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Little philosophical reflection about art, music and my personal experience of music, painting and percussion practice.

If I wanted, while I studied Applied Arts, to devote myself to the practice of percussion and drums first as a hobby and as an autodidact, it was first to understand through personal experience , what benefit could give a musical practice directly generated by the human body, in the age of the "drum machine" and the synthesizer. Could composition, both idolized by teachers and interpreters of classical and modern (and even contemporary) Western music taught to French conservatories, be enough to express the artistic potential of the music, and, as Socrates thought, being a kind of aesthetic matching for mathematical research or even cultural or spiritual (notion of divine "inspiration")?

To this, after nearly 15 years of study and daily practice, I can now answer two main arguments in favor of the approach the most fully and directly coming from an individual, taken in all its components.

First, far from the selfish argument, too often invoked (Aristotelian, Freudian and Marxist), which suggests that art in general is a "vulgar" cathartic and therapeutic outlet (especially for those who believe that art is useless in itself and for whom we must find a vulgar and pragmatic "utility" to things, to give them meaning and purpose (in fact, to satisfy basic and mediocre functions and instincts of "the human animal ")), I see in the most immediate human approach of music, an almost unique opportunity to transpose individual and human characters to almost "numerical" form. This makes the music activity a kind of place of expression or study unique and remarkable. If we choose, for example, as main constraints, only the performance limits of an individual, after several years of practice appear universal forms which the logic far exceeds mathematics and have more to do with the specificity of the physical relationship between the musician and its musical instrument. This is what one might call an "artisanal" or "virtuoso" approach in the sense that it is the "body" here that guides largely the mind, without seeking theorizing.


Now, no instrument is more capable, in my opinion, to let express all the body, with the least possible intermediary between the sound and gesture, than the contemporary drumset (with pedals) or hand percussions. In other words, and with little exaggerating, the more the instrument is "rough", the less he substitutes the work and the invention of the instrument maker to that of the interpreter, in the emergence of the musical "fact" (the other extreme is for me with the "DJ", who simply combines entire songs played by other than him and engraved on discs). One might then think that voice or clapping hands could be a perfect answer, but in these cases, the entire body is not involved. With percussion (and in percussion category we can also classify the "piano-forte" or other keyboards), there is an almost ideal balance to provide for the musician the maximum expression of the body without minimizing the mental expression.

I could quote for example the most total expression of the hand by the conga or djembe player, in the sense that every gesture and small change of position of each finger, each part of the hand, affect the musical result and not just through a spatial "filter", which means that depending on where you hit, you change the sound in an almost digital way ("set" ("scale") of sounds) like an electronic drum set or keyboard for example.

It is also this characteristic that brings so close the percussionist and the painter (see and hear Daniel Humair and Bertrand Renaudin ).


Second, it seems to me healthy and vital to promote a complete approach of an activity, with their physical, mental, cultural, moral, etc. components. My belief is that our modernist societies "die" from a stupid and blind belief in the superiority of the industrial and social approach compared with an individual approach. The notion of "honest man" ("gentleman" in French), "a healthy mind in a healthy body", or in other words, "self-fulfillment " is not overused and outdated concept, because it allows to remove the limiting factors of development and understanding of the world (of ourselves and our environment, as well as the relationship between the two) through symbiosis and not the breakdown of the many and different human capabilities. It is this complex addition that makes the specificity of the human species and which has established its supremacy over the rest of the world, and not as Descartes thought wrongly, the ability of logical deduction alone greatly exceeded today by the "super modern calculating machines" that are contemporary computers, which nevertheless stay far from the complexity and creativity of the human brain. Even if, as Voltaire write it so well, the man is a species indigent in all areas when compared to others, except in terms of the logical capacity (and even spiritual), he should not be reduced to this ability, which is still supported, guided and multiplied by all the other abilities (which are often perceived as cumbersome traces of all steps of the genetic evolution of species).


In the age of computers, the penultimate stage of the conquest of machines, this attitude may be our last bulwark against the substitution of all human activities by the machines (this substitution is it not the first fundamental cause of the problem of unemployment in the technically developed societies, unemployment of which we see increasingly the destructive effects?). The scientistic and modernistic divorce of body and mind is it not symptomatic of the divorce of the human species as a whole with the nature, of which we can see the ecological disastrous consequences, in recent decades?

This conception of music is far from being insignificant and without political, philosophical or even vital consequences for the survival of the human species (which today more than ever, we can doubt). In music, as in other fields of human activity, it seems for me more than urgent to rethink our blind faith in applied science ("technologies") and its real progress, in the utopian desire to submit all to the power of the human mind, and finally, the validity of a quest for absolute authority over our environment, because this authority can only be completely consumed and expressed through destruction, and is in fact only guided by negative instincts (fear, possessiveness, envy, jealousy, etc.). Many societies (and cultures), yet described as "primitive" by ignorant, colonizers and neo-colonizers imbued with themselves and destructive minds , seem to have understood these questions for a long time, and it is not surprising to find art forms so respectful of the individual as a whole, as well as nature which support us all, whether we want it or not.


Marc Douvan, November 6, 2005 (November 2012 for the English translation).

© 2005 Marc de Douvan Crédits Mentions légales