Week 4 – Music and Meaning

Ed Geater‘s EP launch , on a rainy Thursday evening at the end of October, in Digbeth, Birmingham, saw him as the ‘headline’ act, with ‘support’ from Lady Sanity and Alex Rainsford. I was asked to go and do a review for Brum Radio, so it seemed like an excellent opportunity to go and attend a gig as an ‘observer rather than a participant’, and write a further blog using Alfred Shutz’s essay, Making Music Together, to explore how performers and audience members made the music meaningful.


I hadn’t seen Ed Geater perform before, but there was a palpable anticipation building from the moment the doors opened. Mama Roux’s, a venue designed to emulate the jazz-driven dive bars of New Orleans, is three-tiered and around 300 capacity. The room started to fill up with Ed’s friends, family, fans and fellow musicians from Birmingham’s various ‘scenes’, as well as photographers, video makers, bloggers and pluggers. This was to be an archetypal ‘launch’ gig, a special occasion, a celebration of a ‘release’. An attentive crowd began to build throughout the first two sets, with both performers showcasing original material, Alex Rainsford doing an acoustic alternative rock set and Lady Sanity doing Hip-Hop / Grime.  As the star of the show came out, the audience, who are by now already warmed up from their ferocious clapping during the first two acts, offer a rapturous applause. The emotion of the performer is obvious, mirrored by the crowd in this interplay of ‘outer’ time communication, happening between songs.

Geater is obviously known to the majority of the ‘beholders’ / listeners, and they offer support and communication through a system of gestures and semantic expressions throughout. The ‘mutual tuning in’ process, the meshing of a ‘we’ reaches a climax in the headliner’s set, though it has been developing throughout the evening. There is a communication which ‘presupposes the existence of some kind of social interaction’ (Shutz, 1951, p78) between sets manifesting in the audience chatting as a collective, despite varying levels of anonymity. There is a feeling that the performers / composers and listeners are co-participating in ‘quasi simultaneity’ (p90). Using the idea of  durée, the listener and performer interact in ‘a meaningful arrangement of tones in inner time’. The listener co-performs in the sense of participating in an interplay of ‘recollections, retentions, protentions and anticipations, polythetically (step by step). This ‘outer’, or ‘measurable’, clock-lead timeframe which music must also operate in (with set times, breaks, audio etc.) is coupled with an ‘inner’ time, the essence of music, leading to a ‘pluridimensionality’ (p94). The ‘Making Music Together’ study by Shutz also highlights the multi-dimensional, ‘fragmented’ communication process that occurs between co-performers; negotiating between the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ temporal spaces, whilst simultaneity listening and performing is even more complex dimensionally-speaking than that of a soloist. Overlapping streams of consciousness occur between performers and beholders that are symptomatic of the ‘musical flux’ that is unfolding (p96).


Shutz’s somewhat poetic emphasis on the inner time created in music, and the concept of ‘duree’, is, by its very nature, immeasurable. We can assume, however, by the reaction of the audience, and the emotion expressed by performers, that an interplay between streams of consciousness and dimensions was indeed happening. The synchronization through music of time and space, as discussed by Shutz, set in the parameters of how a ‘launch’ should play out, and the semantic systems and communicative processes within that, renders performer and beholder integral to each other. The ‘mutual tuning in’ process and presupposition of a ‘we’, creating a vivid present that, as Shutz put it, is no different to reading a book, listening to a record, singing in a choir or watching an orchestra. Ultimately, the meaning derived and social process of establishing that meaning is the same.


SCHÜTZ, A. 1951, “MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER: A Study in Social Relationship”, Social Research, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 76-97



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