Music and postmodernity

Winter 2008

Translated by David Bennett

Lyotard rehearses his theses about postmodernism as incredulity towards metanarratives, and follows Schoenberg and Adorno in suggesting that the history of Western music may be thought of as ‘the grand narrative of the emancipation of sound’ from the inherited rules and customs of composition - rules that were discovered to be neither natural nor necessary but purely contingent. Lyotard proposes understanding the artistic value of a musical composition in terms of its status as a sonic ‘event’, or ‘geste’, which gives us an intimation of the ‘sonorous matter’ that is before or outside of all musical expression or meaning, and hence of all communication between subjects. Such an ‘event’ or ‘geste’ throws all narratives of development, modernisation or revolution - all periodisations of art and culture - into crisis, insofar as it puts into question what music, listening and ‘sonorous material’ itself might be.

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66 Postmodernism, Music and Cultural Theory