Recorded Music: Performance, Culture and Technology

By Bates, Eliot | Notes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Recorded Music: Performance, Culture and Technology


Bates, Eliot, Notes


ARTS AND TECHNOLOGIES Recorded Music: Performance, Culture and Technology. Edited by Amanda Bayley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. [xviii, 374 p. ISBN 9780521863094. $104.] Music examples, bibliography, discography, index.

It is a daunting task to assess the 125 year history of recorded music, and equally daunting to assemble a theoretical and methodological framework that will continue to be relevant and useful for musicological and interdisciplinary scholarship in the twenty-first century. This volume provides a diverse sampling of contemporary scholarly approaches to grappling with such a history. The anchor for the articles in this edited collection is the concept of transformation as it unfolds in the history of recorded music in the twentieth century. Four transformations receive special attention: the shifting ontology of the musical object itself, changing technologies and recording practices, new kinds of mediations between performer and listener, and the emergence of new genres.

Amanda Bayley, this collection's editor, is a British scholar who has recently been conducting ethnographic research in the recording of contemporary classical music and the creative process of classical performance. Bayley's commitment to interdisciplinarity is apparent both in her own research and in the chapters she assembled for this volume. Thirteen of the sixteen chapters are by British scholars, with fairly even disciplinary representation of musicology, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, and theory.

Three chapters focus on the use of recordings by musicologists (including, but hardly limited to, ethnomusicologists). Stephen Cottrell's contribution is a useful overview of recordings as analytic resources for musicologists and as pedagogical tools for musicians. He defines phonomusicology as "the study of recorded music, including its contexts of production and patterns of consumption" (pp. 15-16), and establishes a schema to represent the relation between musical practices and recording technologies. This section of the chapter was less convincing than the good overview of different modes of visualizing sound (with a particular focus on Charles Seeger's melograph and its use in musicology) in the following section. The chapter would make a good addition to a syllabus for a transcription and analysis class, and I will be using it in my "Visualizing Sound" class next year.

A related concern forms the basis of Jonathan P. J. Stock's article, which is ostensibly about "how ethnomusicologists use recordings as tools in their research projects" (p. 187). It is structured around four "case studies" that show how 1) interview recordings possess generative value; 2) lesson/rehearsal recordings serve as tools for learning performance practice and as documents of ornamentation and ensemble interactional conventions; 3) recordings function as historical documents that supplement (or even contradict) theoretical assumptions about the music; and 4) the practice of playing back field recordings while in the field can be used as a research method. Stock focuses primarily on his own field research in China. Such accounts have become more common in the literature during the last decade as published articles and monographs started to include self-reflexive "fieldwork methodology" sections. However, Stock references hardly any other ethnomusicologist's work, with the exception of Anthony Seeger's fieldwork among the Suyá, and as such this article is not necessarily representative of how other ethnomusicologists use recordings.

John Baily traces the evolution of field recordings as ethnomusicological tools alongside the development of a world music industry. The article provides a succinct and well-cited history starting with the earliest ethnomusicological field recording proj - ects, moving to the construction by the record industry in the 1920s of niche markets that catered to particular immigrant groups, extending through the rise and expansion of the Folkways label, and finally the 1980s emergence of the world music genre.

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