FIGAROVOX / TRIBUNE – Regarding French culture, Minister Rima Abdel-Malik said that all music is equal. For a composer and journalist, it is not the musical genre that gives music its intrinsic value, but the way in which it is conceived and the purpose for which it was composed.
Benjamin Siri is a composer and journalist. His latest album, Electronica Cinematic, was released on April 8.
Culture Minister Rima Abdel-Malik has learned that her punishment will spread on social media. I recognized her immediately when Guillaume Erner, who greeted her Thursday on the set of French Culture, pointed her out. Sentence ? “All music deserves […] Everyone can find their happiness.»
And it didn’t fail. Netizens have been upset about this question of value, some highlighting the predominance of emotion in our perception of listening, while others maliciously mock the sacrilege and potential comparison between Bach and Bubba, between classic and rap, between supposed high culture and popular culture between conservatives and moderns. An eternal controversy that will indeed concern all artistic fields and will undoubtedly cease before the death of the world.
But under these conditions the minister’s remarks go beyond the simple question of each other’s appetites, or the complexity of this or that division, and question the relativism that quenches our whole society and for which it is all worthwhile. Facts can no longer emerge from mere opinion, science from beliefs, argument from aggression. This is undoubtedly the reason for the outrage that such a sentence can generate, in addition to forgetting that flair in cultural matters is something that can be learned, which means that it is possible. And in this, Rima Abdel-Malik makes a small mistake regarding her job. By complimenting listeners on every style and recognizing in all music an equal capacity for enlightenment, it locks everyone in its bubble, everyone in its “culture”, and does not encourage this precious openness to “living together”, though reality is more complex and less meaningful.
Upon arrival, relativism reproduces a form of hegemony, as well as deepening the divisions that are tearing our country apart.
But there is that. Looking at things from this angle, the bourgeoisie can jealously preserve its class privilege and be proud of its refinement, with access to all genres (we consider, without pretending to have scientific proof of it, that we hear more rap in the 6th district ten, from Vivaldi to Bobigny), while watching the child condescendingly from the suburbs, or from the peri-urban areas, assigned to his identity among rap, diversity, basketball and football. In the end, this reproduces a form of hegemony, as well as further deepening the divisions that are tearing our country apart. This was indeed a huge mistake by Jack Lang, the pope of cultural relativism, except for the fact that when he took office in 1981, it was really necessary to highlight certain forms of urban culture that not many people know about, even though they were valuable Already high in certain circles. Today the situation is completely different. Cultures of hip-hop (rap, graphic design, dance, fashion) or manga (animation, comics, Kpop, Jpop, etc.), taken in the broad sense, to name a few, have entered all areas of the mainstream in more than to be in Reverse the trends that appear daily on social networks. According to data from Spotify in 2020, the top streaming player now accounts for 67% of all listeners (Source: SNEP), rap accounts for 69.7% of those in the charts, far ahead of pop (17.7%), Electro (8.8%), While French rock and variety hardly hit 1% of listeners (jazz and classical didn’t count in the major charts). Even if this data does not take into account listening to the radio, whose programs give prominence to the French song, it shows how less urgent it is to discover a culture … already dominant, on the eve of the huge concert that rapper Bubba is about to donate to the Stade de France . The irony of fate is that it is now other music that hides in the domains of the upper social classes or represents boomers’ celebrities. Therefore it must henceforth be democratized with the greatest care and shared with those who see themselves locked in contented superiority in their cultural neighbourhoods. And having experienced it in an associative context, I know how much, for example, the discovery of classical music and its instruments can produce a wonder among a young audience who was completely alien to it and previously rid of the initially unpleasant things.
There is still the thorny question of the intrinsic value of music itself, which, let’s say right away, is a false debate…and yet we’ll open it up very briefly. All cultures, all countries, have produced their music, more or less famous, more or less scientific, and they have never ceased to combine them, if we think, for example, of Bela Bartok. Many consider him an elite composer, yet he drew much of his inspiration from Hungarian folk dance music. And what about Rabih Abou Khalil, the genius of the Lebanese oud, who set his sights on jazz to mix oriental music with Slavic and Baltic folk sounds? Moreover, in the Great Concert of Nations, Classical Europe in no way possesses a respite from harmonic or rhythmic complexity. Indian folk music is a rhythm and metric puzzle that can make an educated conservatory student dizzy, as in Mozambique, which, contrary to what its name suggests, is carnival music rooted in Cuba. Sixties, or certain African species. As for Arabic music, with its wildly changing scales, and its shifts in quarter tones, its apprehension is more sensitive to us, while gypsy jazz, with its succession of the sixth chord, is all joyful and danceable alike – it is, it is not. skinning model. Because in truth, our European music, which fuels Bach’s concerto as well as Orlsan’s “instruments”, though presents an infinite number of melodic possibilities, is far from being among the harmoniously richest. Founded on the Greek styles (Dorian, Mixolydian, Lydian mode, Aeolian etc.), it is based on the seven sacred notes and their five modifications (sharp and flat instruments, which show no difference when played on a moderate keyboard), whose use value should not interrogate him. After all, working in the works of Mozart or the works of Aya Nakamura is still important.
So it is not the literary genre that gives music its intrinsic value, but the way it is conceived and the purpose for which it was composed.
On the other hand, the difference can be demonstrated by this question: Why, and for what purpose, do we produce music, even though everyone hopes to see their business meet with success? Some music aims to clear the field of research, while others are played on the grounds of emotion and signifier only. They could also belong to the same genre, if we think of the emotional debate that tore the jazz world apart, between swing period, simple and instrumental, especially before World War II, and bebop, then jazz and rock, much richer and more complex on the ear. It was the same when classical music had to contend with the rise of contemporary music, which made Beethoven turn to be a composer for blauette. On the other hand, an emotion often requires simplicity and the use of elaborate forms, when the signifier passes through words. This gives song in all its forms, just like rap. As for research, his goal is to push the boundaries of the known worlds even further, and his apprehension of music cannot be done without a certain education.
However, if the debate launched by the Minister of Culture deserves some attention, it is because another fact conflicts with it, not the least. Despite the massive economic model crisis rocking the music world, it has never been so consumed before. And the choice of the verb “consume” is not innocent. Music has become an essential and very competitive market dominated by giants who are as risk averse as possible and tend to impoverish what is happening on our speakers. It’s the same in cinema, which the Covid crisis has rendered bloodless. Independents are biting the dust while blockbuster films, the most expensive and most exciting, can no longer afford the slightest imagination and comply with the exact specifications that they all look somewhat alike, since the manufacture of their own recipes is the only guarantee of… financial revenue. However, whether we consider rap or pop music produced in majors or the like, the problems are the same. When listeners receive a piece, often pushed by multiple media and unlimited promotion, producers need the sauce to take hold immediately. For this, nothing is better than to constantly recycle the same dishes, to impoverish harmonic uses, so that the listener feels familiar from the first hearing of a piece. And this is where we can talk about field value and depreciation; Rap, which Minister took as an example, is not by far the genre most affected by this problem, unlike pop or variety music. It is no coincidence that so much of the world’s greatest songs heard in recent years have been the result of a single production structure, led by obscure Swedish producer Max Martin, a man who would suspect he is the most committed to impoverishing music in the world. Instead, judge some of the names appearing in the Magna Scandinavian stable: Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, Usher, Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd , Selena Gomez, Justin Timberlake, Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, Coldplay and others. It is not in itself a bad thing for such a Sikh star to benefit from the services of the same man. The problem is that he devised some sort of semi-algorithmic recipe for success, based on the application of eleven assumptions, which he applies at will to most of the addresses for which he is responsible, no matter what kind of assumptions they are. He admitted this in 2017, in one of the rare interviews he gave during a master class. However, among these eleven assumptions (which are clearly a rough synthesis of the producer’s work), many explain the impoverishment of a large part of the music that reaches us. Among them is the fact that he not only simplified the melody as much as possible, while making it as effective as possible – which is by no means self-evident – but above all cleverly rejected it both in the verses and in the choruses of the same piece. When you think you hear a song in different parts, it’s actually always the same song that comes back to you in different forms, so that when the chorus comes on, it seems obvious to you. Sadly, it also means that the song you’re rocking to is going to be musically poor. Work is work…
So it is not the literary genre that gives music its intrinsic value, but the way it is conceived and the purpose for which it was composed. It always has been, and probably always will be. Perhaps, unfortunately, when the goal is only financial …