Documentation and Fabrication in Phonography

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Documentation and Fabrication in Phonography

ABSTRACT: In most general terms, my paper is about the mixture of agendas in the recording industry, where documentation, with its apparently educational implications, becomes difficult to distinguish from a range of distinct, even opposed, goals—which I group under the heading "fabrication." After a few historical remarks, I develop the concept of what I call works of phonography (WPs)—that is, sound-constructs created by the use of recording machinery. (Examples: rap music recordings, electronic compositions for tape machine, sonic pastiche's by pop groups such as Art of Noise.) I detail their ontological characteristics, as contrasted the features of ordinary musical works. WPs are—I claim—replete. (Their finest sonic details are constitutive of them.) They are autographic. (Authenticity of their instances is not tested by the allographic criteria we associate with ordinary musical works, namely, compliance with scores.) And they are phono-accessible—that is, accessible only through playbacks of authentic instances of their record artifacts, e.g., cassette tapes, CDs, etc. I then turn to Theodore Gracyk's recent study of rock music (in his book Rhythm and Noise), arguing that his account is formally similar to my account of WPs. This raises the question of whether there be counter-examples to Gracyk's account—particularly of the sort that show his view to be too broad. I bring this to a focus finally by a comparison of rock recordings with jazz recordings—two classes that Gracyk tries to keep ontologically distinct. I argue that many classic jazz recordings are artifacts of the recording studio, no less than those Gracyk identifies as pure cases of rock music. In the same vein, I argue that, once recorded, the improvisational music of jazz is deformed—indeed, that it acquires features of WPs. This has the further implication that Gracyk cannot preserve his sharp distinction between rock and jazz records that he want's to maintain.

I. Like Evan Eisenberg, who argued that sound recording has opened up entirely new kinds of musical experience unknown in the age of mere live performance,(1) Ted Gracyk has opened his ears to what Walter Benjamin had to say about mechanical reproduction. Both see sound recording not as a mere convenience but as fraught with broader implications. In his recent book, Gracyk has brilliantly described, not only the phenomenology of rock sound, but how the technology has made possible a type of musical work unknown in the age of mere live music.(2)

The recording industry has lived mainly by what might be the called transparency perspective, according to which the analogy for a sound recording is a transparent window pane through which we can view, undistorted, the object of our interest.
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