Hearing the Music of Others: Pierre Schaeffer's Humanist Interdiscipline


This article presents a political archaeology of Pierre Schaeffer's ethics of listening as it appeared in his 1966 Treatise on Musical Objects. Through close readings of writing and teaching material by Schaeffer and his contemporaries, it is argued that Schaeffer's phenomenology not only systematizes a modern, technologically mediated mode of listening, as his followers have long asserted, but also aligns aural discipline with the emergence of the structuralist 'human sciences' in France. The crux of Schaeffer's work thus lies in his attempt to prove the plurality and cultural relativity of aesthetic experience by establishing underlying cognitive mechanisms as individual and universal. Particular attention is given to structuralist undercurrents in Schaeffer's accounts of the relationship between sound object and reference structure, and in the system of four 'listening functions'. The article concludes by sounding new epistemological cautions in response to contemporary calls to reinstate Schaefferian thinking.