Makis Solomos (round table) with Christine Esclapez, Silvio Ferraz, Azadeh Nilchiani & Riccardo Wanke

[m.s.] MUSIDANSE, Université Paris 8;;[C.e.] PRISM / CNRS, Université Aix-Marseille, France; [A.N.] Gustave Eiffel University, France; [S.F.] University of São Paulo, Brazil; [r.w.] CESEM,FCSH-Nova, Lisbon


This is a proposal for a roundtable discussion on Makis Solomos’ book that will be published in March 2023: Exploring the Ecologies of Music. Environmental, Mental and Social Ecologies in Music, Sound Art and Artivisms, Routledge. The round table will last 1h30 and will include people that will present papers at the NCMM23. Extract from the introduction of Chapter 6, “Listening as a Construction of the Commons”: In his book The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford (2014) defines attention – the faculty that links us to the world – as a ‘common good’, just like the air we breathe or the water we drink. Here, we will focus on one particular form of attention – listening – and on one especially refined form of listening: musical listening. We will propose the theory that musical listening could be seen as a construction of the commons. Recent musical history can be read as a history of listening and its various mutations. Whether it is with the ‘acousmatic’ practices of musique concrete (F. Bayle, 1993), John Cage’s experiments with the anechoic chamber (J. Cage, 1961), composition based on the ‘idosyncrasies of perception’ by Jean-Claude Risset (1988), Luigi Nono’s ‘tragedy of listening’ (L. Nono, 1993), Helmut Lachenmann’s ‘defenceless listening’ (H. Lachenmann, 1991), Glenn Gould’s listening through technology (G. Gould, 1966), Pauline Oliveros’ ‘deep listening’ (P. Oliveros, 2005), the ‘signed listening’ project carried out by the IRCAM (APM, undated), or Francisco López’s ‘blind listening’ (F. López, 1997), musicians and theorists have often returned to a focus on listening (cf. M. Solomos, 2020: Chapter 3). Within these explorations of musical listening, several trends question the classical model that culminated in Romanticism and lasted through modernity. The classical model runs thus: the subject and the object of its listening, the musical work and sound, are somehow detached from the world, and the world plays itself out within them. The work becomes a universe, and, by analogy, animates the world’s conflicts and promises that they will be resolved in a kind of utopia. Hegelian idealism was the basis of this conception of musical listening, which was then magnified by Adorno’s philosophy of music, especially the theory of ‘structural listening’ (cf. T. W. Adorno, 1962: Chapter 1). This conception of listening is a wonderful way of exploring music’s capacity to move people; however, focusing as it does on subjectivity conceived as pure interiority, and suggesting that everything occurs within ‘music itself’, it tends to place musical processes within the sphere of the personal. Critiquing the theory of the autonomy of music, Hildegard Westerkamp writes: ‘the Western aesthetic separates the experience of music from its social context. When one is moved by the music in that sense, one is moved internally, privately, as an individual’ (H. Westerkamp, 1988: 71). This conception of listening depoliticizes music. When employed in today’s societies, in which common space tends to be increasingly lacking, it risks becoming the opposite of what it should be: instead of emancipating the individual, music risks becoming an instrument of control. The aim of several movements that question the classical model is surely to repoliticise listening by re-introducing it into common space. Without abandoning the impact of interiority, listening opens itself up to the world – to a world that has not been sifted by its analogical representation through the work. 

Keywords: Listening; Commons; Politics.


Makis Solomos was born in Greece and is living in France. He is Professor of musicology at the University Paris 8 and director of the research team MUSIDANSE. He has published many works about new music. His main fields of research are the focus on sound, the notion of musical space, new musical technics and technologies, the mutations of listening, the ecology of sound… His book From Music to Sound. The Emergence of Sound in 20th- and 21st-Century Music (Routledge, 2019) deals with an important mutation of today’s music. His new book Towards an Ecology of Sound. Environmental, Mental and Social Ecologies in Music, Sound Art and Artivisms (Routledge, 2023) deals with an enlarged notion of ecology, mixing environmental issues and socio-political questions. He is also one of the main Xenakis’ specialists, to whom he devoted many publications. He co-organized, for Xenakis Centenary (2022), the Xenakis22: Centenary International Symposium and he is the editor of Révolutions Xenakis (Éditions de l’Œil – Philharmonie de Paris, 2022).