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Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde (Association) Paperback – 3 Aug 1995

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Product details

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (3 Aug. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520202163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520202160
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,024,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Georgina Born is University Lecturer in the Sociology of Culture and Media at the University of Cambridge, and Official Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

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Although the basic analytic approach and ethnographic method of this study are drawn from anthropology, its object is unusual for anthropology, which has been little concerned with studying the powerful intellectual groups or specialist institutions of western culture. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Jun. 1998
Format: Paperback
The edifice of IRCAM, Insitut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique, an underground mecca for the new in Paris, well Europe is to foster a marriage between the current potentialities in technology and creativity,music composition. Pierre Boulez its founder and developer said so much in 1976, as part of the publicity. "The creator's intuition alone is powerless to provide a comprehensive translation of musical invention. It is necessary for him to collaborate with scientific research worker inorder to envision the distant future." This is the first in English at least, profile of this historic institutionalization of new music, or the avant-garde. Although any of these terms are meaningless today. Who can define anymore, what a progressive endeavor is with the fragmentation of culture. Ms Born lived at IRCAM, it is housed in the lower bowels of the Pompidou Centre, the well-thought out royal blue and bright red smokestacks of architect Renzo Piano punctuating the 19th century ambience which is Paris. The red light area of Rue St Denis is walking distance and composers from all over Europe who work by invitation at IRCAM never fail to find inspiration away from the sterility of their work in composition. Ms Born is quite interesting for she projects the agenda here as a social one. She sees a larger frame than the music itself by drawing on thoughts of noted sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu has done so much as eqaute how, who and why listens to new creations in music. And we learn it is now and perhaps will always remain an elitist cadre of those who follow and nourish themselves with culture.Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Informative but constantly deprecates contemporary music 2 July 2006
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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. In 1984 Born, a musician-cum-ethnographer spent a year observing the institute, and this expanded version of her subsequent Ph.D thesis was published in 1995.

Fans of contemporary music--and I'm one--will be pleased to have the opportunity to learn something of the structure and day-to-day life of IRCAM. 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. She talks about typical visits by composers who come to be trained and to realise a piece at Ircam, and about the use of the fearsome 4X machine, IRCAM's early technological breakthrough. Born could not use real names in the preparation of her thesis, so instead people are referred to with random initials or with general attributes, but it's not particularly challenging to guess who is who. PL, the "black American composer" is Alvin Singleton, for example, and WOW is Jean-Baptiste Barriere. There are photos of IRCAM's hallways and offices, one containg a young Kaija Saariaho at work. Among the author's ethnographic themes are the phenomenon of the avant-garde (the "outsiders") becoming subsidized by the government ("the Establishment") and IRCAM's early shift from composer-scientist equality to scientists at the service of composers.

In spite of the book's informative presentative of IRCAM, it is fraught with problems. Born mixes what should be a dispassionate report about the sociology of IRCAM with her own opinions on contemporary music, which she seems to loathe immensely. Right from the beginning she writes that she left the conservatory to play in rock bands because she didn't like modern styles. In the chapter on music, while reporting the discussions of some composers on their inspirations, she even suggests that what they are doing isn't real music at all.

Throughout Born writes in such a way as to make the reader think that IRCAM is a worthless institution on the verge of being shut down. Granted, IRCAM took a while to get off the ground, and if one goes only by Born's 1984 chronicle, one might get the impression that it's not a terribly productive place. However, in the years following, many wonderful pieces came out of IRCAM, by such composers as Saariaho, Lindberg, Benjamin, and Eotvos. In 1984 all of the technology--a couple of huge servers--seems to be constantly on the fritz and without sufficient processing power for all users, but within a couple of years the centre transitioned to PCs and work gets along fine. Born does dedicate a few pages in the last chapter to later events in IRCAM, but she still ends the book in a critical fashion, not acknowledging any of the great achievements of the centre. 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. At least there's little outright sniping at him here--on a recent radio BBC programme she accused him of "stealing" French music funds instead of really deserving them--but there is nonetheless a serious lack of respect.

If you're curious about IRCAM, I'd recommend seeking the book out at your university library. It can be informative. However, Born's bias against great music, which permeates the whole book, is infuriating and I wouldn't recommend purchasing RATIONALIZING CULTURE.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Not a serious work - a terrible mess 27 Mar. 2009
By Zarathustra - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Really rather a shame. Might have been quite an interesting work if it hadn't taken the by now utterly tired "it's an elitist institution of my god I hate it" track. Everyone knows that modernism is polemical and complex. This makes it extraordinarily interesting and exciting, but like every other form of modernism, its complexity opens it up to the rage of the slaves who scream the empty phrase "elitist" while failing to evaluate judicially the object under consideration (here a state funded institute for new music and musical research). One can only consider this work: a failure.
Tired and dated 11 May 2015
By Erwin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In his fierce review of Rationalizing Culture (cleverly entitled Born to Die), Ben Watson, a Marxist music writer, points to a tendency that successively appears throughout the book: “Rationalizing Culture retails the familiar postmodern narrative: the bad European father underestimated the Yankee son, and modernist centralization (aka the ‘Communist Party’/the welfare state) lost out to low-tech, the Apple Mac and the Internet (aka market liberalism).”34 He further adds: “[Born] accuses avant-garde artists of refusing the general audience ‘gratification’, as if audiences are a ready-made constituency, and not created by specific economico-artistic vectors.”35 Indeed, Born’s arguments throughout the book make the false assumption that postmodernism represents a definitive step towards individual liberation, when in fact most postmodern thinkers either avoid or neglect the critique of the greater socioeconomic logic.36

Similar issues also arise from Born’s “On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity.”37 As she describes, “[music] favors associations or assemblages between musicians and instruments, composers and scores, listeners and sound systems—that is, between subjects and objects.”38 It is certainly relevant to discuss what the relationship is between these entities, but one cannot address the topic by vilifying modernism and the avant-garde. Moreover, it is infantile to make the assumption that popular music (and jazz, in the case of this particular article) inherently questions aspects of musical production such as ownership, agency, and hierarchy. Popular music and avant-garde music are not packages that have been already determined by some sort of demiurge; these are approaches to music that are in constant processes of self-definition and cannot be separated from their socioeconomic context—cultures do not live within a vacuum. As Watson suggests in relation to Rationalizing Music (the same claim can be made about her article), “commitment to anthropological ‘science’ means Born’s book is devoid of any aesthetic judgements, apart from between-the-lines hints that everything at IRCAM is mandarin bulls***, and that her own involvement with pop is infinitely worthier; but this is moralistic pomp-populist point-scoring, not critique. (...) The treatment of Frank Zappa exemplifies anthropology’s squeamishness about facing the musical object. Born says that Pierre Boulez conducting Zappa was ‘a moderation of Boulez’s rejection of popular music.’ This remark could only be made by someone who has not seen or heard ‘Dupree’s Paradise.’ If this is pop, then Tempo is Smash Hits.”
16 of 26 people found the following review helpful
the 'Slamming' of the Avant Garde by the Next Regime 10 Nov. 2001
By S. C Rice - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I first read this book before I became aquatinted with the "New Musicology" of cultural criticism. I assumed it to be a sociological report, rather than a musicological one. I did think it odd that this ?sociologist? took such as consistently hostile viewpoint of the musicians within I.R.C.A.M. and thought that some of the scholarship was not very rigorous. I assumed that this was because it was a sociologist ?out of her element,? discussing issues, with which she was not familiar. I figured that she must have had a passing bad experience with the modernists and gone to study them, while complaining about them in revenge.
Later, in the course of studies in musicology, I came upon the strange camp of ?cultural criticism. There is a bit of solipsism in this viewpoint; all there is for anyone is a viewpoint constructed of a culturally specific semiotic code, that we can only understand the world through that code, and that we are therefore always biased to the point of being unable to really know anything. Therefore, in this viewpoint there is no knowledge, only a culturally situated set of biases, and any attempt to assert truth is looked upon as merely some sort of cultural power play.
Georgina Born seems friendly to this philosophy. Her scholarship is good compared to many examples of the "cultural critic" literature, many of which are purposefully obscure and jargonistic (taking after Derrida et al), merely to intimidate the reader with rhetoric. This is a trick that they ironically picked up from academia (who largely did that unintentionally). However, when there is no truth, why not try to assert yourself over the others with whatever means? When there is no truth, there are no lies. Postmodern thought has recently spawned individuals who regard systems of logic as merely culturally situated (and oppressive, biased) semiotic codes, with no relation to reality. Georgina Born makes good arguments by comparison, but it should be noted that this research was probably inspired by the work of those others that I have just mentioned. One of the things that is necessary to pave the way for such criticism is the clearing aside of those pesky scholars that still think that it is possible to know something "objective." Or at the least, to create a study that presents data in a straightforward manner rather than as pointed polemic
This book seems primarily motivated as a ?slam? (to use such as vulgar colloquialism) on the avant garde. Part of the doctrine of the avant garde was that they were supposed to be bringing the ?future? and destiny of a civilization back to it; they were prophets or ?cutting edge.? This of course implies that there was something to bring back; the idea of truth is implicit in the statement. The postmoderns have spent a good deal of their time trying to discredit the bulwarks of the avant garde and the study of music theory. In my opinion, book is part of that endeavour. It does contain some interesting titbits and some food for thought. This study could have been so much more interesting if it incorperated more points of view on the issues raised by ICRAM as an institution. Instead, we get an overdose of the rhetoric of the scholars of deconstructionism, cultural criticism, postmodernism, etc...
9 of 19 people found the following review helpful
the avant-garde is no longer outside barking like a dog. . . 21 Jun. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The edifice of IRCAM, Insitut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique, an underground mecca for the new in Paris, well Europe is to foster a marriage between the current potentialities in technology and creativity,music composition. Pierre Boulez its founder and developer said so much in 1976, as part of the publicity. "The creator's intuition alone is powerless to provide a comprehensive translation of musical invention. It is necessary for him to collaborate with scientific research worker inorder to envision the distant future." This is the first in English at least, profile of this historic institutionalization of new music, or the avant-garde. Although any of these terms are meaningless today. Who can define anymore, what a progressive endeavor is with the fragmentation of culture. Ms Born lived at IRCAM, it is housed in the lower bowels of the Pompidou Centre, the well-thought out royal blue and bright red smokestacks of architect Renzo Piano punctuating the 19th century ambience which is Paris. The red light area of Rue St Denis is walking distance and composers from all over Europe who work by invitation at IRCAM never fail to find inspiration away from the sterility of their work in composition. Ms Born is quite interesting for she projects the agenda here as a social one. She sees a larger frame than the music itself by drawing on thoughts of noted sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu has done so much as eqaute how, who and why listens to new creations in music. And we learn it is now and perhaps will always remain an elitist cadre of those who follow and nourish themselves with culture. We learn through MsBorn, how a composer works and how she/he makes proposals,structures for a work with the scientific aid of someone who specializes in the electronic/computer end of music. There is many times a fine line which separates the two. Each the composer for one must have some knowledge of the computer potentialities and the technician should be versed in the history of c! omposition, the achievements the avnat-garde has made since the end of the War. We find quite fascinating work with multiphonics, where a soloist, say a flutist or trombonist, sings and plays simultaneously. The result varies in an out-of-tune (at least to the traditional Beethoven ear) chord, quite arresting in its effectation. All these materials have been amply indexed, the composer merely chooses, from a table,and can hear the result from an in-house musician,vigorously versed in all the extended techniques. Ms.Born also reveals the dirty laundry at IRCAM the lack of a stable agenda at times, in the beginning years the politics, jettisoning founding members as Vinko Globokar, an equally gifted composer/trombonist. And Boulez the ultimate composer. He does stand well above anyone in Europe today. I should say did ,the Seventies and Eighties were the Boulez years of high power. Now he has retired, not even conducting as much the Ensemble Intercontemporain, a select ensemble of virtuosi,who have toured the world with IRCAM's message. And what might that be? Ms Born it's quite bizarre, she doesn't mentioned specific names in her wonderful profile. She was told not to, or perhaps the insights she received might result in retributions at higher levels, a guillotine might fall unexpectedly. So as you read through this book, composers and personnel are encripted in code. Quite mysteriously haunting. Foucualt in an interview with Boulez in the early Eighties said that music (and Foucault was not one to speak of music) that music of all the arts has certainly kept pace with technology. And that's wonderful except that IRCAM seems to be an elitist endeavor. It received the lion's share of all funding for all the arts in France. And when you consider that Paris houses 70% of French composers, yet only a handfull actually receive the knighted honor to work at IRCAM, it seems the avant-garde wastes no time in acquiring the kings robes to encript its content. Of all the music I've heard from IRCAM, I can't say I can ! distinguish one composer from another. All seem magnetized toward the use of metal instruments, percussion, very cold gestures. Peter Eotvos, Boulez first conductor-successor was the first to realize the severity at IRCAM didn't make interesting music. SO Mr.Eotvos turned an ear toward the accessible yet not obviously so. His "Chinese Opera" for the Ensemble is quite powerful and evocative. It seems the avant-garde cannot cope with the real world, Just like the wood the ancestors of Venice once brought in 550 AD to buttress their city which is now Venice. The wood will not rot as long as it remains submerged,as oxygen hits it, the real social world, it rots. Ms Born in one chapter the "Social Problems of Production" draws light on IRCAM's social problems. Also there is a generous accompaniment of photographs of the instruments and computer systems used. As for the future of music and IRCAM well it will persist as long as it remains submerged ,cloistered away from the vagaries of the real world.
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