By Fanny Rebillard and Antoine Morisset
What is French ludomusicology? It is kind of difficult to define a field yet to discover. This observation is what actually led to the French bibliography project that recently joined the SSSMG bibliography page. Strangely, the French ludomusicologist tends to be a wild species that never seems to cross his fellow’s path. This is connected to the fact that there is actually no official stronghold for this discipline: we came from all kinds of musicology faculties. Each of us had to deal, at some point, with a feeling of isolation within the great world of musicology. Are you studying the sacred XXth century field, its inner revolutions, or the birth of electroacoustic music? Do you prefer the popular music studies point of view? Or maybe you are a specialist in medieval analysis that has gone mad/an intuition and is now madly searching for occurrences of Landini cadences in adventure games? Can it be that you chose a new unrelated research field, such as records management or the sciences of education, and try to study videogame music from this unexpected perspective?
Sadly enough, all these fields within French musicology tend to be folded in on themselves. Our links are even more stretched as “la Musicologie” covers a wide range of disciplines and approaches once you are preparing a master’s degree or a PhD: a musicologist, in France, is not necessarily a music theory specialist. There are historians, sociologists, psychologists, mathematicians, and computer scientists… Without any French rendez-vous dedicated to the matter of music in videogames, most of the ludomusicologists will have only two choices when it comes to meeting people from the same sphere. First, they can attend meetings from their musicological field of origin and try to explain how game theory can be of interest from this point of view – if explaining the basis of ludology doesn’t take up all the speaker’s time. They also can go to global game studies conferences where every field is welcome, such as the annual MiG (Montpellier in Games) show, or one of the many activities in Lausanne and Liège University, in Swiss and Belgium. But the legend says that there never were two ludomusicologists at the same time in one of these events (the « why » of this curse is still to be answered…).
“Why don’t they join us?”, you say? Well, if you never see any French ludomusicologist at the NACVGM or at any other English-speaking conference, there is actually two reasons. The first, and the saddest one, is that the French research field is in bad condition. Many universities are regularly on a strike because (amongst other problems) they lack money : most of the lecturers are never paid on time, if they are paid, and research grants are becoming increasingly rare. In this gloomy atmosphere, humanities and art programs are the most neglected, so there is little chance for a ludomusicologist to be funded for their PhD or any expensive symposium trip (and if a grant opportunity exists, there is a 75% probability that they’ll hear about it after they come back). The second and most laughable reason you don’t see many of us outside a French-speaking country is that we do have a problem with foreign languages. Most of us have cold sweat at the simple idea of speaking English in front of an audience. This is probably an early educational problem, but it is quite real: if you are not able to have a perfect accent (but which one? No one knows…), and to make complex puns and not a single grammatical mistake, you are convinced that you are an embarrassment and that everybody will despise you as a researcher.
Further, there are not many publications from French ludomusicologists, and if they exist, these ones are hidden in some obscure journals that are not easy to guess, and difficult to obtain. For example, we’d never heard of Arnaud Saura-Ziegelmeyer’s article on the acoustic representations of Antiquity in videogames (https://books.openedition.org/momeditions/3359) until it was brought to us by people who attended the symposium. It was published as a special issue in a journal about popular culture and Antiquity, by authors close to archaeology, that are not very well-known in our field. Besides, until now, we can say that most of the French ludomusicologists had no idea that others exist, or if they did, they were nothing but distant figures to cite amongst a vast majority of English-speaking references. Some of us use small personal websites to talk about our work (such as Mickael Blum’s website, or some articles by Fanny Rebillard on www.musicaludi.fr), but most of the time, they are not well known and we don’t communicate much on social media. Most of the actual broadcasts and podcasts speaking on the subject are run by people who don’t necessarily relate to the academic research field. There is actually an important community of VGM lovers, who have a great knowledge of this world, but will never dare to dip their toe in this intimidating perspective that is ludomusicology. However, these people have been very important, in France, for promoting and upholding this musical culture. These last years, some events (such as the videogame music concert cycle at Paris’ Philharmonie in 2017) elevated videogame music to a higher status in the musical field. It is gradually coming out of the “beep-boop (not be-bop) funny but somewhat very nostalgic” zone and has garnered consideration as something complex and worthy of interest. This year, some of us have been contacted to speak about ludomusicology and the basis of videogame music history in front of academic and non-academic audiences. We realized that there is a strong interest in ludomusicology, not only in France but in other French-speaking countries and districts: Belgium, Switzerland, Québec, etc.
Maybe, thanks to these people and events who set out the whole thing, the French ludomusicologists are finally coming out of their den. Beyond that, the fortunate meeting of a few of us, and the common finding that our references in our native language were completely split between us, led to the brilliant – and very late – idea to gather and to share the latest news in the field. That is why we put all of our bibliographic references into one Google-doc, opened a Discord server, and sent messages to our musicology-related email lists, hoping to reach for as many interested French-speaking people as possible. We wished to stay open-minded. That is why we also included publications from non-specialized authors, or video interviews and websites of composers. We believe that these elements can be of great value to study the late rise of French ludomusicology. So far, the operation is a success, but the vast majority of the titles we listed until now are yet to be read by many of us. There is currently no state of the art, but we hope it is a matter of time before we learn more about it. Finally, our wish is that all this will motivate young French ludomusicologists to stand out, collaborate abroad, and to reveal their work.