The ethnography of a computer music research institute : modernism, post modernism, and new technology in contemporary music culture
The thesis is a socio-cultural study of IRCAM, a large, state-funded computer music research institute in Paris directed by the avant garde composer Pierre Boulez. The approach is primarily ethnographic, supported by broader historical analysis. The aim is to provide a critical portrait of musical modernism and post modernism as expressed by IRCAM and its milieu; and to place this in historical perspective by combining anthropology with cultural history. Theoretically, the thesis examines the contradictory position of the contemporary musical avant garde: established in official cultural spheres, yet lacking wider public appeal and cultural influence. In this context, the central problem is how IRCAM continues to legitimise itself. The thesis opens with a discussion of literature on the critical sociocultural study of music, on the sociology of culture (especially the work of Bourdieu and Williams), and on the avant garde and modernism. Chapters 2 to 4 provide the basic account of the institution, including status distinctions, stratification, and power structures. Three local historical influences on IRCAM are outlined: the American computer music network, the French national context, and Boulez's history and ideas. Chapters 5 to 8 analyse IRCAM's musical, scientific and technological work, examining the gaps between aims and actuality, ideology and practice. The character of IRCAM's dominant, 'dissident' and 'vanguard' projects are explored. The classification systems that structure the institute's internal conflicts and ideological differences are drawn out (Ch. 6). Chapters 7 and 8 focus in on computer music production, and describe the mediations and phenomenology of this and related software research. One composer's visit is detailed, and the social and technological problems inherent in this work are analysed. Chapter 9 provides an analysis of the main historical aesthetic traditions which inform IRCAM culture - modernism and post modernism - and develops an hypothesis of their discursive character and interrelation. This is related back to IRCAM culture, and throws light on the inter- and intra-subjective differentiation of IRCAM intellectuals, which in turn allows an analysis of mechanisms in the social construction of aesthetics and technology at IRCAM. The preceding analyses generate insight into the representation of modernism and post modernism within IRCAM. The Conclusions describe major developments at IRCAM after fieldwork. The legitimation of IRCAM is linked to its institutional and ideological forms: particularly its processes of self-legitimation, resting on the discursive authority of its own internal vanguard, and the universalising character of advanced computer music discourse. Finally, there is consideration of IRCAM's place in long term cultural processes, and of the implications for theorising cultural reproduction and change.