“…I do not think that there is anything that is functionally – by its very nature – absolutely liberating. Liberty is a practice. So there may, in fact, always be a certain number of projects whose aim is to modify some constraints, to loosen, or even to break them, but none of these projects can simply by its nature, assure that people will have liberty automatically, that it will be established by the project itself”.
“Men have dreamed of liberating machines. But there are no machines of freedom, by definition. This is not to say that the exercise of freedom is completely indifferent to spatial distribution, but it can only function when there is a certain convergence”.
-Michel Foucault, “Space, Power and Knowledge” (an interview)
Musical spaces can seem to be ‘liberating machines’. Like a theatre stage, we claim these spaces inherently contain an aura of freedom.
Foucault reminds us, however, that liberty is a verb. Take safe spaces for instance. These musical venues are not safe because they are labeled that way; nor because they are fitted with decor and circumstance. These musical venues are safe because the exercising of safety and spatial considerations converge.
Within this intersection are a variety of decisions: what rules of conduct should participants adhere to within the space, whether these rules are more so inclusive or constricting, how to deal with those who break the rules of conduct, what qualities in bands to look for that promote a safe space, etc.
All of these decisions play off of the considerations of space and liberty. Take the first decision: what rules of conduct should participants adhere to within the space.
Rules of conduct play into the spatial considerations of the venue. There are things that can and cannot be done within the space. How the space is situated deals with how the idea of a safe space plays out.
Then there is the exercise of freedom. This can be seen in two ways here. First, there is the decision of how the rules promote freedom for audience and performer alike without compromising on the initial vision. Second, there is inherent in this rule making the freedom to shape how people work within a space.
What is intriguing is that when we talk about spatial considerations and liberty individually, the other is always present. Going back to the idea of convergence, Foucault mentions further in the interview that if both parts “…are separated, they become impossible to understand. Each can only be understood through the other”.
A musical space is not a space without liberty within it. Practicing musical liberty does not exist without a space for liberty to function.
Music is not made of convergences. Music is convergence (the work of musicologist Christopher Small goes at length about this idea).