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Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94569-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    ″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.″¹ Brian Massumi urges readers to approach Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari′s booksAnti-OedipusandA Thousand Plateaus, the two volumes comprisingCapitalism and Schizophrenia, as if they were music albums. He presents the record as a metaphor for Vernacular reading...

  6. 1. The Recorded Musical Text
    (pp. 27-59)

    Just what is a musical performance? This is a difficult question, one that music scholars have been slow to ask and even slower to answer. We could begin our definition by saying a performance of Western art music transpires with a reading that is more or less normative and executed according to the composer′s instructions. But such a description comes up short because it makes no room for interpretation and variance, leaving Furtwängler′s view of Beethoven′s Third Symphony much the same as Toscanini′s, for example, while it is those very different approaches that make the ″Eroica″ the ″Eroica,″ that make...

  7. 2. Recording, Repetition, and Memory in Absolute Music
    (pp. 60-90)

    Edison′s early cylinders wore out after only several plays, so aural history begins with one particular refinement of his invention: the electroplated ″phonogram″ disk devised by Charles Sumner Tainter in 1881. Emil Berliner further developed this method for commercial markets, making multiple stampings from master discs onto a hard resin that could withstand repeat plays. By the late 1800s, then, people were able for the first time in history to hear the very same sequence of sounds not only once, but twice, four, seven, ten, a theoretically unlimited number of times. This marked an even more dramatic development in aural...

  8. 3. Schnabel′s Rationalism, Gould′s Pragmatism
    (pp. 91-122)

    To judge from their recordings, Artur Schnabel and Glenn Gould were extraordinarily different musicians. Their most obvious points of contrast concern keyboard address. Gould is commonly faulted for emphasizing pianism over service to the composer: ″Gould had total command of his instrument,″ reads one review, ″through which he projected his studiously considered and entirely personal view of Bach′s musical firmament. One must, I think, be primarily interested in masterly pianism to want this … disc, one that shines more light on the performer than on the composer.″¹ At the same time, Schnabel is criticized for attending more to abstract notions...

  9. 4. Digital Mythologies
    (pp. 123-161)

    Music aesthetics became closely intertwined with recording and distribution technologies in the second half of the twentieth century. This fact is acknowledged in popular music but also holds true in art music: large-scale changes in recording techniques precipitated change in compositional aesthetics, and vice versa, in a symbiotic process that mimics and carries on the 1,200-year—and now largely defunct—relationship between musical style and notation. Digital recording techniques—recording music as numerical data strings—first became commercially available in the late 1970s in the form of pulse code modulation, or PCM, recordings. In this chapter, I focus on digital...

  10. 5. Beethoven and the iPod Nation
    (pp. 162-193)

    The long-playing record, popularly known as the LP, appeared shortly after World War II. Columbia Records introduced it to the American market as a medium for classical music, under the assumption that longer discs had greater commercial potential with Beethoven than they might with Bing Crosby: the company′s first LP ads promised ″a truly new experience in listening pleasure—complete symphonies on a single record.″ The medium initially offered five times the side length of 78 rpm shellacs, allowing listening sessions to be measured in hours rather than minutes. And a single LP was able to encompass most every work...

  11. 6. Photo/phono/porno
    (pp. 194-220)

    Susan Sontag called photography an ″ethics of seeing,″ and by analogy recording could be termed an ″ethics of hearing.″¹ Photography′s traditional truth-telling powers stem from its long association with photojournalism. Recording owes such truth implications to the absolute-music heritage, the work concept, and to the art-religion idea originating with Friedrich Schleiermacher and Ludwig Tieck—legacies by which music recording becomes a form of scripture, a means of faithful transmission for timeless edicts.² Ethics is largely inseparable from politics, whether instituted in photography, recording, or any other endeavor. The microphone and the camera, as part of their peculiarly implicit form of...

  12. 7. Mahler as Imagist
    (pp. 221-252)

    Mahler′s symphonies, though never truly neglected, didn′t achieve wide popularity until the later decades of the twentieth century. Why they were so late finding broad appeal remains an absorbing question. Was it simply a matter of musical style? No, the wider public′s late embrace isn′t entirely consistent with the cliché of the ahead-of-his-time composer achieving belated recognition. Was it then an issue of cultural context and understanding? Writers do keep returning to the idea that Mahler represents some kind of nascent modernity or prescient postmodernity. In his celebrated essay ″Mahler: His Time Has Come″ (1967), Leonard Bernstein spoke not of...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 253-298)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 299-308)
  15. Index
    (pp. 309-317)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 318-318)