Research seminars

Patrick Valiquet: “Music is a way of listening” – Liberal personhood and auditory labour in English music education policy, 1973-1992

Event details 

Speaker: Patrick Valiquet (University of Edinburgh) 

Date: 29 November 2018,

Time: 5.15 - 6.30pm.  

Venue: Lecture Room A, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9DF


Musicology likes to define experimental music as a genre. Recent histories portray experimentalism as enduring primarily through the work of composers and performers, whose affinities are expressed in terms of direct interpersonal associations, shared stylistic conventions, and a canon of masterpieces. The ethical exercise of personal freedom, although certainly contested and limited, is obviously a central concern. The notion that experimentalism might encourage musicians to act freely as individuals, at a time when progressive alternatives to Soviet collectivism were in high demand, played an important role in justifying institutional support. Although the term experimentalism also evokes an association with science, this connection has not been as closely examined in musicological accounts. Finding out how experimentalism was scientific requires that we look more closely at the ways it was addressed to listeners.

Before the label 'experimental' was applied to musical works, it was applied to a form of research about music. To make experimental music was to make music in way that might tell you something about what music is. Its proper place was in the laboratory or the classroom. The key discovery that came out of experimental music research - handed down to us in the writing of educators like John Paynter, Gertrude Meyer-Denkmann, Pierre Schaeffer and R. Murray Schafer - was that music is essentially a way of listening, a set of auditory skills by which people make sense of the sounding world. By the end of the 1960s experimental music had become an important tool in education policy, especially for young children. If children learned that their listening was what made music possible, it was thought, they would not only become more active and inventive music makers, but also more tolerant and responsible citizens. The ensuing decades saw a sustained transnational effort to deploy experimentalism as means of music education reform.

My presentation will trace the reception of the work of John Paynter in particular, and experimentalism more generally, in the English Department of Education and Science during the period of prolonged crisis instigated by conservative reactions to the post-war expansion of the university and state school systems. Beginning with the Schools Council project 'Music in the Secondary School Curriculum' in 1973 and ending with the writing of the National Curriculum for Music in 1992, experimentalist ideas informed a complete rethinking of musical training, the results of which are still in effect today. The alliance did not always work smoothly, but its endurance shows that experimental music was far from being marginalised by conservative philistinism. In fact it became hegemonic, nourishing a view of musical training in which listeners could finally be understood as economically and politically productive, and their consumption could be taken into account as a skill. This perspective allows us to draw new and possibly surprising conclusions about the web of relationships between experimental music, science, and personal freedom.


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Nov 29 2018 -

Patrick Valiquet: “Music is a way of listening” – Liberal personhood and auditory labour in English music education policy, 1973-1992

Patrick Valiquet explores the concept of "experimental music" and its impact on music education in England in the late twentieth century.

Lecture Room A
Alison House
12 Nicolson Square