Recorded Music

Posted on July 23, 2008


What we understand as ‘the thing that it is’, with modern music, the ‘recording’, the artifact or record, can be described as a kind of platonic ideal; it takes on an objectivity that makes it the ‘thing in itself’, the ding an sich, which all live performances are but the pale imitation of; often this is an accurate summation: it is in the nature of the artifact to disallow the possibility of a true live experience of the music in spite of the obvious appeal it has in granting us the sense, in listening to it, that ‘here we are’ in harmony with and ‘fitting in’ to the culture of which we are a part, at least for that moment, because of its blueprinted recorded definition.  Traditional live folk music exists to be sung in the moment, by anyone, and does not need even the accompaniment of a musical instrument: but in what way should the difference between that ‘portability’ and say Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room be explained beyond the obvious contrast of electronically enhanced instrumentation?  There is a crucial categorical difference.  The fabric of overdubs, edits and so forth in which recorded music consists would be next to impossible to produce live, and one has to wonder at what the point of it would be – the creation live on stage of a note for note reproduction of the recording which can be more conveniently listened to in one’s own time?  Moreover, even for musicians playing conventional instruments this introduces a difficulty, since in leaning toward the achievement of any sort of ‘live’ similarity it would likely involve a temptation to use pre-recorded material.  The record is the thing ultimately.  Or in other words, for it is the actual process of recording the music that discovers that music.  Without that (experimental) process of recording, it would never be found: discovered in the first place.  The crystallisation of the recording which is the ‘live’ sound – the sound that one hears in playback – is the sound’s electronic preservation or fixing in permanence – yet it still works as if it is being played at that moment … Performance becomes essentially mobile or contextless technologically.  (Someone listening to their ipod on a train.)

“The musician must have mimicry in mind.”  – Rather than something that can be ‘played live’?  (If the balance stands in reverse, leaving an artifact somewhat perfunctory in its execution, it is to be assumed that the tendency is towards the folk or acoustical: the actual live performance.)

(Two points here.  A recording captures a moment – since that is what it is in the nature of a recording to do – somewhat like a photograph it is able to capture, or perhaps to create, a zeitgeist.  One thinks of various recordings by …  well whoever: anyone, all: seminal events; they were records that captured key moments of cultural change, often inadvertently …  Inevitably, the act of recording music contains many of the elements of the technological and cultural progress which it is a part of.  And one sees how that affects each record too; builds on a previous record by ‘improving’ on it.  This is again inevitable, doubly so, thus the second point.  Progress.  With each year or decade that passes, there are new recording techniques; things change, improve, they follow new possibilities: and so everything is built on the idea or the ‘fact’ of progress; where analogue is replaced by digital, etc etc, and so on.  Thus, again, the next record is supposed to exist in some progressive aspect of the previous record.  Things can’t be static but have to be always a step further, newer, better.  If in nothing else, at least in its production values: they must be radically different – improved, tightened, advanced – and so on.  So even music wholly folk-based where the aim is to create a record still, works as a kind of anti-folk …)

Posted in: Aesthetics