Works, recordings, performances : classical, rock, jazz


Works, recordings, performances : classical, rock, jazz
Recorded Music: Philosophical and Critical Reflections
Middlesex University Press
In this paper I argue that the relations between musical works, performances, and recordings, are significantly different in the three traditions of Western classical, rock, and jazz music. In classical music the work of art – the enduring primary focus of critical attention – is a piece that receives various different performances. Classical recordings are best conceived of as giving the listener access to performances of works, or perhaps as performances in their own right. In rock, however, recordings are at the centre of the tradition. The work of art in rock is not a piece for performance, but the track itself, as in classical electronic music. Tracks do manifest songs which may be performed live, but these are not the primary focus of critical attention in rock. In jazz, there are no works of art. This is because the primary focus of critical attention in jazz is the performance, and the relation between standard on which the performance is based and the performance itself is too dissimilar from the model of classical work-performance. Jazz recordings, however, like classical recordings, are best thought of as providing access to performances. These ontological issues are important in part because of their implications for evaluation and musical practice. If rock works are ontologically like classical electronic works, then criticism of them should focus not just on their formal harmonic structures, but on their use of timbral and spatial effects. Since classical recordings endure, but live performances do not, performers should ideally take a different attitude to work-interpretation in those two spheres.