Introduction: The Ulterior Perception of Music

Historically, music has been used as a tool of influence to reinforce and guide revolutions, change political and cultural customs and to help encourage identity among peoples. It is with these notions that I plan on discussing the various uses of music and – by association – the media, in investigating ways how music is perceived as a political tool, how it utilised as a cultural device, and what the purpose of these actions are. The general area under scrutiny mostly occurs in the latter half of the twentieth century, most notably due to the rapid technological advancements of this time period. I speak specifically of the media in this regard; how it operates in broadcasting information, which in turn leads to a freedom of abuse by political bodies of all types.


Introduction: The Ulterior Perception of Music

The Perception of Music: the Role of Industry and the Media

Media, Music and Propaganda

Music, Money & Mass Market Tastes

South Africa: Music and Apartheid 

Political Disdain for Popular Music in Western Democracies

Microcosmic Example of Music and Media Relations

The Council of Trent

The ‘Irish Cultural Renaissance’

Overview: Music Autonomy or Music Utility?

Ways in which the arts and humanities have been transformed by the influence of socially and politically grounded enterprises such as feminism, semiotics and deconstruction have been observed throughout the twentieth-century. Richard Leppert also challenges this somewhat entirely new format of observing twentieth-century civilisation: “These changes, especially evident in studies of literature, film and visual art, in turn have led to a systematic investigation of the implicit assumptions underlying critical methods of the last two-hundred years, including the assumption that art constitutes an autonomous sphere, separate and insulated from the outside social world”[1] – to make sense of today’s art world demands a full range of new critical methods.

This is the general motive for researching this area of the arts, although I focus specifically on the subject of music. The questions I raise in this study are mostly concerned with the idea that music is isolated from the influence of the outside world – an opinion which is indeed ungrounded but nonetheless deserves observation. There is an ideology stating that music is an art which is perpetuated in autonomy by its creative artist, who – by no means of social or political interference – merely reflects life through art. This is in contrast to the fact that art is indeed sometimes used as a tool for cultural and political action.

To commence commentary on principles relating to music as an artistically independent art form, the arcane and formalist academic ‘rules’ of musicology, the serious examination of differences in art and popular formats of music, and the effect of a rapidly expanding advance in media technology is to be quite contrary to the pedantic methods of academic research of music. I highlight this to distance the argument away from traditional forms, in favour of approaching the study of music in an impartial and ultimately modern approach.

In the area of modern pop music, I interviewed many musicians and asked them about the very politically opinionated musician, Paul Hewson (Bono). I highlight this as an example of political impetus for those seeking to use ‘celebrity currency’ in attaching influence to world affairs. The response was varied; answers ranged from “I think he’s a bit of a twat, over-rated, and I wish he’d take those […] sunglasses off… but a nice bloke all the same”[2], to “I like him for the things he’s done that most people don’t like him, to be honest. I think he’s done quite remarkable work as a politician… there are so many in his position who don’t bother their barney.”[3] Other musicians stated musical autonomy in defiance of political concern: “I’m not here to tell anyone who to fucking vote for! This isn’t bible studies, it’s a rock n’ roll show, you know what I mean? So I treat it that way.”[4]

Of course, discussion will challenge the notion of whether the above political indifferences are true in an analysis of musical motive during the course of the dissertation. The definitive role of such is to prove that music is used to influence society and culture in ways which are not completely obvious to the participant. It also analyses the effects of direct political and economical utilisation of the media in various forms and how music is perpetuated through it to achieve these benefits.

I choose to discuss these by first addressing the role of the media, and how its advance in the twentieth-century has affected musical production, distribution and taste by following the consequences in a series of case studies. The first of these case studies portrays the effect of music and artistic prohibition of a particular caste-identity in Johannesburg, South Africa. The second case study involves the political disdain of popular music in the 1960s in two separate but related countries – the United States of America and Great Britain. The former nation shows how contradictions can arise in the use of music as a political weapon for revolt, the second instance involves the censorship of socially popular music by the actions of a conservative and ignorant government; its actions and perusal of broadcasting laws combined with a shift in political policies in the face of mass-market support.

The third case study (and subsequently the one following it) distances itself away from modern media in an effort to reinforce the specific power of music regardless of broadcasting methods; instead choosing to focus specifically on government influence by portraying the conflict of power between monarchies and the Church at the resolution of the Council of Trent. Finally, the fourth case study observes the ‘cultural revival’ of a nations’ traditional music in order to create a distinct identity separate from its colonial past: in early twentieth-century Ireland.

I support my opinions with individual items of observation for the purpose of a succinct and diverse mode of research. This is in the hope that correlations between different modes of music in a varied range of backgrounds can be found and understood.

The Perception of Music: the Role of Industry and the Media

“Everything that can be invented has been invented”

This famous quote, spoken towards the very end of the nineteenth century from the U.S Office of Patents’ Commissioner, is difficult to believe from the vantage of the future – but to add boldness to a bold statement: our inventions since 1899 are merely progressions of technology rather than anything inherently new.

Since then, the media has rapidly expanded to encompass widespread communication of various types of data, such as sound (in the use of voice telegraphy, music recording), motion-picture (film, video conversation) and textual information (email, journals, news) amongst others. The growth has been so rapid that, if we were to send someone from the year 1400 AD back to to 1300 AD, they would have missed comparatively little compared to someone sent from the year 2000 AD to the year 1900 AD. The change would be so significant that it is unlikely that they could adapt with any measure of ease.

As mentioned above, this technological progress has been most prevalent in the media – a tool which has been used to acquire money, instil a sense of nationality and hold governments to account for actions. It is both beneficial and malevolent, depending on what means it is being used. The focus of this argument will remain on how music is used in the media however, as it has been fundamental to its historic expansion.

This expansion first began with the invention of the phonogram in 1877,[5] and is still concurrent with digitised musical technology in the twenty-first century. With the possibility of recording music came its broadcast – through the progression of broadcasting technologies such as radio, television and the Internet. This is highlighted in how music has been rudimental in the influences of a people’s culture. The ability to broadcast this influence is the defining factor of music’s utility in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Even in literature music has played an important role in the stimulus of persuasion: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four saw the non-proliferation of its character’s music to promote the propagation of war anthems. Similarly, and in a more undeviating fashion, Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange demonstrated the use of music by governments in changing the thoughts of its main character. However, we can also argue that music is used in the attempt of ousting or upsetting authority in literature – most notably witnessed in V for Vandetta and the Shawshank Redemption.

With these points stated, the argument can now turn to the method by which governments use music in the media to influence their respective cultures. On this topic, Krister Malm and Roger Wallis have been most critical in their book Media Policy and Music Activity. The text opens with an example of political activity in Kenya, most notably with an emphasis on how music was used:

“Citizens of Kenya who woke up early on 1 August 1982 got a surprise when they turned on their radios. Instead of the normal, soothing fare of Jim Reeves and Boney M, the airwaves were full of the reverberating rhythms of East African pop. The reason; there was a coup attempt by rebels in the Air Force and one of their first actions had been to change music policy at the Voice of Kenya radio monopoly. The coup was short-lived, but the rebels did succeed, temporarily at least, where the government had failed on two occasions during the 1980s. Two separate edicts requiring far more local music to be featured on the VoK were formally issued, in 1980 and again in 1988. Neither had any substantial effect on output [sic].”[6]

This segment is not an example of government ignorance on matters of social change, but rather government deference in the face of international pressures which the media place upon smaller countries, in an attempt to promote mass culture and decimate the local one.

To counter the responsibility that most governments hold (in richer nations such as Ireland and Great Britain, the government subsidises RTÉ and the BBC respectively), Malm points to an example in her own country, Sweden, where the government tried to deregulate radio by auctioning off frequencies to the highest bidder – a method which has failed in other countries to alleviate the problem used in the Kenyan example.

Therefore, the question remains: should political integrity live detached from mass musical tastes, or should concern be given to their involvement? The arguments are livid and varied for both, and both a nation’s government and international media markets desire the power to control and influence methods of culture and industry, but conflict ultimately arises in what can only be described as a cold war between the two agencies.

Media, Music and Propaganda

            “Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I care not who makes the laws.”

Andrew Fletcher, Saltoun, England,
Convention Concerning a Right Regulation
Of Government for the Common Good of Mankind (1703)[7]

The above quote asserts in some ways that political agencies mostly use music either to inspire a sense of nationalism within the minds of its people, or to use the same to alter the minds of its subjects. It is important to remember that when ‘political agency’ is used, it is not to be deemed a term for the ‘government-in-power’. Rather, it is meant as a term encompassing an agency who regulates or tries to regulate ‘the social relations of a nation’s affairs’. In other words, it can be deemed a term used to describe people in power, or people seeking power.

An historic example of political agencies using music to instil a sense of nationalism can be witnessed by observing the use of music in the Russian National Anthem or rather, the change of music in the negotiation of Russian national identity. Daughtry’s research concludes that:

“The view [that national anthems are often thought to embody the ideologies and collective self-images of the nations to which they are attached] is complicated somewhat by the fact that ideologies and collective self-images are subject to the conflicting and ever-changing interpretations of groups and individuals within nations and as such are always conditional, contestable, and fluid.”[8]

In other words, the power-shifts of a nation ultimately determine the reflections of the people’s culture. In this particular circumstance, Daughtry is relating to changes made of the Russian National Anthem. To prove that this reading of his statement is accurate, he further declares that a nation’s collective self-image is as “interpreted by popular consensus or dictatorial whim[9]. In the Russian case, it was dictatorial whim which saw the change in the anthem – apparently, Vladimir Putin had changed the decade-long nation’s anthem from “Patriotic Song” (which served as the anthem between the years 1990 to 2000) back to “Unbreakable Union” – which had served as the anthem of the Soviet Union from the middle of World War II until 1990. Therefore, the old melody was reused, but the lyrics (personally edited by Stalin) were discarded and rewritten: “Russia, Our Holy Power”.

The understanding here is that the Russian public did not disfavour the new lyrics, but rather the reinstatement of the somewhat ‘Soviet’ melody. The impetus for such a change may have arisen from the fact that Putin may have wanted to reinstate a socialist cultural reference to his nations’ anthem, rather than have the late 1990s’ “Patriotic Song” (which was reminiscent of Tsarist Russia) instil the pre-Soviet culture in the minds of his people. If the composition is effective and expressive, the non-musical message will endure with it, and continue to be restated to succeeding generations.[10]

There are three points to be observed about this incidence:

(i) The power of music in the use of propaganda by governments, if ‘propaganda’ is believed to be “the spreading of ideas, information or rumour for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, cause or person”[11];

(ii) the ability of a researcher to observe the incidence without ever being in the country; and

(iii) the use of the media for the public to make judgement upon the subject.

Throughout his fieldwork, Daughtry states that he “engaged in several months of ‘virtual fieldwork,’ collecting and interpreting a large number of postings from individual and mass-media Websites”[12].

Although Putin maintained his position with the reversion of the Soviet anthem, public opinion was still available throughout various media. Some views argued that Putin’s modification of the national anthem was regarded as “an unprecedented affront to the millions who died under Stalin and an ominous sign of a future return to the authoritarian policies of the Soviet era”[13]. However, the ulterior motive may well have been to take pride and honour in the past accomplishments of the Soviet Union.[14] Regardless of these opinions, government motive was unquestionably present in the musical propaganda of the anthem.

Music, Money & Mass Market Tastes

“The techniques of radio and sound film, in the hands of powerful monopolies and in unlimited control over the total capitalistic propaganda machine, have taken possession of even the innermost cells of musical practices; that is, of domestic music making … through the total absorption of both musical production and consumption by the capitalistic process, the alienation of music from man has become complete.”[15]

It would be untrue to say that the above statement written by Theodor Adorno was entirely accurate.  Even if the ideology of it had derived from past events, it certainly is not a product of Adorno’s criticism of it. The pluralism of popular and serious music has always occurred, regardless of the Marxist system which Witkin esteems our now capitalist society:

“The system of social production alienates the worker, destroying all organic connectedness and inner-directed initiative, subordinating all his action to mechanical operations. The market relations involving commodities and consumers complete this process.”[16]

To agree with Adorno, there is a ‘capitalisation media’ which forces music on the masses in the interest of profit. However, this is not to say that they dictate what we should listen to – there also exists a semi-democracy among consumers, by way of desire for ‘good music’. But this also defeats the purpose of distinguishing ‘popular music’, because what is not popular fails to sell and vice-versa. Yes, there is an industry, but it has ultimately been created by the early ‘simple societies’ that Marx and Adorno have specified, whereby “goods are produced by families and communities in the process of providing for known local needs and for realising and sustaining a traditional way of life, [where] an individual could see the life-process of his or her community reflected in the goods produced.”[17] The origins of capitalism are deeply rooted in this picturesque vision of simplicity: the austere society develops a desire to gain more knowledge, will begin trading with neighbours, will soon become amalgamated through a process of similar identification, and will then become over-burdened with the necessity to provide more goods and services for its people, eventually developing ways to quickly manufacture these goods and services, all while the pioneer or opportunist stands to profit. It is inevitable and guaranteed, no matter what the initial intentions or principles were.

This similarly occurred with music, whereby people has similar tastes, and therefore unconsciously developed an industry where capitalists profited.

In other words, the ganglion of institutions which make up the popular song industry may try to control their market – us, the consumers, and our ways of using music and musical products – but our role is by no means a passive one. On the other hand, the industry does not ‘give the public what it wants’. Instead, it gives the public what the industry wants, by and large; but we are always in a position to refuse to consume, or to consume and appropriate even commercial products in genuinely creative ways.[18] Furthermore, Harker exudes that “Critics – and especially academics – have usually been hostile to working-class culture. A good rule of thumb is not to trust a word they say”[19]. With that in mind, I now hope to apply the above criticism of information to a series of world-wide and time-spread case studies.

Examples of Music and Music Media in Late Twentieth Century Political and Cultural Activism

South Africa: Music and Apartheid

The first case study focuses on African Jazz music in Johannesburg, South Africa. At the dawn of the 1970s, the myriad of petty regulations that made up grand apartheid were firmly in place. Black people were no longer citizens of South Africa, but of arbitrarily mapped tribal homeland states that may have been less than a distant memory to their grandparents. Urban ‘black spots’ and profitable rural areas were cleared of African landholders. In the townships, streets and wards were assigned to residents on the basis of this assigned tribal origin, and home ownership and lease-holding outlawed. Black professionals like doctors and lawyers were to be discouraged from taking office space in the townships, and steered to set up in the homelands. Living conditions worsened, as more work-seekers came to the towns (or evaded eviction from them) and set up home in their relatives’ backyards. Arrest – particularly for suspected political activity – occurred on the flimsiest of pretexts, and being ‘endorsed out’ of the city could happen at any time, on any arbitrary whim or mistake, with little recourse to appeal. Black cultural life was segregated and regulated with the clear intention of annihilating autonomy.[20]

In the following surrounding as written by Gwen Ansell, it becomes apparent that a kind of suggested culture would come into fruition – forced only through the negative bestowed upon its subjects:

“The most basic form of cultural resistance was simply finding space to do what was forbidden. The problem of space – physical and political – was worsening. From the 1960s, there had been a range of attempts to sustain autonomous community arts projects of various kinds, all with strong African consciousness: the Mhloti (Tears) Theatre group in Alexandra; the Mdali (Music, Dance, and Literature) Institute in Soweto; the People’s Experimental Theatre in Lenasia. As fast as these intitiatives sprang up, the authorities made attempts to hound them out of existence. Visual artist Thami Mnyele, working with Mhloti, remembers: ‘Some members of the community who were supporters…were not allowing their kids to attend our performances…Soon the problems came into the open: the people had had visits from the Special Branch and were afraid’.”[21]

The aforementioned is a prime example of cultural activism through the use of music, along with other artistic modes. In this case, the purpose of music is to bring the ‘exiled’ community together through cultural practices. Amidst this, Ansell stated that the amount of physical space was worsening, a result of the government enforcement of the deflation of arts activism in the black community of South Africa.

Despite this political deterrent, Ansell gives accounts of how musicians chose to combat this. One musician declared that: “If you had just got through the day and nothing too terrible had happened, that was the time to joke, to celebrate, and that was what the music was for […] But we never stopped playing. Never! Never went way from the music. We’d be at home. Some work, some practising, listening. It’s just we weren’t seen.” Another musician replied: “All we had left was our love of music. Those were the days when every house had a piano and all musicians just used to get together in somebody’s house”.[22]

Contrarily, it would seem that a government’s discouragement lead to the support of music-making! This proves illogical in the stem of previous arguments because it gave further impetus for the preservation and enthusiasm of music among the exiled black communities.  This is an example of people utilising music in order to reinforce and guide an acceptable social path towards cohesion. It can however also develop into a pluralism which divides ‘black’ music from ‘white’ music, creating a situation where the only thing unanimously conceived is the identity of one’s music – as has also occurred in the United States.

However, there are instances that are stricken with discontent when corporations show encouragement to the arts. When the South African oil company Sasol announced that it would sponsor Pro Musica, a Johannesburg symphony orchestra, there was public outrage that money should be spent on such an unworthy cause. At the time, South Africa was a nation with a severe infrastructural deficiency in many rural and urban areas. Other problems the country faced were a rise in unemployment and the average cost of living. To fund such a “luxury” was widely observed as a public disgrace.

Jaco Kruger defies this perception of music as being a pragmatic art valued as mere entertainment. He states that this “overlooks its complex, often covert, ritual articulation and mediation of structural and conceptual contradictions.” He further exudes that “Studies of contemporary South African musical cultures increasingly address the interpenetration of empirical constraints and material demands with autonomous cultural values and cognitive systems”[23] – supplying the fact that there are economical advantages to producing art within a national framework, the most important of these being cohesion between civilians of different communities.

Here is an instance of music being used as a tool by a corporation in order to help the artistic development of a people – yet surprisingly the people do not want it, no matter how beneficial it appears to be (Sasol was also a founding partner of the South Africa National Youth Orchestra Foundation). The motives of such a donation are not stated by the researcher who sourced the information. The hegemonic corporate power was most likely giving as an act of charity towards the already poorly funded arts life of South Africa. This is not a rare occurrence in global terms; many institutions often seek financial assistance from corporations. It is best to merely assume that art must thrive on the suffering of the poor; and to leave economic development to corporations – but a key factor was not considered here. Throughout history, there has been a strong correlation between economic and artistic development. Further examples will improve upon this correlation.

Political Disdain for Popular Music in Western Democracies

It is indeed strange that Western democracies would be against anything popular – considering that anything ‘popular’ is regarded highly by the majority of any electorate. Even if disdainful governments thought that popular music was isolated to a certain age group (i.e. the ineligible voting young in democracy), it should at least be clear that the young will grow to voting age, and clear inhibitions may still persist of governments who may have opposed or obstructed their desired musical tastes.

However, political contempt for Jazz in the early twentieth century, and again for Rock music in the latter half of the century, suggests autocracy in governing bodies throughout this period. As this became less of an issue at the turn of century it certainly begs the question: did popular music ‘win’ and, more importantly, was it the catalyst in creating conscious acts of the elected authority?

Again, there are two conflicting interests present. A democratic government must aim to please the majority of its electorate, a fact also true of capitalist industries. This is indeed the fact of the present, and is probably the reason for government retreat in the area of dictating a people’s music since the 1970s. Following this, there are two cases I wish to reference in which popular music was used as a cultural tool in influencing political actions: the first case centres itself on Cold WarAmerica– particularly the ‘Hippie Revolution’ inSan Francisco. The second case focuses on the illegal broadcasting of popular music on British pirate radio during the same period.

David James opens his article entitled ‘The Vietnam War and American Music’ with a quote by French economist Jacques Attali, expressing that: “Noise is a weapon and music, primordially, is the formation, domestication, and ritualization of that weapon as a simulacrum of ritual murder”.[24] This is certainly true in the case of Rock and Roll during 1960sAmerica, where music was evidently conceived as a tool with which to protest.

Understanding the influence this music eventually gained through the ‘hippie culture’ it prevailed in, the autonomous occupation of post-1950s music is generally perceived as hypocritical, given rock’s place in capitalism and in the relationship of other music to it, as mediated by that position.[25] James reports that:

“While the aesthetic and social rituals of liberation and resistance that organize rock’s pleasures cannot be understood apart from its multiple forms of insertion in capitalist production, still it is not clear how far the commodity function of rock (summarized by the dominance of the mass-market record) circumscribes any challenge it might otherwise propose to late capitalism. In respect to issues such as the determination of the music by the dominant mode of its production and the latter’s position in monopoly capitalism – three general positions have been proposed: that the music is not determined by its production; that it is totally determined; and that its position generates limits or internal contradictions that may or may not be articulated in the music.”[26]

This makes it possible to state that the success of rock music in the 1960s was dependent on a mass-market tastes and ideology. The perpetuation of this continued as a result of war, the music acting as a communicator of ‘free speech’. In other words, without the presence of the American military’s draft, and by that token the war itself, there would be no illustrious reason for a defiant mode of music.

However, the rock and roll movement (and by even more degrees, psychedelic rock) was fighting another front: capitalism. Considering that there was a Cold War between capitalism and communism, it would make sense for protest to take the form of the enemy’s. Even though ‘hippie’ culture peddled a slogan of peace, they were still ideally against capitalism – but this is not to say that they supported communism. The greatest irony was their ability to permeate this stance while not adhering to it. They created this irony by, as mentioned above, the perusal of a mass-market industry in order to ‘sell’ their music. Although it is an internal contradiction, a protest of such size involving music needs promotion from various media, and the only capable parties were capitalists willing to invest in order to create a significant financial return for their efforts. The contradiction is posited in one quote from musician John Sinclair:

“Rock and roll is not only a weapon of cultural revolution, it is the model of the revolutionary future. At its best the music works to free people on all levels, and a rock and roll band is a working model of the post-revolutionary productive unit.”[27]

This theory would be disregarded if it had not the power to summarise the contradiction of itself. In fact rock, rather than being an example of how freedom can be achieved within the capitalist structure, is an example of how capitalism can, almost without a conscious effort, deceive those whom it oppresses.[28] Other, less bigoted opinions include a more modest approach to what rock was used for in 1960s hippie culture:

“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Franciscoin the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

[…]And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .”[29]

In all probability, it is for reasons of aesthetics that rock music was successful in the 1960s. Its utilisation as a ‘weapon’ for revolution did not make much impact politically, except in the profits of corporate culture. It did however provide a medium for public discontent over the military actions of theUnited Statesin foreign lands. Although it did not achieve much, it certainly influenced people’s thoughts on war and peace.

During the same time period, the population ofBritainwas experiencing a broadcasting censorship for the same class of music. Contrary to statements mentioned above, this was not attributable to government distaste for popular music, but rather claims to owe itself to lack of royalty payments for artists. Reasons of broadcast regulation were highlighted in a report compiled by N March Hunnings in 1965, for which I have highlighted areas of internal contradiction:

“(a)      The stations operate on wavelengths which either have been allocated to other, recognised stations under international agreements or are so close to such wavelengths that electrical interference is caused;

(b)       The stations constitute a threat to the coastal States’ (i) broadcasting monopoly, or (ii) prohibition of commercial broadcasting;

(c)      The stations may broadcast material (most of which consists of records of “pop” music) without the appropriate royalty payments being made to copyright and performing rights holders;

(d)      The operators of the stations may, by operating outside the territorial jurisdiction of any State, avoid paying the proper income and other taxes.”[30]

I wish to highlight the role of music in this situation. The issue of pirate radio broadcasting in 1960sBritainis one merely of economic demand. In contrast to the music played in America at the time, which purported to be a “working model of the post-revolutionary productive unit” – the need for pirate broadcasting is purely one of aesthetics. In my view, the general populace tuned in to frequencies permeating ‘pop’ music not to use it as a ‘weapon’ for government revolt, but rather for reasons stated in the genre itself. Simply put, because the majority wanted to listen to popular music (the definition of a majority).

However, government regulation reserved its support for conservatism, the primary cause for the prohibition of commercial music. The prohibition may have also occurred due to lack of financial ability in supporting royalties to musicians. In addition to that however, this problem could have been contested with advertisement revenue (as confirmed by the pirate stations). Authorities did not want to rely on this form of funding because “the almost unanimous acceptance of “public service” broadcasting in Western Europe and a desire not to suffer the feared deterioration of standards which would result from the introduction of commercial radio programmes have caused governments to guard their radio monopolies jealously.”[31] This argument is further sustained by Mulryan:

“On the right, there is the risk that we get taken in by the fact that commercial radio never calls itself commercial, let alone capitalist. It uses public-relation type descriptions like free and independent and often contrasts itself to monopoly or State control. This is of course pure rhetoric. Their essential function is the generation of private profit for their owners’ investment. By contrast, public-service institutions are in effect non-profit making, so that revenue is devoted almost wholly to production and the development of service.”[32]

To confirm, the government in this instance should have created a two-tier system of private and public radio for which it has done for other services of its country, such as transport, education, health, and other public-private structures. The basis of regulation could still occur, but to blatantly disregard popular genres of music for the sake of conservatism was foolish. Semi-regulation ensures the maintenance of standard, and also safeguards other, less-popular forms of music.

Through the defiance of these pirate stations, the British Government eventually submitted in replacing Radio London (privately-owned) with BBC Radio One (publicly-owned) – the only significant change being the name. Had it not been for strong public opinion on the content of available music, such a change may never have occurred. This is one instance of the purpose of music in political and cultural activism.

Microcosmic Example of Music and Media Relations

I wish now to turn to the semi-interdependent community of University College Dublin (UCD) in order to expand on the above points, but in relation to a ‘simple society’. This simple society can somewhat help to isolate motives in music and the music industry in modern times.

To a certain extent, UCD (and other large universities) reflects a smaller version of the nation-state. It contains a significant population of people, is somewhat ‘governed’ – if not directed – by two separate bodies: the Students’ Union (which is an elected body) and by the University administration (a dedicated office). Similar to a nation-state, it contains various print, radio and internet media; some of which are independent of the Students’ Union, and some which are not. For instance, the College Tribune is financed by advertisement revenues (or so it contests) but the other newspaper, The University Observer is funded mostly by the Students’ Union and partially by the same means as the former. There is a radio station, Belfield FM, which narrowcasts music and topics of opinion, comment and human interest stories throughout the Belfield campus, upon which UCD is situated. This too is funded in a similar manner to the Observer. Both Students’ Union funded media are editorially independent, however, which also subsumes regulation of censored items, but does not utterly affect information which could potentially embarrass or injure the University in anyway. To a degree, there is essentially a ‘free press’ operating on campus.

Within the Students’ Union, there is also an ‘Entertainments’ Office – principally dealing with the commission of entertainment for the University in the form of music, comedy, drama, et al. This too, is similar to an arts council a government may commission in order to provide financial aid for arts projects.  As the name suggests, music is used here as an entertainment tool within an academic background, which is in contrast to it being used as a tool for cultural activism. The reason for this lies in the financial constraints of introducing well-known music acts for the University’s populace – indeed, the perceived ‘success’ of each year’s Entertainments Officer is usually denoted by this very fact. However, public interest is the main concern, and their ability to not only realise this, but to also act upon it, is justification to the extent of which theUnion belie the reflection of the larger ‘nation-state’.

On the other hand, and in order to complement this, subsidies are rewarded to the University’s Societies for providing other forms of entertainment, such as the Drama Society, Traditional Music Society, Jazz Society, DJ Society, English Literary Society, Literature & Historical Society, Law Society, among others – the money of which comes from the other governing body of the University. As this governing body is not elected but employed, they accrue no genuine interest into what students perceive as popular taste. They merely support the artistic development of their students, and therefore I may reiterate Wallis’ and Malm’s point: “public-service institutions are in effect non-profit making, so that revenue is devoted almost wholly to production and the development of service.”[33]

The accumulation of content is true for both of the University’s student print publications; both for the Students’ Union and University administration’s output. Media coverage of music is concerned both with reflecting UCD’s musical output as it is with reflecting the interest of international music. As editors of such publications received no payment, it is indeed ‘free’ and not, as Wallis and Malm state, “pure rhetoric”. This last point may signify an indifference of informational content within the publications, but readership is important both for the purpose of getting the written word read, and for advertisement revenues to boom; in addition to the upkeep in standard of the publication’s reputation.

If the publication is to be successful in reporting the locality’s musical output, it must first ensure that the publication itself is interesting enough for students to develop a curiosity to read it. This is achieved mostly by incorporating popular global acts. However, as both publications average a readership of only 12,000 students, the attraction of interviews with the newspaper’s journalists is limited. This adds another determining factor to what could potentially influence readers as a market force in album and concert ticket sales. To summarise this point, the newspaper’s output does not act as hegemony for musical influence, but is rather dictated by the larger forces of the international mass-market.

In fact, it is purely related to advertisement with music promoters. In order to feature a musical act, the publication must include details of that act’s current sales feature – whether it is an upcoming concert or album release. MCD Promotions, who deal with national publications in addition to local newspapers, control the majority of show promotions in Ireland. Upon not including details of shows, the company shows considerable frustration. The following is an email regarding such matters[34]:

On Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 4:17 PM, [name left out] wrote:

Hi Colin

We need to have concert details included in all interviews for MCD. Can we make sure they are included going forward?

You see it’s the most important item for us – we promote shows – not the bands!


[name left out]

This microcosm only iterates the intentions that influence the ebb and flow of industrial musical tastes. In this case, political activism is centred both on entertaining mass-market tastes with one hand (Students’ Union), and perpetuating artistic freedom on the other (University admin). The media reflects these actions in the same current, by offering readers information on local music on the chance that it will appear on the same page as information relating to popular music.

Examples of Music in Political and Cultural Activism Separate from Late Twentieth Century Modes of Media

The Council of Trent

In order to maintain the importance of the media in delivering music as a tool for subservience in political and cultural activism, it is also important to highlight the same with modern media communication removed. I have chosen the Council of Trent (1545-1563) for its obvious treatment of Church music as a method of reform. Research performed by K. G. Fellerer accurately denotes what occurred as a result of the Council:

“Church music was dealt with under the “Abuses in the Sacrifice of the Mass” in the session of the Committee 10 September 1562, in Canon 8. The Committee’s recommendations that music must serve to uplift the faithful, that its words must be intelligible, and that secular expression must be avoided were given binding form in the Decrees of the 22nd Session, on 17 September 1562. In the 24th Session, 11 November 1563, a new formulation was devised and the task of carrying out the provisions of church music was entrusted to the Provincial Synods. The Council confined itself to a few principles which were designed to delimit the scope of church music.”[35]

He also states that the fact that church music was featured in the first place shows the importance of music in the framework of church reform, and also a need for taking a position on the question in view of abuses that came to light as a result of contemporary changes in the concept of liturgy and music.

Problems relating to music included non-liturgical character of church music during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as well as the abuse of including secular music in the vernacular – these, including other problems such as lengthy organ compositions and unintelligible text of compositions, were the reasons for the questioning of the church and its music. The church believed that organists interfered with ‘proper worship’ by using the church as a stage to advocate their skills.

The results of these changes are markedly wide for musicians and listeners alike. On the one hand, spiritual worshippers could now easily identify with sacred texts such as the Kyrie eleison, but this notion disregarded the high-technical ability of composers who composed music for a church setting. In 1549, Bishop Cirillo Franco attempted to contrast the ideal of ancient music with the church music of his day. His opinion is one of incense, not only because musicians were developing diversity over the arcane use of modes in church music composition, but also for reasons that these musicians were slowing lacking spiritual connection to the music. In his view, the only justification of church music is to mark the meaning of the words.[36]

Composers, however, wanted to enhance their music-making abilities as reflective of secular music of the time. The Council of Trent evidently prevented this from happening, and therefore created a major cultural partition in the composition of sacred music. As part of a reaction to this, the ancient modes with their established affects had been overcome by individuality in musical sensitivity. In retort to Bishop Franco’s statement, King John proclaimed that:

“…in those times when music was not so much employed it was not so familiar, and when it was heard the effect was better; and it is no wonder that it produced a greater effect then and a lesser today…the truth is that we cannot presume to judge what colour would be given by men who composed for their own times if they had been born in ours…

[…] from which it can clearly be seen that the fact that contemporary music does not move men, when such is the case, is not the defect of modern music, but of men themselves and also of composers, but with this difference: it is not necessary to judge of all who compose, because for a composition to be correct, little is required but to be suitable.”[37]

King John as a political voice, however, achieved little in curtailing the changes which were made to church music during the 24th Session of the Council of Trent. While secular music created new expressions through greater polyphony of the treble and upper voices in the early sixteenth century, church music composers were required to favour homophony and the older forms of polyphony of cantus-firmus work, as can be observed when contrasting the early volumes of Palestrina’s Masses of 1554, to the work prescribed after the Council of Trent (Missa Papae Marcelli). Fellerrer concludes that “artistic as this music was, it no longer answered contemporary requirements of expression, the Baroque experience, and the Church’s task as formulated in the Council of Trent.

The autonomous demand of artistic musical production (among other actions made at the Council of Trent) created frustration between monarchs in other Catholic countries. The Council of Trent was for the most part a reaction to the spread of Lutheranism and Calvinism. Post-Council decisions affected education inEnglandbecause of the renouncement of Catholicism in that country:

“Even by avowed admirers of the Religious Revolt carried out by Henry VIII, by the ministers of Edward II, and by Elizabeth Tudor in England, it is now admitted that one of its main results was the degradation of popular education in England. Its standards fell steadily all through the sixteenth century, from the years when the Tudor King renounced the Catholic faith; all through the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth century […] It was far otherwise in Catholic France and Belgium.”[38]

It would appear that there is a correlation of education between Catholicism and Protestantism in post-Reformation times. This ultimately reflects the Church’s power over that of Monarchs, purely in terms of education. However, its decisions at the Council of Trent did not affect those of secular composers, who still undoubtedly resided in Catholic countries but still compose music in the vernacular. The Church’s power to change sacred music was effective, but it may have impelled composers to create music for monarchies, were there was more artistic freedom than within the confines the Church ordained.

The ‘Irish Cultural Renaissance’

The issue of traditional music in Ireland is a complex one because there are issues with defining a musical genre which appears inherently dynamic, unbounded, and diverse. These issues arise because traditional music is primarily an orally imparted tradition.

The problem with progress in traditional Irish music is Ireland’s conservatism towards the subject. It does not seem to move forwards, because it is so respected as the music of the Irish people. Here we encounter the paradox of most cultural forms, including traditional music: they must constrain, or base themselves upon a set of rules, in order to allow for communication and creativity, along with sustainability. In the case of Irish traditional music, the tension between different groups struggling with this paradox appear to have aided the survival and vitality of the music itself.[39]

Harry White’s discourse on the subject concludes that:

“The preservation of traditional music in Ireland may be regarded initially as the outgrowth of antiquarian interest from within the Protestant Ascendency. With the development of a nationalist political consciousness in the nineteenth century however, music in Ireland rapidly assumed symbolic connotations of emancipation and artistic regeneration which ironically inhibited the growth of an independent art music.”[40]

On further reading, his point is concerned more with the lack of development with an Irish art music rather than the sustenance of a traditional one. Nonetheless, his point is valid in that it contains the notion that interest in Irish traditional music was prolonged for reasons of national patriotism.  This indeed began in the nineteenth century, but is certainly not the only cause for a national interest in the country’s national music. It was however, used as a means of reinforcing an ‘Irish’ culture in the face of the ever dominant British one.  This too occurred within literature with writers such as W. B. Yeats, James Joyce and others. On the other hand though, the Irish cultural revival may have drowned out the revitalisation of the nation’s music until the midpoint of the twentieth century, due to an over-consideration of Celtic-derived sports and literature[41], even though the harp was adopted as the national symbol after political independence.

Only in 1951 did the Irish government anticipate a rigorous funding for the support of Irish traditional music; achieved by founding the Association of Musicians of Ireland. Before, Traditional music was characterised by its development over time as a form of social communication in relatively isolated localities. In and after 1951 however, this type of music also serves as a symbol of national or ethnic identity for many people. Fleming states that government interest in the promotion of traditional music was intended “in order for individuals, movement organisers, and/or governments to claim a distinctive national identity and establish a nation – which it performed to a small extent in the centuries of the nineteenth and early twentieth.

Revitalisation movements often create dissension between groups of musicians: those who want to creatively progress with it and those that want it to remain strictly preserved. Edward O. Henry of Comhaltas Ceoltóitrí Éireann, addresses the problems more succinctly:

“These two forces, the old and the new, are the dramatis personae in the continuing evolution of folk music. The role of sponsorship should be to provide the stage for the drams to be played out, to continue to involve people with music that speaks of their collective experience, music that they can perform with the old/new balance they prefer. By these criteria [AMI] has been successful.”[42]

Considering this argument, there was also another force at hand for the contempt of Irish traditional music, as well as other identities with Irishness. In order to distinguish itself from its colonial past, politics in the country promoted, along with other characteristics, Irish traditional music as an emblem of patriotism. However, in an economic climate of poverty and political instability over Northern Ireland, the nation’s government sought ways to ally itself with the European Union – in a bid to create economic solidity. Unfortunately, this countered with notions of Irish nationalism, and the result was cultural confusion. Many Irish citizens – particularly of the younger population – associated traditional music with a backward way of life. In correspondence with Fleming, a musician named Dermot relates to this confusion:

“The music became associated with the Irish speaking population. And the language became redundant…[the music] was regarded as not being of any use or backward…I think it was kind of the idea that [Ireland] was a new nation-state. Having a new identity…but you would have people that would be raving nationalists and they would look down on the Irish music and the Irish language. Which seems almost a contradiction in terms!”[43]

This was indeed a contradiction in terms. This reflects the ultimate failure of political activism in the case of cultural change. Music in this case acted as a deterrent rather than a tool to which purports to be culturally influential. However, the majority pined for what it had taken for granted, and it appears now that Irish people are only willing to advocate their Irish culture when abroad from the country. This shows that they use traditional music as an emblem of their culture, but to only that extent. Very few (in comparison to the population) actually played or partook in traditional music activities in the latter half of the century. However, if there are tensions present in the mode of nationalist music in a nation-state, it shows that the general population, in addition to governing parties, care a great deal over its existence.

Overview: Music Autonomy or Music Utility?

As is highlighted in these individual case studies, music can be used in a variety of different ways to substantiate the effects that governments have on their people and vice-versa. My argument is that all of the above considerations create a link between music and how it is perceived and used by society. Understanding this, musical culture involves the ability to perceive that it is multi-faceted when interpreting the representational and the non-representational, the verbal and the non-verbal, the observed and the hidden. Music as an influential tool provides a whole variety of problems in this respect. My conclusion involves a brief statement that we as a society should never take music as an exterior and independent informational contrivance from political motive. Generally, it mostly follows that music is created in order to either reflect identity or let identity permeate through it. Hopefully then we can comprehend its fundamental meaning.


1) ADORNO, Theodor, On the Social Situation of Music (Telos: 35)

2) ANSELL, Gwen, Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music, and Politics in South Africa, Continuum International Publishing Group (New York: 2004).

3) ATTALI, Jacques, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press: 1985)

4) BENNETT, Tony, Rock and Popular Music: Politics, Policies, Institutions, Routledge (London and New York: 1993).

5) CORCORAN, T, “Popular Education after the Council of Trent” in the Irish Monthly Vol. 56 No.656 (February 1928)

6) DAUGHTRY, J. Martin, Russia’s New Anthem and the Negotiation of National Identity

7) JAMES, David, The Vietnam War and American Music, Social Text, No.23 (Duke University Press: Autumn-Winter 1989)

8 ) FELLERER, K. G., “Church Music and the Council of Trent” in The Musical Quarterly Vol.39 No.4 (October 1953) trans. Moses Hadas,  p.576-94

9) FLEMING, Rachel C, “Resisting Cultural Standardization: Comhaltas Ceoltóitrí Éireann and the Revitalisation of Music in Ireland” in Journal of Folklore Research Vol.41 No.2/3 (May-Dec 2004)

10) FRITH, Simon, Music and Society: World Music, Politics and Social Change, Manchester University Press (Manchester: 1989).

11) HARKER, Dave, One for the Money: Politics and Popular Song, Hutchinson (London: 1980).

12) HENZE, Hans Werner, Music and Politics: Collected Writings 1953-81, trans. Peter Labanyi, Faber and Faber (London: 1982).

13) HUNNINGS, N. March, “Pirate Broadcasting in European Waters” in The International and Comparative Law Quarterly Vol.14 No.2 (April 1965)

14) LEPPERT, Richard and McCLARY, Susan, Music and Society: the Politics of Composition, Performance, and Reception, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: 1987).

15) LYDON, Michael, “Rock for Sale”, Ramparts 7:13 (June 1969)

16) MALM, Krister and WALLIS, Roger, Media Policy and Musical Activity, Routledge (London and New York: 1992).

17) PERRIS, Arnold, Music as Propaganda: Art to Persuade, Art to Control, Greenwood Press (Connecticut: 1985).

18) SINCLAIR, John, Guitar Army: Street Writings/Prison Writings, New York: Douglas Book Corporation 1972

19) WITKIN, Robert W, Adorno on Popular Culture, (London: Routledge, 2003)

20) WHITE, Harry, “The Preservation of Music and Irish Cultural History” in International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music Vol.27 No.2 (December 1996)

21) WOODS, Clyde, Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta, Verso (London, New York: 1998).


[1] LEPPERT, Richard, “Introduction” in Music and Society, the Politics of Composition, Performance, and Reception, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: 1987) p.xi

[2] Michael Webster of pop group ‘Baddies’ in response to question asked by author: “What do you think of Bono?”

[3] Jerry Fish of pop group ‘Jerry Fish and the Mudbug Club’ in response to question asked by author: “What do you think of Bono?”

[4] Jesse Hughes of rock group ‘Eagles of Death Metal’ in response to question asked by author: “What do you think of Bono and political affiliations of rock musicians?”

[6] MALM, Krister and WALLIS, Roger, Media Policy and Musical Activity, Routledge (London and New York: 1992). p.1 [the emphasis is mine]

[7] PERRIS, Arnold, Music as Propaganda: Art to Persuade, Art to Control, Greenwood Press (Connecticut: 1985) p.3

[8] DAUGHTRY, J. Martin, Russia’s New Anthem and the Negotiation of National Identity p.243

[9] Ibid., p.243 [the emphasis is mine]

[10] PERRIS, Arnold, Music as Propaganda: Art to Persuade, Art to Control, Greenwood Press (Connecticut: 1985) p.9

[11] Ibid., p. 5

[12] DAUGHTRY, J. Martin, Russia’s New Anthem and the Negotiation of National Identity, p.244

[13] Ibid., p.244

[14] Ibid., p.244

[15] ADORNO, Theodor, On the Social Situation of Music (Telos 35): p.129-65 [the emphasis is mine]

[16] WITKIN, Robert W, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge 2003) p.84

[17] Ibid., p.3

[18] HARKER, Simon, One for the Money: Politics and Popular Song (Hutchinson, London: 1980) pp.8-9

[19] Ibid., p.14

[20] ANSELL, Gwen, Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music, and Politics in South Africa (Continuum International Publishing Group,New York: 2004) p.143

[21] Ibid., p.144-5

[22] Ibid., p.149

[23] KRUGER, Jaco, Playing in the Land of God: Musical Performance and Social Resistance in South Africa, British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol.10 No.2 (2001) p.1-36

[24] ATTALI, Jacques, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press: 1985) p.24

[25] JAMES, David, The Vietnam War and American Music, Social Text, No.23 (Duke University Press: Autumn-Winter 1989) p.123

[26] Ibid., p.123-4

[27] SINCLAIR, John, Guitar Army: Street Writings/Prison Writings,New York: Douglas Book Corporation 1972 p.117

[28] LYDON, Michael, “Rock for Sale”, Ramparts 7:13 (June 1969) p.19-24

[29] THOMPSON, Hunter S, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Random House (New York: 1971)

[30] HUNNINGS, N. March, “Pirate Broadcasting in European Waters” in The International and Comparative Law Quarterly Vol.14 No.2 (April 1965) p.413 [the emphasis is mine]

[31] Ibid., p.416

[32] WALLIS, Roger and MALM, Krister, “From State Monopoly to Commercial Oligopoly. European Broadcasting Policies and Popular Music Output Over the Airwaves” in Rock and Popular Music: Politics, Policies, Institutions ed.  Bennett, Frith, Grossberg, Shepherd and Turner (Routledge: London and New York 1993) p.158

[33] WALLIS, Roger and MALM, Krister, “From State Monopoly to Commercial Oligopoly. European Broadcasting Policies and Popular Music Output Over the Airwaves” in Rock and Popular Music: Politics, Policies, Institutions ed.  Bennett, Frith, Grossberg, Shepherd and Turner (Routledge: London and New York 1993) p.158

[34] Email from [MCD promoter] to author on the 30th November 2009

[35] FELLERER, K. G. and HADAS, Moses, “Church Music and the Council of Trent” in The Musical Quarterly Vol.39 No.4 trans. Moses Hadas (October 1953) p.577

[36] Ibid., p.583 – “In substance I wish that it is necessary to sing in church , the music would conform itself to the sense of the words and the harmonies be accommodated to moving the heart towards religion, piety and devotion”.

[37] Ibid., p.584

[38] CORCORAN, T, “Popular Education after the Council of Trent” in The Irish Monthly Vol. 56 No.656 (February 1928) p.61

[39] FLEMING, Rachel C, “Resisting Cultural Standardization: Comhaltas Ceoltóitrí Éireann and the Revitalisation of Music in Ireland” in Journal of Folklore Research Vol.41 No.2/3 (May-Dec 2004) p.227

[40] WHITE, Harry, “The Preservation of Music and Irish Cultural History” in International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music Vol.27 No.2 (December 1996) p.123

[41] FLEMING, p.231: “During these early cultural revivals [1890-1921], several nationalistic organisations focussed on Irish traditional music, but none succeeded in national music revival.”

[42] FLEMING, p.229

[43] Ibid., p.232