The Normative Thought of Charles S. Peirce

By Cornelis De Waal; Krzysztof Piotr Skowroński | Go to book overview

TWO
NORMATIVE JUDGMENT IN JAZZ
A Semiotic Framework

Kelly A. Parker

A composer’s job involves the decoration of fragments of time. Without
music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or
dates by which bills must be paid.

—Frank Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book

The following pages draw on Charles S. Peirce’s semiotics as a basis for understanding musical phenomena and indicate some advantages of a semiotic approach to musicology.1 Much musicology simply seems irrelevant to what composers, performers, and engaged auditors actually do. My working assumption is that this is because the emphasis of such musicology on formal internal structures and theory simply fails to reflect the musician’s experience. As Naomi Cumming noted, much musicology is built on “a persistent, if unstated, belief that sounding quality and formal structure stand on two sides of an opposition, like secondary and primary qualities in the Lockean sense” (Cumming 1999, 437). The timebound toils of composition, the precarious and particular acts of rehearsal and performance—these are infinitely variable and ephemeral phenomena. These daily facts of the musician’s life are, on their face, unattractive objects for the musicologists’ systematic study and general theorizing. The theory-defined “formal features” of a musical work are much more appealing to musicologists: These “are assumed to have a superior permanence, as they inhere in some unspecified sense in the work’s score,

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