Book Review

Listening for Heterophony

Book Review of Fumi Okiji, Jazz As Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018)

Fumi Okiji, Jazz As Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018). Link to the Stanford University Press website.

A key insight from Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov” is what Andrew Benjamin has termed “iterative reworking.” A story is a “plural event,” each retelling both augmentative and constituted by it; the nature of the event is that “it will resist any possible complete self-presentation.” […] The retellings, the “working through,” cannot satisfy all that the story is but rather keeps open the work as a temporally dispersed happening. New versions of the story repeat what has already been given but do so in a way that retains each teller’s own perspectival and material quirks.

(Okiji 2018, 68)

Fumi Okiji’s book Jazz As Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited argues for a type of listening that shifts attention away from the internal logic of the jazz solo to the soloist’s dialogue with other interpretations of the melody—interpretations by other performers and by the same performer in the past. Such a heterophonic listening focuses on how the soloist participates in a tradition while at the same time presenting this tradition through a distinct set of experiences.

As an example of heterophonic listening, Jazz As Critique refers to Jaki Byard’s piano solo on “Fables of Faubus” from The Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy (Cornell 1964). Byard playfully alludes to “Yankee Doodle” (7:32), before transitioning to a blues motive (8:20) followed by a phrase from Chopin’s Funeral March (8:26). Bassist Charles Mingus takes up the blues motive (8:42) while Byard continues to solo in a contrasting modal style. The other musicians, including Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, begin playing the blues motive along with Mingus, eventually convincing Byard to join them. These simultaneous performances of the same melody, with subtle variations added by each performer, are an example of heterophony—though Okiji also refers to a type of heterophony dispersed across time and between generations of musicians.

Okiji quotes Vijay Iyer: “[The] story dwells not just in one solo at a time, but also in a single note, and equally in an entire lifetime of improvisations. In short, the story is revealed not as a simple linear narrative, but also as a fractured, exploded one” (8). Like Iyer, Okiji invites us to attend to the individual note and a lifetime of experiences. Like Walter Benjamin’s storyteller, the jazz soloist tells a familiar story, performing a familiar tune in a way that reflects his or her own musical abilities. The heterophonic listener concentrates on the tension between these two moments: participation in the community and the unique perspective of the individual performer.

Jazz As Critique enacts such a heterophonic listening. Okiji invites the reader to listen along with her as she engages with Theodor Adorno’s essays on jazz alongside texts by Fred Moten, Hortense Spillers, Nahum Chandler, and Saidiya Hartman. Despite the fact that Adorno wrote dismissively of jazz as a tool of the culture industry (more on that below), Okiji takes his philosophy along paths that even he could not foresee. Like Benjamin’s storyteller, Okiji recounts familiar narratives and debates, but does so in a way that illuminates these topics in profound new ways.

The introductory chapter outlines the book’s main claim—that jazz is “capable of contributing a model of praxis that shows a gathering constituted by the play, the wrestling and cooperation, of disparate parts” (6). Elsewhere Okiji refers to this model as an “empathetic mode of sociality,” one in which “the parties involved approach or adapt to each other in a manner that supports the retention of their particularities” (73). In other words, jazz serves as a code of conduct for social interaction that encourages mutual respect for one another’s differences.

This mutual respect for difference provides the groundwork for Okiji’s discussion of black expression and identity. She writes: “Blackness is a mode of existence in which the disjuncture between the reality of one’s everyday living and the ways one is understood by society at large is so pronounced that the former must be considered an impossibility or a lie in order to preserve the latter” (5). Black expression cannot help but communicate this disjuncture between lived experience and society’s oppressive imaginings of blackness. As a critical form of black expression, jazz combats these harmful imaginings and society’s silence vis-à-vis black experience.

Chapter One presents a cogent critique of Adorno’s essays “On Jazz” and “Perennial Fashion—Jazz,” which were published in 1936 and 1953, respectively. For Adorno, jazz is a commodity that by adhering to the laws of the market fails to achieve the critical distance necessary for creative autonomy. Okiji finds fault with Adorno for deliberately failing to take into account black experience in his writings on jazz. Okiji writes: “An African American perspective is not so much written into the periphery of Adorno’s narrative of modernity as placed outside it. It is safe to assume that Adorno considered the black experience wholly inconsequential to the narrative of the modern on which his culture critique rested” (24). Adorno excludes black experience from “bourgeois” subjectivity and his narrative of the demise of the individual in late capitalism.

Chapter Two elaborates on the concept of double consciousness, taking as its basis Nahum Chandler’s interpretation of what W.E.B. Du Bois refers to as the experience of “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” (quoted in Okiji 2018, 32). Chapter Three reflects on the ineffability of blackness and the virtue of humility and becoming “susceptible to the music” (65). Chapter Four further develops the connection between the jazz soloist, Walter Benjamin’s storyteller, and heterophony. The Postscript contemplates the “inadequacy and indispensability” of jazz records. While being an invaluable pedagogical tool and an important source for documenting jazz history, jazz records only imperfectly capture the process of jazz performance—what Okiji refers to as the music’s “partiality, the imperfection and incompletion, the idea of a work in progress… [how the] musicians work on and through pieces made up of layer upon layer of prior contributions” (89).

Jazz As Critique ends with an outstanding example of heterophonic listening: the image of Ralph Ellison’s invisible man fulfilling his wish to hear five recordings of Louis Armstrong performing “Black and Blue” all at once. In doing so, Okiji reiterates her point how heterophonic listening makes possible a type of empathy in which “a subject can show affinity with others… without the fear of domination or subsumption. There is a yielding by both parties, but an empathetic or even intimate distance foregrounds their relations” (73). A future study by Okiji might explore further types of black musical expression beyond jazz. Jazz As Critique serves as an invaluable resource for thinking about the types of listening and conversations that need to take place in order to confront today’s outstanding racial injustice and inequalities.

Book Review

Musicology, Performance Studies, and Performing Antiquity

Book Review of Samuel N. Dorf, Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance from Paris to Delphi, 1890-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018)

Samuel N. Dorf, Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance from Paris to Delphi, 1890-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Link to the Oxford University Press website.

Performance studies is unsettled, open, discursive, and multiple in its methods, themes, objects of study, and persons. It is a field without fences. It is “inter” […]. Being “inter” is exploring the liminal—participating in an ongoing workshop.

Richard Schechner quoted in Dorf 2018, 105

In his book Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance from Paris to Delphi, 1890-1930, Samuel Dorf argues that performance studies has a great deal to offer musicology in terms of understanding musical performance. Performance studies enables us to shift attention away from the problematic notion of historical authenticity (performing musical works as they actually were) toward the motivations, fantasies, and desires underlying performance practices. Drawing on Diana Taylor’s consideration of the historical aspects of performance with regard to the archive and repertoire, Dorf makes a distinction between performances “primarily informed by the archive” (i.e. by artifacts found in the archive) and performances “drawn primarily from the repertoire” (the embodied knowledge and practice of actually living performers). Ideally, performances of the past are based on both the archive and repertoire, though not necessarily. Performing Antiquity also identifies some “unsuccessful” performances of the past—for example, Maurice Emmanuel’s opera Salamine, which remained too dutiful to Emmaneul’s archival research and not sufficiently attuned to existing performance practices at the Paris Opéra. Moreover, Dorf refers to Rebecca Schneider’s study of Civil War re-enactors, who “engage in this activity as a way of accessing what they feel the documentary evidence upon which they rely misses—that is, live experience” (quoted in Dorf 2018, 10). While “reperformances” are guided by archival materials, re-enactments seek to convey the live experience that documentary evidence often lacks.This leads Dorf to also consider the high stakes of historical performance—how the use and abuse of history may cause harm to others.

Listen to a recording of Gabriel Fauré’s arrangement of a second-century BCE hymn dedicated to Apollo. The working relationship between archaeologist and music scholar Théodore Reinach and Fauré is one of the many collaborations between scholars and performers discussed in Dorf’s Performing Antiquity. Read more about this “Hymn to Apollo” on the RIPM website here.

Performing Antiquity investigates the collaboration between scholars (musicologists, archeologists) and performers of ancient Greek music and dance in Paris in the 1890s and early decades of the twentieth century, with an additional chapter on the first modern Delphic Festival in Greece in 1927. Dorf’s main claim is that performance was a key feature of late nineteenth-century scholarship on antiquity, antiquity referring to “a modern imagined Greek past” (7). These “performances” of antiquity depended on reciprocity: “the performers gain[ed] new insight into their craft while learning new techniques or repertoire, and the scholars gain[ed] an opportunity to bring theory into experimental practice; that is, they [had] a chance to see/hear/experience what they [had] studied and imagined” (2). For example, archeologist and music scholar Théodore Reinach sought out the composer Gabriel Fauré to realize a modern accompaniment of an ancient Greek hymn recently discovered in Delphi.

It is particularly effective how Performing Antiquity highlights the role of technology, especially of photography, in the scholarship and performance of antiquity in the late nineteenth century. In the early days of musicology in France, musicologists like Pierre Aubry or the Benedictines at Solesmes relied on photography to document musical notation. Similarly, archaeologists used photographs to stage their archaeological findings, and performers depended on photography to document past performances. Yet, as Dorf points out, photographs are never simply empirical tools of documentation, nor are they neutral. He writes: “photographs are simultaneously scientific tools and works of art. Photography makes visible […] imagination and fantasy” (14). Like many of the other performance strategies described in the book, photography was a means of visualizing a desired fantasy of the past.

Each chapter in the book features a different case study involving the collaboration between scholars and performers of antiquity. Chapter 2 details the working relationship of archaeologist and music scholar Théodore Reinach with Gabriel Fauré. After discovering a second-century BCE hymn dedicated to Apollo in Delphi, Reinach asked Fauré to compose a modern instrumental accompaniment to the original melody. Chapter 3 describes the pseudo-Greek musical and dance performance that occurred in the Parisian home of Natalie Clifford Barney in the early 1900s. Chapter 4 examines a 1929 production of Maurice Emmanuel’s opera Salamine, with a libretto by Théodore Reinach and choreography by Nicola Guerra based on Aeschylus’s The Persians. Chapter 5 investigates the re-enactment of ancient Greek rites at the first modern Delphic Festival in 1927, founded by dancer Eva Palmer Sikelianos and her husband, the poet Angehlos Sikelianos.

The concluding chapter offers a creative response to the calls by Suzanne Cusick and William Cheng for a reparative musicology—that is, a musicology “that accepts all kinds of scholarship (and performance), that can be personal, intimate, and even political, but also does some of the work of mending, repairing, and reconciling” (4). Reparative musicology moves in the opposite direction of a “paranoid mode of reading,” which values the uncovering of hidden meanings that readers are supposedly not able to find for themselves. Paranoid reading sets up a power hierarchy between the scholar and reader. In contrast, the reparative mode of reading seeks new contexts “for meaning to flourish that are not necessarily predicated on authenticity or truth but rather desire, play, and, yes, love” (154). By focusing less on who “got it right” and more on the motivations and desires underlying historical performances, Dorf effectively demonstrates such a reparative musicology. However, my only criticism of this book is that the discussion of a reparative musicology focuses too narrowly on the discipline and may distract readers from the book’s broader appeal.

A second aspect that I found particularly effective about this book was Dorf’s consideration of archival work as ethnographic (“autoethnographic”). Dorf stresses how archival research is more than passive observation: “the archival experiences are critical components of the performance of writing and thinking and of living this project. As a scholar in an archive I participate in the stories I tell” (17, my emphasis). For example, by taking photos on a smartphone, Dorf participates in the stories he tells. Performing Antiquity is filled with lively and engaging observations about archival experiences and research trips that make it immensely enjoyable and insightful to read. Dorf’s autoethnographic mode of writing is also related to the types of primary sources that he consults. In addition to more traditional sources like musical scores, librettos, and films, he also refers to fragmentary evidence scattered across private collections, including photographs, diaries, letters, and “anecdotes told thirdhand” (18).

In conclusion, Performing Antiquity leaves the reader with a much greater knowledge of and appreciation for the different ways that scholars and performers imagined the ancient Greek past during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The book’s significance extends far beyond the consideration of Greek antiquity. It urges readers to examine the ways that they perform their own research, desires, and fantasies—no matter what the time period is. Furthermore, Performing Antiquity encourages scholars to engage in performance and collaborate with fellow scholars and performers, but it also serves as a cautionary tale for how these relationships may cross boundaries and do harm—an example being the relationship between archaeologist and art historian Salamon Reinach, writer and patron Natalie Clifford Barney, and the dancers Régina Badet and Liane de Pougy. Though intended primarily for musicologists and dance scholars, Performing Antiquity appeals to a much broader audience of readers in the humanities and sciences.