This from the Chronicle, by a guy who clearly loathes AMS - of which he is a member. I don´t really know enough about AMS, and have (thank God) thusfar avoided the position of the patronized ethno in a room full of musicologists to be this pissed off at musicologists or to have much of a position at all on AMS, but for the pleasure of those who are and do, you might enjoy the following.
From the issue dated May 8, 2009
Composed in Hypocrisy. Music, torture, and the drama of American musicology
By ILIAS CHRISSOCHOIDIS
In a rare display of social awareness, the American Musicological Society has publicly denounced the use of music in physical and psychological torture. The core of the March 2008 statement reads, "We, as scholars and musicians who devote our lives to sustaining musical cultures throughout the world, protest the contamination of our cultures by the misappropriation of music as a weapon of psychological torture."
The resolution brings into shocking alignment two unrelated groups, prisoners detained abroad and students of music at home. The former may soon be protected from aural torture now that the American musicology lobby has taken up their cause (albeit with no instrumental accompaniment). More important, American students now have a precedent to decry 20th-century music surveys — with their compulsory exposure to headache-inducing cacophony and traumatic collisions of sonic debris — as academic torture. Assuming that the AMS is serious about banning all forms of music torture, we may soon hear about class-action lawsuits against music departments for aurally abusing our youth.
Before Slavoj Zizek discovers (and critically devours) this tasty nugget of baby-boomer touchiness, let me raise a few points. At first reading, I thought the AMS was defending the integrity of the Western musical canon from evil cultural forces in a continent far, far away. I began to imagine the endless repetition of the opening dissonance in Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" followed by the agonized screams of prisoners: "O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!" ("O friends, not these tones!"). But no. Music-torturers have little use for our beloved German masters, preferring instead vulgar rock 'n' roll and other low types of pop music. (Admit it: Drowning Pool's "Bodies" is superior to Handel's Water Music, Schubert's The Trout, and Ravel's Jeux
d'eau as accompaniment for waterboarding.) I fail to see, then, why the AMS, guardian of highbrow music, and not the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a royalties collector, should protest this scandalous abuse of copyrighted material. And it is scandalous. Of all evildoers in the world, American defense agencies appear to favor this practice
the most. According to the Society for Ethnomusicology, "The U.S. government and its military and diplomatic agencies have used music as an instrument of abuse since 2001, particularly through the implementation of programs of torture in both covert and overt detention centers as part of the war on terror." The SEM statement not only preceded that of the AMS by more than a year, but also had the courage to actually point a finger at someone. Nay, it openly demands "that the United States government and its agencies cease using music as an instrument of physical and psychological torture." Such a clear position reduces the AMS announcement — which is written as though music, not human rights, were the chief subject of abuse here — to a humanistic spoof, a platitude masking critical impotence.
Furthermore, the AMS's jurisdiction on this matter is undermined by a sad reality: American musicology today is less entitled than ever to defend music. Envious of her elder sister, literary studies, she has done everything to appear sophisticated and "Freudly" in the past 20 years. The society's annual meetings feel more and more like territory occupied by foreign disciplines. Derrida, Bakhtin, and Adorno are topics more welcome than composers and their work. "Politics," "gender," "sexuality," and related tags are used as rhetorical steroids to boost one's "innovative" profile. You can more easily land a professorship by adopting the latest hermeneutic vogue than by making a discovery or editing a neglected masterpiece. It is a mystery how scholars who push music to the periphery of their discipline pose as agents "sustaining musical cultures throughout the world."
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the AMS's noble gesture. To the contrary, I marvel that its busy leaders found the time to pontificate on an issue that is, at best, tangentially related to the society's mission.
But since they have taken the path of moral uprightness, I would have expected them to start a bit lower, like with the little academic tortures their young and vulnerable colleagues experience daily. By torture I mean "trivial" forms of academic distress, like applying for a job or fellowship in full suspicion that it has already been promised to someone else. Or witnessing protégés gather around the new "star" professor in their department until faculty diversity and independent viewpoints become almost impossible.
Or competing in the publication market with the Doktorkinder of editorial-board members, whose submissions are destined for magnanimous treatment. I also think of the eerie silence that greets complaints or reports of abusive behavior — board members' overriding the will of selection committees to promote their own students, senior professors' attacking the work of young scholars who compete with their protégés — or even the AMS's practice of bombarding low-income members (read: unemployed) with gift requests for up to $500, if you please.
Little "tortures" such as those may hardly register in the stratosphere of six-figure tenured salaries, but they have a truly liberating effect on their victims, who begin to recognize the ugly face of a capitalist academy: not a forum of discussion but a supreme court; not a community of peers but a House of Lords; not a space for independent thinking but a training ground for submission to professorial gurus, all sustained by a tenure system that allows political operatives to elbow out original scholars and refashion history according to personal desires.
No doubt this describes academic life in general. But it is felt much more acutely among American musicologists. As a small discipline with minimal influence on the national discourse, musicology is conditioned by a double-edged inferiority complex about European intellectual traditions and larger, more respected disciplines. To prove its upscale intellectuality and academic prestige, the AMS imposes a fixed 25-percent acceptance rate for submissions to its annual meeting and limits each issue of its triannual publication, the Journal of the American Musicological Society, to only three articles — around 150 conference papers and nine articles a year for a 3,600-member society.
Such limited opportunities for professional exposure generate enormous competition and nasty partisanship. Only a few big departments and the occasional network of cultlike warriors can withstand the pressure. Musicologists outside such elite circles can hope to present at their society's national meeting once or twice a decade. Their chances of publishing in the JAMS over the course of their entire careers are next to zero.
Some membership. Some group.
You can see, then, why I find the AMS resolution so pompous. The society condemns outlandish abuses of music and people in remote prisons while it undermines the role of its membership at home. In doing so, the AMS parades in lockstep with other contemporary institutions, for which Enlightenment rhetoric masks the disfigurations of capitalism, and big, idealistic statements muffle the groans of social division and injustice. Still, it's worth asking how people who teach, perform, and study the most harmonious of arts can generate so much discord and hidden resentment among their younger colleagues, who are expected to lick their wounds in dark corners and forever remain silent, because torture, abuse, and violence, in whatever form
and dosage, exist only elsewhere.
Ilias Chrissochoidis is a member of the American Musicological Society.
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 55, Issue 35, Page B10