Musica Practica

There is a music where the audience is taken out of the equation. All that is present are the performers. In some way they are their own audience, the performers being the sole recipient of the music being made (by themselves).

To isolate this practice in definition is odd. It is more commonplace than the explanation gives credit. Anyone who has sat at a piano in their room or jammed with friends in the garage has participated in this kind of music making.

This practice is explained by the French thinker Roland Barthes. In his 1970 essay “Musica Practica” he lays out two types of music: the music one listens to and the music one plays. There is particular emphasis on the music one plays. It is what Barthes calls “musica practica”:

Musica Practica (p 149)

from Image, Music, Text (p 149)

“Musica practica” has its own unique history for Barthes: starting as an amusement for the aristocracy and becoming an increasingly dull ritual for the middle class. From there to Barthes’ times, “musica practica” changes its guise:

Musica Practica (pg 149 no2)

from Image, Music, Text (p 149)

There are plenty of publics, repertoires, and instruments that embody this way of operating. Each shine a different light on its principles. In finding and exploring “musica practica”, this “practical music”, perhaps we can find that it has not “faded out altogether” like Barthes implies. Rather, that “musica practica” was, is, and will be a prevalent form of music making that is inherently valuable to us.


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