Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Synopsis

Recordings are now the primary way we hear classical music, especially the more abstract styles of "absolute" instrumental music. In this original, provocative book, Arved Ashby argues that recording technology has transformed our understanding of art music. Contesting the laments of nostalgic critics, Ashby sees recordings as socially progressive and instruments of a musical vernacular, but also finds that recording and absolute music actually involve similar notions of removing sound from context. He takes stock of technology's impact on classical music, addressing the questions at the heart of the issue. This erudite yet concise study reveals how mechanical reproduction has transformed classical musical culture and the very act of listening, breaking down aesthetic and generational barriers and mixing classical music into the soundtrack of everyday life.

Excerpt

“When you buy a record there are always cuts that leave you cold. You skip them. You don’t approach a record as a closed book that you have to take or leave. Other cuts you may listen to over and over again. They follow you. You find yourself humming them under your breath as you go about your daily business.” Brian Massumi urges readers to approach Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s books Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, the two volumes comprising Capitalism and Schizophrenia, as if they were music albums. He presents the record as a metaphor for vernacular reading practices, as a practical way to reconcile an arcane study with everyday life.

For anyone working with art music, Massumi’s suggestion becomes a disciplinarity matter: it seems odd that a philosopher and political theorist should find music recordings more useful, conceptually and practically, than many musicians do. Though the recording has been “serious” music’s main vehicle of currency for at least twenty years now, American musicologists fail to give it or other mass media much ontological recognition beyond documentary functions. Such coverage as there is comes neither from musicians nor from musicologists, strictly speaking, but from media theorists and philosophers of aesthetics. Against the substantial work on recordings from nonmusicians like Michael Chanan, Kathleen Marie Higgins, Paul Thom, Stan Godlovitch, Lee B. Brown, and Theodore Gracyk, we need to place Simon Rattle’s conviction—not unusual in his field—that “music was not meant to sound like gramophone records,” music ontologist Roman Ingarden’s distancing of the recording from the composition by invoking “a record of a work in performance and not of the work itself,” and Harvard musicologist Lewis Lockwood’s anger that Bernard Rose dared make his Beethoven movie Immortal Beloved as a Hollywood film and not as a history textbook.

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