On May 29, 1789, professors of the Conservatoire de Musique gave a concert for a pair of Asian elephants, Hanz and Marguerite. The concert was part of a scientific experiment intended to determine whether music stirred the passions of listeners in a natural state.
The experiment was a success. The swift and direct effect of music upon sensitive listeners uncorrupted by the monarchy was confirmed. A rough correlation between particular types of music and specific response could now be made. Most important, the passionate impact of military music, just as the Greeks had chronicled, now seemed indubitable. The central lesson of the experiment was just what Ginguené had said earlier in the decade: music acts most strongly when listeners respond most naturally. The report offered a lofty conclusion: "Such is the empire of music over all beings endowed with life and with sensitivity, that men may make use of it. . .to civilize themselves and regulate their morals."
(James H. Johsnon, Listening in Paris, p. 131)
Johnson touches on without answering the questions "What is music?" and "What is listening?" The latter question suggests how Johnson would go about answering the former. The question "How is collective experience possible?" also arises from his work. These are all good questions. Johnson's work has forced me to acknowledge my own prejudices regarding music, to realize that my thoughts about music are culturally, historically shaped. My prejudices about music are also personally shaped to such an extent that I notice that nobody really shares exactly my views of what music is or what it means.
I spent some time this morning listening to Dr. Chandrakant Sardeshmukh's cd, Celebration. "Happiness Forever: Raga Hemant" is in 16, so it was good to work out toI do all my exercizes in reps of 16; 32 of these, 48 of those, 64 of the other, 96, 128, 192....though perhaps not as good for working out as the Ohio Players. My counting was a bit of a distraction. Is this an unnatural way to listen to "Happiness Forever"? Well, is there a natural way to listen to "Happiness Forever"? It was a live recording but the audience was silent until the very end when they all burst into applause. That was nice, I thought. Would I want to call that unnatural? Dr. Sardeshmukh links to the following video clip on Youtube, make of it what you will:
I'll add a thought. Is it the case that there's one activity called "listening" that people pursue in various ways, with varying intensity, with varying degrees of attentiveness; or is "listening" in fact a label for diverse activities that would be given different names were our common language more precise. If one follows the latter path, what must one say about music? Oh, and since I'm at it, what does the phrase "aesthetic imperialism" suggest to you?