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Theodor Adorno on music
Related: music theory - popular music - jazz - dance music - Theodor Adorno
Adorno on jazz and dance music in general: "Their ecstasy is without content.... The ecstasy takes possession of its object by its own compulsive character. It is stylised like the ecstasies savages go into in beating the war drums. It has convulsive aspects reminescent of St Vitus's dance or the reflexes of mutilated animals. ... The same jitterbugs who behave as if they were electrified by syncopation, dance almost exclusively the good rhythmic parts" --Theodor Adorno commenting on 1930s American dance music in "On The Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening"
Adorno on dance music"Their ecstasy is without content.... The ecstasy takes possession of its object by its own compulsive character. It is stylised like the ecstasies savages go into in beating the war drums. It has convulsive aspects reminescent of St Vitus's dance or the reflexes of mutilated animals. ... The same jitterbugs who behave as if they were electrified by syncopation, dance almost exclusively the good rhythmic parts" --Theodor Adorno on dancing via On The Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening
This passage illustrates the modernists' general denial of the body, as started by Kant
Über JazzIn 1936, the Zeitschrift featured one of Adorno's most controversial texts, "On Jazz" ("Über Jazz"). This was less an engagement with this style of music than a first polemic against the blooming entertainment and culture industry, a system by which he believed society was controlled by a top-down creation of standardized culture to intensify commodification. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Adorno [Jun 2004]
Jitter bugs"They call themselves 'jitter-bugs', bugs which carry out reflex movements, performers of their own ecstasy. Merely to be carried away by anything at all, to have something of their own, compensates for their impoverished and barren existence." Theodor Adorno, "Perennial Fashion - Jazz"
Adorno, article by Simon Reynolds
I believ that this article is the first mention of Adorno I came into contact with:(from the wire 146, april 1996. article by Simon Reynolds
Frankfurt is simultaneously Germany's financial capital and a longstanding centre of anti-capitalist theory. Most famously, it gave the world the 'Frankfurt School' of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer et al: neo-Marxist thinkers who fled Nazism and landed up in Southern California, where their eyes and ears were affronted by the kitsch outpoutings of Hollywood's dream-factory. Today, the Frankfurt School is mostly remembered for its snooty attitude towards popular culture, which it regarded as the 20th century's opiate-of-the-people, a soul-degrading inferior to High Modernism. Adorno in particular has achieved a dubious immortality in the Cultural Studies world, as an Aunt Sally figure ritually bashed by academics as a prequel to their semiotic readings of 'anti-hegemonic resistance' encoded in Madonna videos and star trek.
There's no denying Adorno deserves derision for his infamously suspect comments about the "eunuch-like sound" of jazz, whose secret message was "give up your masculinity, let yourself be castrated... and you will be accepted into a fraternity which shares the mystery of impotence with you". But in other respects Adorno's critique of pop culture's role as safety valve and social control is not so easily shrugged off. Witness his remarks on the swing-inspired frenzy of the 'jitterbug': "Their ecstasy is without content... It has convulsive aspects reminiscent of St Vitus' dance or the reflexes of mutilated animals." Adorno's verdict on jitterbuggers - "merely to be carried away by anything at all, to have something of their own, compensates for their impoverished and barren existence" - could easily be transposed to 90s rave culture, which - from Happy Hardcore to Gabba to Goa trance - is now as rigidly ritualised and conserative as Heavy Metal.
The Frankfurt-based label Mille Plateaux shares something of Adorno's oppositional attitude to mass culture. For label boss Achim Szepanski, Germany's rave industry - which dominates the pop mainstream - is so institutionalised and regulated it verges on the totalitarian. Adorno-style, he psychoanalyses Ecstasy culture as "a metonymic search for mother-substitutes - Ecstasy can be your new mommy". [...] -- Simon Reynolds
On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening (1938) - Theodor AdornoTheodor Adorno was a central figure in the Frankfurt School of Critical Theorists.
Adorno's On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening is an influential 30-page essay originally published in 1938. Theodor Adorno's writing style has been variously characterized as "impenetrable" and "impossible." Most readers unfamiliar with Adorno's style and ideas find his writings challenging to read. The following is a distillation and simplification of Adorno's famous essay.
Complaints about the decline of musical taste started at the beginning of music history. Whenever the listener's peace is disturbed by agitation, there is talk of the decline of taste. In these complaints, certain motifs constantly recur. There is no lack of pouting and sentimental comments assessing the current musical condition of the masses as one of "degeneration." The most tenacious of these motifs is that of sensuality, which allegedly enfeebles and incapacitates heroic behavior. Such complaints can be found in Plato's Republic.
Plato's ethical-musical program bears the character of an Attic purge in Spartan style. Other perennial themes of musical sermonizing are on the same level. What is attacked is chiefly progress.
The concept of taste is itself outmoded. To like a work is almost the same as to recognize it. Value judgments are fictional for the listener who finds him/herself hemmed in by standardized musical goods. The right to freedom of choice can no longer be exercised. People have learned to listen without hearing.
At one time, music, through impulse, subjectivity and profanation was the adversay of materialist alienation. In capitalist times though, music has become corrupted by the allure of commercial success and now it conspires with authority against freedom. Musicians, as representatives of the opposition to the authoritarian schema, have become witnesses to the authority of commercial success. In the service of success they renounce that insubordinate character which was theirs. Formerly, music attacked the cultural privileges of the ruling class. Now the function of all music has changed. Cultural "goods," by their very administration, are "transformed into evils."--http://www.music-cog.ohio-state.edu/Music839B/Approaches/Adorno.html [Mar 2006]
See also: cultural pessimism - Theodor Adorno - 1938 - dance music - American music
Adorno on music in Dialectic of Enlightenment"Life in the late capitalist era is a constant initiation rite. Everyone must show that he wholly identifies himself with the power which is belaboring him. This occurs in the principle of jazz syncopation, which simultaneously derides stumbling and makes it a rule. The eunuch-like voice of the crooner on the radio, the heiress's smooth suitor, who falls into the swimming pool in his dinner jacket, are models for those who must become whatever the system wants. Everyone can be like this omnipotent society; everyone can be happy, if only he will capitulate fully and sacrifice his claim to happiness." (The Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1947)
Adorno vs. Benjamin
Essays on Music: Theodor W. Adorno - (2002) Richard Leppert (editor)[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
A paradigmatic example of Leppert’s sensitive commentary is his rich nine-page discussion (240-249) of Adorno’s 1938 essay “On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening” (288-317), in which he explores the relation between Adorno and Benjamin, particularly Adorno’s reception and critique of Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility.” Leppert reads Adorno’s “The Fetish-Character” as “the result of a critical exchange of ideas between Adorno and Walter Benjamin” (240), and astutely identifies the divergence between the two: “Both writers’ essays speak to issues of production and consumption, but […] Benjamin’s is more concerned with the question of audience consumption, whereas Adorno is more directly focused on production. Benjamin speaks in detail about how audiences receive mass art, Adorno speaks in detail about what they are given to consume” (245).
Leppert legitimates his claim by appeal to Adorno and Benjamin’s correspondence, in which the two thinkers discuss the ideas contained in the latter’s 1936 essay, and then identifies the fundamental themes being worked out in “The Fetish-Character” as subtle extrapolations from this discussion. -- Alexei Procyshyn via http://www.uwo.ca/theory/skandalon/skandalon/pdf_files/sk_rev_1_2h.htm [Mar 2006]
See also: Walter Benjamin - Theodor Adorno - The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility (1936)
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