Author: Chung, Andrew J
Title: Music as Performative Utterance: Towards a Unified Theory of Musical Meaning with Applications in 21st-Century Works and Social Life
Institution: Yale University
Begun: September 2016
Completed: March 2019
This project interrogates conceptions of music’s efficacy and its interleavings with musical meaning, and seeks to deconstruct putative dichotomies that would separate musical meaning from its effects. Theorists and musicologists have asked what particular musical works mean, what particular musical objects represent, what they narrate or disclose, and how those meanings got there. More recently, numerous thinkers h ave jettisoned music-language parallels in favor of investigating music’s ineffability, its sensuous effects, and the materialities of its performances. However, both routes of inquiry, whether sympathetic to the music-language analogy or not, rest on assumptions about the concept of meaning itself. Both tend to ground the music-language analogy in the semantic aspects of language meaning—how language represents, refers to, or discloses the world.
This project challenges the status of representation in conceptions of music-language analogy, and develops an alternative foundation for understandings of musical meaning drawn from philosopher J. L. Austin’s concept of “performative utterances.” Austin and other thinkers in a tradition now called ordinary language philosophy rejected the assumption that language meaning was chiefly a matter of how it represents states of affairs or states of mind—its constative dimension. The performative dimension of language, on the other hand, refers to how words and sentences are used to accomplish actions and produce effects. This concept furnishes a theory of language meaning based on the efficacy of language use in social praxis. In chapter one, I develop an analogous theory of musical meaning, grounded in the actions and effects produced by music as utterance. Music is so often said to be, if anything, expressive; but expression—strictly speaking, the mapping of inner content to outer signifying form—is a weak conceptual basis for what we mean when we describe music as expressive. We would be much better served by conceiving of music’s meaningfulness in terms of its efficacy as sonic utterance, disarming the false dichotomy between music’s meanings and its effects.
Keywords: Experimental Music, 21st Century, Semiotics, Philosophy, Musical Meaning, Music and/as Violence, Linguistics, Performativity, Speech-Act Theory
INTRODUCTION | In Medias Actus
PART I—RETHEORIZING MUSICAL MEANING
CHAPTER 1 | “What is Musical Meaning?”: Towards a Foundational Theory of Music as Performative Utterance
PART II—AN AESTHETICS OF EFFICACY: 21ST-CENTURY COMPOSITIONS IN CONTINENTAL EUROPE AS SITES OF MEANING
CHAPTER 2 | Michael Beil and the Act/Content Distinction in Contemporary European Music
CHAPTER 3 | Conjuration: The Performative Semiotics of Musical Apparitions
CHAPTER 4 | Music, Materialism, and Planetary Performative Utterance
PART III—AN ETHICAL TURN: HOW TO DO HARM WITH MUSIC
CHAPTER 5 | Interlude: On Theorizing Musical Violence
CHAPTER 6 | Speech-Act Acoustemologies of Strip Club-Based Sex-Trafficking, or, What If Music is Sexual Violence?