Music education as manipulation – a proposal for playing

  • Ketil Thorgersen Stockholm University & Stockholms musikpedagogiska institut, Sweden


An important feature of music is its ability to affect people in unpredictable and deep ways. Music has therefore been used to oppress and (mis)lead people by dictatorships, religious leaders and supermarkets amongst others, and to help lure people into acting in ways that are beneficial for the manipulators. Such forms of ethically dubious musical manipulation happen because of the sublime potential of music to do something to people, and in such a way that they have few ways to defend themselves against it. Thus, the power of music is also the reason people seek out the unforeseen affects and effects in their encounters with the arts. Building on a theory of aesthetic communication, and seeking support from Deleuze and Guattari (1994), Dewey (2005) and Spinoza (Spinoza & Lagerberg, 2001), the aim of this article is to propose the term manipulation as a tool in music education or as a vehicle for teachers and researchers to help frame activities in music education as meaningful for aesthetic communication.  I argue that manipulation is a necessary component of all art and aesthetic communication, that, despite its usual negative connotations, manipulation is an act that can be used for good or bad purposes, and that music education has a duty to educate pupils in artistic manipulation. Manipulation is considered action, and as such, it is argued that it can take on any value from good to bad depending on the intentions and effects it causes. This article invites a discussion of possible ways of designing music education that revolve around tinkering with aesthetic communication, and wherein desirable manipulation plays a vital role, and outcomes-based curricula are replaced with an alternative more compatible with the arts.

Original Articles
music education, aesthetic communication, manipulation, rationality, Deleuze, Dewey