another ear, another voice. . .

Lyotard in 1979 on pop music’s modernity or otherwise.

JLT: Then I would say that there are presently few works that are modern.

JFL: Why is that?

JLT: Simply because many of the so-called modern works of today have a public that is their own. A very simple instance: pop music is not modern; it is as classical as can be, because it is addressed to a certain audience, and it just is not true that it is not known whom it is addressed to. It is still a question of pleasing and affecting.

JFL: How are you taking the term “pop music?” Do you take it as a collective term encompassing all the variants within?

JLT: Yes.

JFL: That is a lot of variants.

JLT: The term says it well: “popular music,” which means that its support and its addressee are indeed the people.

JFL: No, it means popular in the sense that in modernity there is no longer a people. Within pop music, there are elements that are popular in the romantic sense of the term. I am thinking of the rediscovery of popular musics that are not pop music but that can be very well integrated into pop music. There are many examples of this. These popular elements, in the romantic sense, refer back to ethnic traditions, both European and non-European ones. This type of search appears to carry out the same tasks as romanticism; I say “appears” because actually it does not. Because these popular musics are reintegrated into the enormous mass of pop music, as one of its variants, and since pop music itself is not ethnic music, it cannot really be considered popular music in the sense in which there would be a people that would be at once its audience, its performer, and its composer, having found within it its own canons. On the contrary, what strikes me about pop music, and it is particularly apparent in the United States, is that it is an immense, monstrous body that does no more than bring forth, year after year, new variants, new sound organizations, that previously were unheard. The variants may at times be quite far-reaching; they play upon the harmonic system, upon preferred melodic rhetorics, or upon the instrumental system used, etc. When these new arrangements are brought out, they have no audience. They will find one; they will be liked, although sometimes it does not work. Sometimes it does. One does not know at first, and the artist who sets out to do it has no idea whether it will work or not, especially since his or her work is experimental in nature. Pop music, in spite of its name, is not a music of the people, in the romantic sense of the term.

JLT: . . . to the precise extent that the people here is not the romantics’ people.

JFL: It is indeed not the people of the romantics at all. It is a kind of ocean within which there will coalesce for a while an ear for hearing the music, bodies to dance to it, and voices to sing it. And then after a while, it will disappear to reappear later, but with another ear, another voice. . . . This immense kind of thing does not have its own stable sound-filtering system.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois and Jean-Loup Thebaud (1985), Just Gaming (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), pp.12-13.


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