Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde

Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde

She gives a unique portrait of IRCAM's composers, computer scientists, technicians, and secretaries, interrogating the effects of the cultural philosophy of the controversial avant-garde composer, Pierre Boulez, who directed the institute until 1992.Born depicts a major artistic institution trying to maintain its status and legitimacy in an era increasingly dominated by market forces, and in a volatile political and cultural climate.

By tracing how IRCAM has tried to accomodate these pressures while preserving its autonomy, Born reveals the contradictory effects of institutionalizing an avant-garde.Contrary to those who see postmodernism representing an accord between high and popular culture, Born stresses the continuities between modernism and postmodernism and how postmodernism itself embodies an implicit antagonism toward popular culture.

Reviews of the Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde

review of Georgina Born's Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 17-26, 2018 The full review is here: "Born's IR-ACHE": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... He picqued my interest by telling me that the author had played bass w/ Henry Cow. Henry Cow are by far one of my favorite bands so the thought of one of their crew critiqueing IRCAM, an institution that I have some interest in, was intrigueing. I looked at her Wikipedia entry: "Born studied the cello and piano at the Royal College of Music in London, and performed classical and modern music including stints with the Michael Nyman Band, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and the Flying Lizards. Henry Cow was in a period of intensive touring and Born toured Europe with the group for two years. "After Henry Cow, Born performed and recorded with a number of groups and musicians, including fellow Henry Cow member Lindsay Cooper, National Health, Bruford, and Mike Westbrook, particularly as a cellist in the Westbrook Orchestra. She also recorded with The Raincoats, and played improvised music with Lol Coxhill, Steve Beresford, David Toop and others as a member of the London Musicians' Collective. "During the 1980s, Born was an occasional member of Derek Bailey's Company, and played cello and bass guitar on numerous soundtracks for television and film for composers Lindsay Cooper and Mike Westbrook, as well as the soundtrack for the Stephen Poliakoff play Caught on a Train (1980). Whatever the case, she must've had pretty impressive chops given that she wd've been in her early 20s when she played w/ Henry Cow. I wd've never been able to meet their level of musicianship at the time. Her discography, according to her Wikipedia entry: With Art Bears Hope and Fears (1978) With National Health Of Queues and Cures (1978) With Henry Cow Western Culture (1979) The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (2009, 9xCD+DVD, Recommended Records, UK) With Feminist Improvising Group Feminist Improvising Group (1979, Cassette, UK) With Bruford Gradually Going Tornado (1980) With Stormy Six Macchina Maccheronica (1980) With Mike Westbrook Bright as Fire (1980) The Cortege (1982) On Duke's Birthday (HatART, 1985) With Lindsay Cooper Rags (1981) The Golddiggers original soundtrack to the film The Gold Diggers by Sally Potter (1983) Music for Other Occasions (1986) With The Raincoats Odyshape (1981) With Peter Blegvad The Naked Shakespeare (1983) With News from Babel Work Resumed on the Tower (1984) I've just listened to "1/2 the Sky" & now I'm listening to "Hopes and Fears". When I started reading Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde I was expecting a heavy dose of class analysis of how cultural elites funnel money & power into their own notion of what constitutes important music & that was what I was looking forward to. In her acknowledgments she states that "My thinking on music and cultural politics remains deeply marked by the following people and groups with whom I have worked: Henry Cow, the Feminist Improvising Group, Lindsay Cooper, Mike Westbrook, and the London Musicians' Collective." (p xiii) As a personal aside, I performed at the London Musicians' Collective on Wednesday, May 23, 1984 as part of the Popular Chapati Circus wch was part of The 8th International Neoist Apartment Festival. Born's introduction starts off w/ a quote from Boulez putting forth his philosophical vision of IRCAM's basis: "The creator's intuition alone is powerless to provide a comprehensive translation of musical invention. In other words, I find blanket statements like "The creator's intuition alone is powerless to provide a comprehensive translation of musical invention." to be essentially w/o value. NOW, cf Boulez's statement to this excerpt from my review of Joan Peyser's biography of Boulez wch came out in November, 1976, shortly before IRCAM opened & the same yr that Boulez made the above publicity statement: "When I mentioned an American composer whose work he dislikes, Boulez suddenly came to life, launching a virtuoso attack on various facets of U.S. music. All this indicates a simplistic way of thinkingan appalling low level of thinking." ""As for "Perspectives of New Music," an avant-garde journal published by the Princeton University Press: "'Perspectives' is similar to 'Die Reihe,' begun in Germany about 1953. That's like saying: "Oh they're all about drinking fluids, those inferiors, the next thing you know they'll be discovering orange juice & forget fluids in general.' THEN he mentions playing "Bach on the computer", wch also doesn't interest me, but is probably a reference to Walter Carlos's "The Well-Tempered Synthesizer" wch is hardly representative of all that was going on in electronic music in America at the time." - https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... IRCAM is a large computer music research and production institute in Paris, which opened in 1977, and which is handsomely funded by the French state. IRCAM was founded, and until 1992 was directed, by the renowned conductor and avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez." - p 1 Not knowing Born's work at all, even as a bass player, I was feeling my way thru this bk alternately enticed, as by the promise of the above, & annoyed: "In recent decades, and with increased vigor since the early 1970s, there has been a split within the world of serious composition between, loosely, the advocates of scientistic postserialism and its critics and dissenters, the latter the proponents of various forms of postmodernist aesthetic and composition. The sense of a threat to the continued existence of western art music has, despite certain differences, been widespread in both Europe and the United States." .. "The character of the split between the extremes of the pro-serialist, modernist and anti-serialist, post-modernist camps can be grasped by comparing two notorious articles by American composers who have been seen as prime representatives of the two sides: Milton Babbitt and George Rochberg." - p 3 My note about this is: "She's almost as bad as Boulez!" There are several things that people jockeying for power typically do: 1. Born is all about avant-garde vs pop, modernist vs post-modernist, serialist vs anti-serialist but is everything so clearly divided? It seems to me that what happens is that writers like Born describe things in reduced terms & then take that description for 'reality'. It's convenient for a critic to divide work of the 2nd half of the 20th century into "modernist" & "post-modernist" but how many people other than academics take such terms seriously?! Then, of course, there's the chance that it's not "western art music" &, therefore, it's not 'relevant' to the discussion. I agree that it's not "western art music" but add that it is extremely relevant to the discussion precisely b/c it doesn't fit into the neat little boxes that these academic critics try to shove entirely too much into. Check out "Quasi-Documentation of Testes-3's End of Library K & M Series" version 3 (YouTube version) - 10:09 - on my onesownthoughts YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/0toRU7wYDvQ & I think you'll immediately understand what I mean about how outside the box TESTES-3 was &, yet, for me, it definitely related to the lineage of both music & politics that I was so passionately immersed in at the time. In the description of my "Low Classical Usic" playlist on YouTube I state: "Some people call it "music" but that's not very interesting is it? The full review is here: "Born's IR-ACHE": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...

RATIONALIZING CULTURE is Georgina Born's ethnographical presentation of the Institut de Recherce et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), one of the world's foremost music research centres, located in Paris at the Centre George Pompidou. Born details the bureacratic hierarchy, the various types of employees, and the "squatters", composers entering after-hours to use the centre's equipment and hoping to be established workers there. Hand-in-hand with this are snipes at Boulez, whom Born seems to think a tyrant who holds music back instead of a benevolent dictator who has done so much to advance the art. However, Born's bias against great music, which permeates the whole book, is infuriating and I wouldn't recommend purchasing RATIONALIZING CULTURE.

The previous reviewer says that Born seems to think that Boulez is a 'tyrant', which is not a word she ever uses, and ignores the fact that the book provides plenty of documentation for the ways in which Boulez has tended to centralise all authority in IRCAM to himself, while publicly and disingenuously proclaiming (in Barthesian fashion) that he has no authority at all. Nowhere in this does Born suggest that Boulez is not a great composer, but that's because the book is working on a higher level than, say, Dominique Jameux's authorised biography of Boulez.

  • English

  • Nonfiction

  • Rating: 3.61
  • Pages: 392
  • Publish Date: September 8th 1995 by University of California Press
  • Isbn10: 0520202163
  • Isbn13: 9780520202160