Text 20 – To Sound Out Music’s Art-Full Possibilities Under Reproductive Representation


‘To Sound Out…’ explores the challenge of reproductive representation to those musical projects that have art  –  Art’s Body  –  as their desired destination. Suspended between chaos’s ‘noise’ and Language’s ‘meaning’ those musical performances seeking to make-for-art have to live with and find ways of resolving the challenge of music’s defining difference  –  the near instant disappearance of music’s sounding out in mechanically/electronically unaided performance.  

But of course the terms of music’s relation to both performers and listeners have been radically complexified under modernity’s revolutionary rule. The emergence of electrical power as modernity’s defining resource has generated a permanent revolution in technoscience that grounds itself in the ‘machinic possibilities of repetition’   –  infinite ‘reproduction of the same’.  How might this now permanent ‘given’ (electrically supported) ability to store, reiterate, transmit (now trans-globally), and receive the ‘same’ sound (alone or in conjunction with imagery/text) bear on performers’ attempts to make towards the ‘otherwise’ of Art’s Body? This text’s extended discussion considers some issues framing the challenge to performing.

The focus is on the gathering and programming of contemporary musical performance around the complementary processes of electronic recording, amplification, playback, and transmission and the objects and cultural relations these processes generate. Under these processes the performing-hearing body is reconstituted with profound consequences  for both music’s ‘difference’ (its in-performance-disappearance) and thus its possible relation to art’s ‘otherwise’.

The equipment- and repetition-dependent relation of contemporary musical performing bears directly onto its possible relationship to Art’s Body. A consideration of ‘incidental’ music (music-lite) and  the legacy of the pre-modern (pre-electronic-repetition) traditions of performing set the context for an exploration of the contradictions faced by performing now: how can (should) performing respond to the embodied intensities of music’s passing (its ‘gone in the air’ (Dolphy) quality) when some elements of its performance are saved for infinite repetition?

Prefacing a discussion of modernity’s exploration of music-as-such, Glenn Gould’s sense of performing’s ‘place’ and its relation to recording is treated as a brief case-study; it bears on the relation of performing to tradition, repetition, and quotation. The role of electronics is broached both as a powering repeater/simulator (of instrumental sounds) and as a binder of music to knowledge (the academy), form(s), and the wider ‘division of labour’ (within musical performance and in the wider culture).

The text then considers a broad range of themes and short case-studies as they open onto the challenges of contemporary performing. These include performing’s relation to ‘writing’/‘notation’, ‘improvisation’ (as exemplary ‘passing away’), recording as a ‘detached apart-ment’, Nancarrow and the player piano, intimacy/distance in music’s ‘almost-syntactics’, Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ as embodying disembodiment, voicing-stammering as embodying music’s intensity, performing as remembrance, ‘saved’ tradition, ‘sprechstimme’, performing between speech and noise, voicing and ‘origin’, electronics in the music of Scelsi and Harvey, Louis Armstrong’s ‘scat-ology’, entertainment and the ephemeral, Duke Ellington’s offer of music as a ‘togetherness of irreconcileable differences’,  and ‘bluesing the source’.