Lately I grew interested into one of the lăutari’s assumptions about music (lăutari is the word for Roma professional musicians): music, they say, is not so much about expressing one’s own feelings; it is rather about manipulating someone else’s. In other words, an interactional technique to "enchant" the listener. The term was proposed by Alfred Gell in quite a different context, but the lăutari would probably agree with it. I’m currently trying to take this idea one step further and see if it could ground a more encompassing paradigm.

For that, I build on ethnographies from different parts of the world, on experimental data from the cognitive sciences, and on various theoretical proposals by other anthropologists. In particular, I try to highlight the ontological assumptions underlying musical experience and to describe the distributions of agency between humans and sonic structures. The aim is to go beyond the basic idea that music is a way to "communicate": while this may seem an evidence in some societies, it is much too narrow to account for the broad range of things people do with music throughout the world. I'd rather view music as a social technique which enables people to interact in various ways with each other and with non-human entities. For this to happen, those people need to attribute music particular ontological properties which stand in contrast with those of other types of sounds. In such properties are rooted specific kinds of social agency, by which people achieve things musically which would otherwise be impossible. The definition of these properties are the core of my current research.

I suppose this sounds pretty abstract for now. Hopefully some empirical flesh will wrap it up soon…