Revealing Sounds: The Techne of Music (Part 1)

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john cage 2- prepared piano

Techne is the Greek word for craft or art. It refers to art as a practice rather than as a theory. The techne of a creative work is the technique used to make it.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger states that techne is

“the name not only for the activities and skills of the craftsman, but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts. Techne belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis; it is something poietic.”

However, more importantly, according to Heidegger, “what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in . . .  revealing. It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing-forth.”

As Heidegger states, techne is related to “‘truth’ . . . the correctness of an idea.”

The techne of a creative work is imbedded in its perceptible characteristics. For example, type of tool a painter uses leaves a characteristic texture and pattern. The painting indexes the techne which produced it. This is how techne is a revealing.


Is the concept of techne relevant to the study of music?

I believe it is. As such, we can speak of the techne of a musical performance or recording: the role of technology and technique in its making.

“Technology,” as I’m using it here is defined as any means used to make and transmit music. Even a song sung in the shower involves technology – an instrument (voice) and an acoustical environment (shower stall).

A work of music – live, recorded or broadcast – always bears the imprint of its making. This imprint signifies the socioeconomic context of this making. Seen as techne, a work of music thus signifies social meaning.


This embedded message may be clear, or unclear – even deliberately hidden – but it’s always there, even if a little detective work is required to ‘hear” it.


Sources Cited: 

Heidegger, Martin: The Question Concerning Technology (1950)


© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2014

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