Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is the Recording the new RES FACTA?

Once again I find myself taking issue with the "Audiophiliac" opinions of Steve Guttenberg over on CNET News. This time it involved his launching a poll on the question:
Live vs. recorded music -- what's better?
Indeed, I am tempted to assume the contentious position that the very phrase "recorded music" is an oxymoron. In this respect I suppose I am reviving the way in which Tinctoris adopted Aristotle's distinction between making and doing, to which I devoted a post last month. In that post I quoted heavily from a paper by Rob Wegman entitled "From Maker to Composer: Improvisation and Musical Authorship in the Low Countries, 1450–1500." In this case I would like to home in on one sentence:
While written counterpoint, by its very nature, can only be represented by a noun (res facta or cantus compositus), oral counterpoint necessarily requires one to use a verb (cantare super librum).
A recording, particularly one made with extensive studio work, can never be anything other than a res facta (literally, a "made thing," with some bizarre connotations of the Mafia expression "made man"). Doing is clearly part of the process; but, when the work is done, it is inevitably secondary. True Aristotelian doing only takes place in the immediacy of performing in front of an audience (and lip-syncers need not apply). Calling anything else "music" amounts to taking a counterfeit to be the real item.


DigitalDan said...

And yet, by your own accounts you occupy large segments of your life experiencing these counterfeit productions, often preferring one rendition over another, at fine levels of detail. I'm having trouble understanding the point.

Stephen Smoliar said...

Actually, "by my own accounts" (both here and on my Examiner sites), I have maintained the mantra that "the music is in the performance." I do not dispute that recorded artifacts help me to be a better listener "until the real thing comes along." However, except for those cases (still anachronistically called "tape music" by many), in which the recording is all there is to the music, I would object to calling those recorded artifacts "music."