Next week I’m off to Birmingham and the 13th of the lovely International Colloquium on Arts, Heritage, Non-Profit and Social Marketing. This year I am presenting a study of the Swedish Heavy Metal group Mustasch and the production of performing music.
The aim of this article is to explore music performances as part of market making practices (e.g. Callon, 1998; Callon et al., 2007; Cochoy, 2008, 2010). These approaches applid in science studies has had a major impact on social sciences in redefining the meaning of social construction and practices. The impact on market studies has been to retrace the subject, from a study of abstract marketing principles, to market actions – toward what actors and what actions define a market. ANT’s concept of a network is that this is not something persistent that exist ‘out there’, but rather a conceptual metaphor for understanding actors and relationship between these (Latour, 2005). A network is thus always in the becoming, is always being constructed. This is an effect of that ANT “treats everything in the social and natural world as a continuously generated effect of the web of relations within which they are located.” (Law, 2009, 141).
This leads to the concept of an assemblage, which is an English understanding of the related (not translated) French word agencement, meaning a network of heterogeneous elements, both human and non-human actors, that has been carefully adjusted toward each other (e.g. Callon 2005; 2007). For the present understanding of performing heavy metal this concept is used to refer to socio-technical configurations that associate heterogeneous elements (humans, tools, ideas). This notion moves away from studying a distinguished technologies, and the interaction with a distinguished user, but rather takes into account the systemic character of their association.
For this study the aim has been to construct an intersubjective understanding (Dwyer, 1977) of the practice, between researcher and researched, avoiding what Latour (1999) described as a ‘brain in a vat’ division where the researcher is trying to make himself as distant as possible from the object. Through applying what Clifford (1997) so accurately describe as ‘deep hanging out’ the author participated in a tour with the Swedish heavy metal band Mustasch through Finland, during a week in February 2014. On this tour the band performed at five different venues in the southern Finland: Turku, Tampere, Joensuu, Jyväskyle and Hensinki. This ‘hanging out’ enabled the author to both observe what was going, on through participant observations, and conduct informal interviews with the persons involved. Throughout this study the observations were documented using fieldnotes when possible, as well as using a camera to capture specific moments and actors. Having access to most spaces on this tour has provided ample material for mapping out the assemblages that were constructed throughout this tour.
Ethnographic research has gained a firm foothold in marketing studies (e.g. Schouten & McAlexander, 1995). Ethnographic research, as in observations, has previously also been used in practice studies such as the present study; for example Latour’s (1999) study of the sciences studying the forest in Boa Vista; suitable for studying the activities of human and non-human objects.
Touring with Mustasch can be understood as consisting of a series of interlinked movements between different venues; travelling in a Nightliner from one city from another; going to sleep in one city and waking up in the next, and at some point loosing physical placement, only being able to relate to the movement itself. Understanding these movements is about connecting and disconnecting, associating and dis-associating, different assemblages of sociotechnical material whilst performing at different venues. During the pre-production these assemblages of technology and humans were tuned toward each other, in order to present a performance that was technically coherent, both in terms of sounds, lights and movements. But disregarding the programming of the actors in the pre-production, for each venue they were dependent on the local conditions, on the present assemblage at that venue. This resulted in a constant adaptation when connecting on to a new venue. Although each venue present different conditions, in terms of spaces and technology and lights and sounds, and in terms of the persons present at each venue; performances are thus formalised and structured in order for the connection and disconnections to run as smoothly as possible.
The connecting and disconnecting that was taking place also involved the members of the band; of making themselves part of the assemblage of Mustasch, so that human actors, together with the non-human actors, are understood as one. The assemblage constructed as technicians connected all Mustasch equipment with the equipment on the local venue would be incomplete without the four musicians in Mustasch – at the same time as they would be incomplete without the assemblage of non-human actors. However whereas the technicians were concerned in connecting, mostly, non-human actors – the musicians were navigating through what was constructed, enrolling additional actors, such as the audience, fans and reporters; and in this enrolment created associations that strengthened Mustasch as a meta-actor in the music industry.
The reflections that can be made from this study include the understanding of music performance as dependent on how well actors in an assemblage are associated, and how new actors are enrolled into the assemblage of the ‘performance’, as a meta-actor. If a good performance is defined as an assemblage, where all actors are configured in relation to the other actors, it is evident that both human and non-human actors will have a similar effect. An actor-network approach to market construction in the music industry has the possibility of developing an understanding of how actors and industry co-evolve through the building of connections and consolidation of associations.