Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-garde

November 1, 2020
Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-garde

Anthropologist Georgina Born presents one of the firstethnographies of a powerful western cultural organization, therenowned Institut de Recherche et de CoordinationAcoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris. As a year-longparticipant-observer, Born studied the social and cultural economyof an institution for research and production of avant-garde andcomputer music. She gives a unique portrait of IRCAM's composers,computer scientists, technicians, and secretaries, interrogatingthe effects of the cultural philosophy of the controversialavant-garde composer, Pierre Boulez, who directed the instituteuntil 1992.Born depicts a major artistic institution trying to maintain itsstatus and legitimacy in an era increasingly dominated by marketforces, and in a volatile political and cultural climate. Sheilluminates the erosion of the legitimacy of art and science in theface of growing commercial and political pressures. By tracing howIRCAM has tried to accomodate these pressures while preserving itsautonomy, Born reveals the contradictory effects ofinstitutionalizing an avant-garde.Contrary to those who see postmodernism representing an accordbetween high and popular culture, Born stresses the continuitiesbetween modernism and postmodernism and how postmodernism itselfembodies an implicit antagonism toward popular culture.