The recent, 3rd such conference on creativity in music, organized by IRCAM, the well-known research institute of contemporary music in Paris, took its place in early October bringing us the texts and presentations of several views on one of the most interesting themes for the city and the world today.

There is more than thirty years since I entered for the first time this, probably the most famous place in the world of contemporary music, but, perhaps, completely unknown to most of the tourists, visitors and people from the neighbourhoods of Georges Pompidou Centre, and more precise, the very popular square near-by, Place Igor Stravinsky with its fountain and several, colourful mobile sculptures by two well-known artists, Niki de Saint Phalle and her husband Jean Tinguely.

This is probably because the connection between the place's name coming from the field of modern music arts and its content from the visual arts, can only be found deep below the foundations of the place, or, more precisely, on the two floors below, all of which are occupied by the, once shadowy, IRCAM centre for both analytical research and creativity in the areas of contemporary music. The centre was created by the initiative of the well-known conductor and composer of contemporary music, Pierre Boulez with the help of public funding and his friends from the French political world, among whom the most equal among the equals, the former President of the France, Georges Pompidou, in the late 1970s, as an extension to the close-by cultural centre that bears his name.

The original computer room with several old DigitalVAX and PDP11 computers, the most powerful of those times, has doubled in terms of the space, spreading into the second room, but the numerical strength of its analytical and synthetic machinery has been improved more than several thousands if not close to a million times since those times. The new add-on building added more recently, the one visible above the ground, put the centre in the public view and its more public role, but probably even more, on its more self-sufficient grounds as the new policy of public concerts, lectures and public discussions is paying for at least some of its expenses.

During the conference whose sessions took place across three rooms of IRCAM and the basement auditorium of the Centre Georges Pompidou, many of academic presentations were dissecting the concept and practice of general creativity and music in particular, with a surgical precision and form several angles: from the most practical ontologies and philosophical, aesthetic and epistemological, linguistics, semiotic, ethnographic and anthropological, but the economic and social in general too.

The sociology and human languages of multi-cultural cooperation and issues of the democracy of joint versus leader led decision making in joint improvisations and group work was also presented and discussed (e.g. by Monika Zyla) though no conclusions could be reached. Discussed issues also included the linguistics and grammars of the music itself (e.g. Hunt and L. Muns) and that of the individual musical instruments (Hochherz). Another problem discussed there is the development of music notation and issue of its existence, or more precisely, a lack of traditional fixed scores and use of other types of music notations that are also in the constant flux of their permanent perfections (Bertolani and Berthel-Calvet).

Within the thematic discussions on the music techniques and musical ontology there was a presentation on the early electronic synthesisers, namely those used by Karlheinz Stockhausen that were demonstrated by Sean Williams. Also, a variety of experiments with additional gestures augmented by electronic innovations that extends traditional acoustic instruments was presented by pianist Zubin Kanga who augments his performances by piano preparation (i.e. prepared piano) in the tradition of John Cage, by pre-recorded music or by other electronic devices: an additional electric piano or by the electro-magnetic field sensors attached to his hands capturing his additional gestures and augmenting the sound of piano. Also, in the same theme, F.X. Feron and B. Bacot have presented how a very similar device can be used by an orchestra conductor to augment the orchestra, but they also accepted my suggestion that it perhaps should be played by a another musician who is more specialized in the art of such instrument instead. At the opposite end of the technological spectrum, there was a discussion on the creations of Mauricio Kagel's gestural but acoustic pieces followed by two brilliant performances of his Sonant 1960 and Dressur (1977), the latter performed as a farcical physical theatre of absurd, using a rich variety of wooden objects as props and instruments, from cow-bells of different sizes and tonality, sticks and hammers, to farcical walks in Dutch wooden klomps and a rather creative use of a xylophone.

The discussion on the book of Friedmann Sallis on the history and role of composers' sketches (Music Sketches) highlighted that their importance has been elevated since early in the nineteenth century, in part, because the paper has become cheaper and because archives and historical libraries have begun to buy the sketchers for future analyses whilst providing composers with additional revenues.

With this remark, we have reached the main theme of this report: the broad issue of the economics of creativity that was discussed at more than just the one session of the round-table discussion dedicated to a new book The creative work by Pierre-Michel Menger, a sociologist and professor at the College de France and the author of several other books.

This book presents a comprehensive and broad sociological analysis of creative work on over nine hundred pages and from various aspects: philosophical epistemology on the lines of Edmund Husserl, economic (though without mathematical formulas) but also from a political aspect. It is a very rich book that requires much more attention, at least another article dedicated completely to it.

This book can be seen as related to The Capital in 21th century by Thomas Piketty, but one applied specifically to the world of the creative and artistic work. Its main themes are the uncertainty of income of those working in such professions and that of their extreme inequalities. The uncertainties and differences in revenues are several times higher in creative professions than those in other daily occupations so that the artisans must apply Bayesian probabilistic manner of decision making, That is to say the Gini index of income inequalities between the individual stars of the arts world and those who are not so famous is much higher, and therefore, the great majority of artists cannot be sustained by their financial revenues. In addition, these uncertainties and inequalities have been increasing over the last thirty or more years of globalization and electronic communications, where a small number of the stars dominates global markets for the creative products: music, film, TV, though a bit less so for the material products of the plastic arts, designs and crafts because these cannot be as yet broadcast to the world and so exported by the same low prices as electronic or other virtual arts can.

During that discussion, the author emphasised that he is a sociologist dealing with economics and focusing on creative behaviour in area where the keyword is uncertainty. He was trying to find out if the are artists facing such uncertainties can be treated as rational actors, rational fools or just reluctant soldiers of market competition. He also emphasised that artists working with new technologies are often facing a kind of compromising prisoners dilemma in the course of cooperation with the engineers at institutions such as IRCAM.

However, a similar case of a compromising prisoner's dilemma is the one between highly powerful market forces with their high resulting revenues, and the combined quality and freedom of artistic creativity, a dilemma not so new and which was highlighted very frequently in the years around the ends of the modernism and its avant-garde, the 1970th. For example, in a discussion following the presentation by Robin Preiss on the permanent striving for perfection of his individual pieces pursued by the US composer Charles Ives over tens of years, the presenter could not reject my then expressed (though already for many years standing) hypothesis that Ives could have had pursued his known perfectionism mainly because his creative work did not depend on it being sold on the arts market (and then “closed-off” for further improvement), this being the case mainly because he was rather well-off, auto-published and auto-funded by his own insurance business.

Thus, though the main criticisms of Menger's book expressed around the table were that art quality and fame are not so much dependent on mass marketing as emphasised in the book, (Ives's example being one of the few) it is however still true that the majority of high quality art remains the knowledge and experience of a rather small audience, a small number of “those-in-the-know”, specialists outside large international markets, and thus, remains most certainly economically unsustainable as the Menger's book quite rightly points out.

It is however well known that many of highly successful commercial, popular musicians expressed their admiration for, and pointed-out frequently to the sources of their inspiration and influence being the very experimental, avant-guard, but, initially, commercially unsustainable music creations such as works by Stockhausen or Xenakis who worked with public funding and in publicly funded institutions such as IRCAM. We then may need to conclude that the most risky, avant-garde research work in many of creative fields, as much as that is case in the field of technology, needs to be well funded (or, at least, co-funded) by public resources with expectation that only at a later stage some of its results can find their way into the commercial success – the Internet protocol and its browsers are just some of the example of the side-products of publicly funded fundamental research nowadays widely used and being so fundamental for the commercial success of many fields of work, not least the distribution of the creative ones.

Such public funding however may be nowadays more difficult to achieve and agree by politicians of already heavily indebted governments [e.g. see 1] without a better method of overseeing and taxing the revenues of the on-line trades.

(Paris, Oct. 2015)

Related article:
[1] Why Nations Fail