By Fanny Rebillard and Antoine Morisset
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?
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…).
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.
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.