ! And they cover inadequately all the musical activity of the last half century. The addition of the prefix ‘post’ or ‘neo’ only throws a veil of modesty over the deafening lack of emerging unifying force these last decades.

3In this state of affairs one might make out an indication of exacerbated individualism, corresponding perfectly with the ‘star’ function the artist has acquired in the media culture system. Many institutions, not content merely to take the relay in this system, have become instigators. On the other hand, one might also imagine numerous artists, who have not wanted to support transient modes. They have sought eremitic reclusion, letting the insubstantial hoards that have undergone cultural dumbing-down pass by, preferring instead to concentrate on the development of truly personal expression. Another reason for the situation described above is the suspension or even the capitulation of criticism, relegated as it is to the last pages of the daily press, in cases where it has not been swallowed up entirely for its sheer publicity value.

4The fact that at the beginning of the twenty-first century artists no longer seek to brandish their standards certainly doesn’t mean that they have renounced all specific character. These are the circumstances that the fourth issue of Filigrane would like to explore. It is an issue devoted entirely to the actors in musical creation, to their thoughts, their words, and their way of dreaming about the world through music.

5In a brilliant analysis of the musical situation at the end of the twentieth century, Helmut Lachenmann pointed out the pertinence of the dialectic between aspect and affect for the contemporary aesthetic debate. According to Lachenmann, one of the driving forces behind the unprecedented explorations that prevailed in the twentieth century was the need to renew the notion of ‘aspect’ in a context of complacency toward the affect1. But the composers in the twenty-first century no longer see why they should have to choose between aspect and affect or, put differently, between the technical conquest of the object and the irrepressible seduction of the subject.

6A new approach to musical subtlety can now emerge that doesn’t need to follow the route of logical textual complexity and that doesn’t submit so much to archaic regression or tonal triteness. This is what the title refers to we have given this issue of Filigrane : new sensibilities.

7This title could apply to every generation of artists, but in the musical world today it has particular contours. Doubtless, the recognition of the central position of the ‘sensible subject’ began in 70s and 80s, centred on the question of perception. The integration of the motifs of perception filled in one of the ‘black holes’ in serial theory (although it certainly wasn’t a ‘black hole’ in Schoenberg’s writings). At the same time, the relationship to recording possibilities – through the magnifying glass of the studio and the evolution of technical interfaces – permitted the exploration of other vistas, ever less constrained by the corporeal materiality of instrumental acoustics. As a side effect, musical instrumentation, which had been fixed by centuries of normalisation, burst its bounds. The spontaneity, the granularity, and the quality of sound, as well as an anthropological consciousness of musical origins, fomented new creative attitudes. The absence of a ‘centralised’ conceptualisation of this particular state of compositional imagination might have led to the belief that a post-modern odyssey was the destiny of a generation ‘lost’ in the immense desert of possible infinity. The wealth of available resources was blinding and often concealed a paucity of reflexion. This was the more so, since a programmatic poverty of ideas (raised to the rank of dogma by some of the most eminent cultural hierarchs2) reigned in a manner all the more so ostentatious for want of substantive propositions.

8But nothing condemns the artistic order to mere servile mimicry of the political order. What doesn’t materialize in the daylight of general confusion is crafted quietly in the shadows. Even though today’s art has occasionally coalesced into a network of resistance, it doesn’t delight in useless revolutionary posturing. The music of our time softly seeks the path of poetics, through the crumbling of aesthetics. It tries to offer audiences saturated with eclecticism the density of an experience that is deeply sincere. And that is one point that the creators whose texts we have gathered here adhere to – they, and many others3. The different forms their discourse takes are unimportant. Connection to a ‘greater’ reality, confidence in the innerness of listening and in the transmission of ‘states of being’, the tranquil love of the unknown, benevolent attention to the most subtle resources of sound, the assurance of ‘being there’, and a certain consciousness of time – theirs, ours, the work’s – as substance of the improbable : There are as many characters as there are variations thereof ; and far from being mutually exclusive, they connect. We have not sought to create artificial themes, nonetheless the reader will find shared concerns on the following pages. Many are the topics that could have served as a unifying thread : a sense of place and space (Thierry Blondeau, Jean-Luc Hervé, Guiliano d’Angiolini on Richard Long, the originator of land art) ; the need to reread history – ancient or recent, political or intellectual (Nicolàs Varchausky, Gonzalo Macías, Thomas Dézsy, Fabien Levy) ; the reappropriation of sonic mysteries (Pascale Criton, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Carlo Carratelli) ; or the simple desire for poetry (Christophe Frionnet). But there are so many other strands… Where the weight of history could have drowned imagination in an inventory of unfinished dreams, it is precisely the inexhaustible reserve of sensibility that suggests infinite other dreams. May the lines that follow breathe a few words about them4


1  “L’aspect et l’affect” in Programme du Festival d’Automne à Paris, 1993, pp. 11-14.

2  I refer in particular to those persons guiding the destiny of France Musique broadcasts at the turn of the millennium.

3  Filigrane plans regular issues devoted to artists of the twenty-first century.

4  Filigrane wishes to express its deep gratitude to all musicians, producers, and editors who made possible the publication of the CD accompanying this issue.


Jean-Marc Chouvel, «Musique Esthétique Sciences Société», Filigrane. Musique, esthétique, sciences, société. [En ligne], Numéros de la revue, Nouvelles sensibilités, mis à  jour le : 25/01/2012, URL : https://revues.mshparisnord.fr:443/filigrane/index.php?id=366.


Jean-Marc ChouvelJoyce Shintani