Unlearning: Prescription, Process, Passivity

In the often conjoined histories of experimental education and art, a seeming contradiction arises between the supposed necessity of a quasi-prescriptive pedagogy directed towards unlearning already accumulated education and its associated cultural dispositions, and a desire for a more 'passive' experience of education without any prescribed process. At their extremes, these approaches could not be more different, despite being informed by similar perceptions of existent education and culture. However, often they act together, combining prescription, process, and passivity, with variable emphases.

Building on my research into the implications for educational thought of Maurice Blanchot's 'entretien' (conversation, maintainence, sustainment) and Jean-François Lyotard's 'prescription without mastery', I am examining their reflections on music and reading them alongside the divergent approaches and sensibilities of the prominent C20th composers and educators, John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer. Both Cage and Schaeffer are renowned for their artistic experimentation and educational influence, producing extensive theoretical as well as musical works, concerning themselves with undoing and rethinking much of what had come to be taken for granted in composition.

While Cage's approach to sound and education was influenced by chance, passivity, and conversation, Schaeffer's was more obviously prescriptive, pedagogical and often near-scientific in its analytical processes. Both, though, were committed to their own and others' unlearning of musical and cultural convention. Reading Cage and Schaeffer in their own right, alongside one another, and in relation to the thought of Blanchot and Lyotard, this project attempts to formulate a conception of unlearning that accomodates divergent means and ends. Although principally engaged in uncovering the relationships between unlearning and culture through sound and musical composition, the purpose of the project is to develop a dynamic, theoretically and empirically informed notion of unlearning.

Alongside the philosophical and historical work of this project, I am also researching this context through compositional practice, producing sound works informed by readings of Blanchot, Lyotard, Cage, and Schaeffer, as well as the compositions of the latter two, and those connected to their sphere of influence, either directly or implicitly. This practiced based research will comprise of records of compositions, collaborations, experiments, and improvisations in sound.