• Saison 2015-2016 - None - None > TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music
  • Oct. 9, 2015
  • Program note: TCPM 2015
  • Annelies Fryberger (conférencier)

In an autonomous field such as that of contemporary music, or new music as it is commonly called in the American context, it is the creators themselves who are called on to evaluate the work of their peers. This evaluative work is familiar to academics, who are accustomed to a system of peer review, and has been the subject of sociological study. However, the interaction between this evaluative work and the creative process itself has not been investigated. The present study looks at how the creative identity of an individual is forged in part by the evaluative work he or she accomplishes, both formally, in juries and committees, and informally, in statements intended for his or her peers via platforms such as Facebook or the blogosphere. Our aim is to understand how composers of contemporary music incorporate evaluative work – a service required of them by their field – into their creative process over the long term.

This paper draws on a theoretical grounding in sociology and original ethnographic research conducted in France and the United States on the evaluative work of composers. Twenty interviews were conducted from 2012 to 2014 with composers who served as panelists for New Music USA in New York City and those who sat on the jury for the French state-funded commissions (Commandes d’Etat, now known as Aides à l’écriture). At New Music USA, we were also able to observe the work of two panels whose job was to evaluate applications from composers for grants. In addition, we have systematically observed the behavior of composers in France and the United States on Facebook and in blogs as a way to understand how evaluative statements, of oneself and other composers, are used to forge a creative identity within the field of contemporary music (once one manages to slog through the ubiquitous cat videos).

Our results show that composers use formal evaluative work to get a view of the field of contemporary music as a whole, and thereby better understand their place therein and are thus able to refine their creative output. This modus operandi is similar to that of a “status market”, wherein producers look to each other to coordinate their activities, rather than looking toward consumers. Information gathered when evaluating applicants is subsequently used to create new contacts, paving the way for future collaborations and reinforcing networks within contemporary music. In this way, evaluation is not simply a service provided by the composer to the field; it can directly influence future creative projects by providing information on the creative activities of others in the field – information that is not always readily accessible otherwise. While composers typically state that they are willing to do this evaluative work because they want to give back to an organization that has helped them in the past (New Music USA and the French Ministry for Culture both recruit panelists from their former awardees), it is important to note that this work is also beneficial for the composer, whether she realizes it or not. The privileged viewpoint they gain by doing this work helps them ascend the new music hierarchy or reinforces their position as a gatekeeper by demonstrating to others their control of certain resources. Overall, this work sustains the field of new music as a whole, by providing a concrete platform for its gift economy: one “wherein exchange is not mediated through price, immediate reciprocation, or other key aspects of market economies”.

This paper will also address a separate but related aspect of this study: what we might call “informal evaluation.” Using public and semi-public platforms, composers align themselves – or distance themselves from – the work of other members of their field. Statements of support or outright critique give the reader an idea of where we might situate the composer within the field of new music. In this way, the composer takes on part of the evaluation of her own work, by indirectly providing an evaluative schema for same. Indeed, the uncertainty inherent in evaluating contemporary music, often seen as a problem of incommensurability, is dealt with upstream when a composer demonstrates with whom her work should be compared. This makes evaluation easier, which inherently increases the quality attributed to her work. My argument, then, is that providing an evaluative context for one’s work is part of the creative process, and that one gains this ability by evaluating the work of others in a collective setting – be that in studio classes as a student, informally at concerts, or through formal organs such as juries. The statements that can be found in places like Facebook or in blogs – or more traditionally in program notes or biographies – are then expressions of this ability.

In order to understand the way evaluative ability is acquired, and the work composers do to position themselves in their field, we mobilize the theory of the “dialogical self”. This theory calls us to look at how identity may be constructed via internal dialogue – a dialogue which can take place between different perspectives on the world within the individual (I-positions) or with internalized others or collectivities. This theory helps us to see how composers may dialogue with the field of contemporary music, and how the collective voice of contemporary music becomes internalized and reflected in their creative output. In this way, we may be able to move beyond looking at the creative process at the level of a work, and instead look at the larger process of forging a creative identity within the context of a field, with each work being an external manifestation of this process. As such, we contribute to a more general desire to broaden the scope of genetic criticism to include a more holistic view of the composer’s musical culture.

TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music

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