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August 19, 2004

Presentation on Sep. 14

I will do a presentation together with my collegue doctorate student Stefan Östersjö on September 14. His project is about interpretation and performance of contemporary music and we have found some very interesting overlapping areas between my own project and his. I am also going to write a piece for guitar and computer that we will collaborate on.

In his work he has presented some interesting ideas about authenticity. The way I understand it that when interpretating a work the question can be asked whether it is the composers wish the interpreter realizes or if it is the performers subjective understanding of the work that rules the interpretation. In the case of the latter the performer can be said to re-create or re-composethe piece at the performance which is much more closely related to improvisation in which the roles of the composer and the performer is one and the same.

This also expands to the somewhat more general question of what the music constitutes.

  • Is it the score (as [Dahlhaus, 1970] would argue)?
  • Is it the composers idea of the sonification of the score?
  • Is it the performers idea of the score?
  • Is it the listeners idea of the sonification of the score?
These four cases can be divided into two categories where the main difference is whether the score or the sound is the object. This is a critical question for me. I will argue that the sound will have to be the object in any contemporary music, including improvised music. One simple and rational argument for this standpoint is that the system for notation that we have is simply not very well adopted to the notation of anything other than discrete pitches and one dimensional rhythms. On the other hand, any type of traditional musical analysis will be very difficult and vague if based on the sound rather than the score, partly because there is no common language to describe sound precisely.

I will try to expand on this subject tomorrow.

Posted by henrikfr at August 19, 2004 10:21 PM


Personally I believe that the ontology of Western Art music notated in scores demands a manifold model of its ontology. But I agree that the nature of music, even in its text dependent forms is sound. Improvisations are works, I would say, having only one instance. According to Jerrold Levinson, a musical work is a performed sound structure, made normative by a composer at a given time. The contextualism that this view implies allows for external factors in the musico-historical setting to contribute to the identity of the work.

As for works, I find useful a distinction between art works made by Nelson Goodman. Works depending on notation (like literature, choreography, music specified in scores) are allographic and works where the artist – basically - produces an object are autographic. Autographic works can be falsified: In fact, even the most precise duplication always results in a false copy. Allographic works can have many instances, deriving their mutual identity from the notation. In other words, to count as an instance of an allographic work, a performance has to take into account performance practice relevant to the period.

Performative intepretations are necessarily constructive. Scores normally underdetermine the work in many crucial aspects, leaving to the performers discretion the definite sounding form in an actual performance. It has been suggested by several writers that performances should be regarded as works in their own right. If we stick to Goodman’s terminology this gives two works present in a performance; the autographic work of the performer which simultaneously instances the composers allographic work.

At this point then we have two works in a specific performance, and as suggested by Henrik above, perhaps we should also speak of a third work, that is the interpretation of the listener?

To me the second and and fourth statements are a bit unclear. Is the second one to be understood as the composers pre-notational conceptualisation of the music? The sonic vision of the composer in other words? And the fourth one the listeners response to the sounding music?

Posted by: stefan_ostersjo [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2004 11:44 PM

This comment offers a clarification to my hopelessly condensed description of Stefans work in the post above. I very much like the concept of superimposed works. It removes the tension between the different understandings of a musical work and I believe it is fair to add the interpretation made by the listener of the works in action. I am not sure about the theory at work, but it is definitely worth exploring.

I can agree with Goodman's two definitions, but like other definitions of a musical work such as Dalhaus's, it seems to me as if it ignores to classify improvisation that is based on common knowledge (jazz), history (strictly idiomatic improvisation) or pre-prepared structures. This kind of improvisation would be called allographic but the object (in this case the sonic result) would by definition be autographic which brings it closer to interpretation as pointed out below. I think that time has to be brought in to the equation. Some of the processes discussed here are real-time (performance, listening) and some are non-real-time (composing, analysis, preparation) and how these interact is what defines the result.

The second and fourth statements are indeed unclear. Let me try to clarify these, but let me also add that, obiously, there are many subcategories of alternatives to the four general cases I tried to define. By the second statement I meant, just as Stefan suggests, the composers sonic vision of the music, before it was notated. However romantic, one could argue that this is music in its purest form, not negotiated and not limited by the constraints of notation and/or playability. One can also argue that electro acoustic music enables the composer to realize this vision without these constraints (even if other media specific constraints appear). The fourth statement would be the listeners response, but also her subjective sensibility to- or understanding of, the sounds. This is a completely different to an analytical understanding of the work which, in some cases, may be argued to be a prerequisite.

Posted by: henrikfr [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2004 11:52 PM

Henrik, you are right, the notion of electro acoustic music as delivering the composer from all bonds is just a chimera, the studio resources should of course be regarded as a different kind of (symphonic) instrument. This is simply all to obvious when following the first steps of students striving to master the equipment in solo tape music... You have to learn the inherent possibilities in these instruments as well, and in fact what happens is rather that the composer also becomes a performer in the sense that what you do is the result of your interaction with an instrument.

Posted by: stefan_ostersjo [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2004 10:43 AM

I couldn't agree more with you here Stefan. The studio is indeed just another (macro-)instrument and, as with all instruments, it has its own set of limitations. Also, not only is the composer the performer of the studio instrument, he/she is also the designer of these instruments. So, you compose for instruments that you design and play.

This holds true, as we discussed earlier today, in the performance of a piece for instrument and tape or computer as well. The operator of the equipment playing back and spatializing the electronic sounds becomes something of a co-performer.

Posted by: henrikfr [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2004 11:38 PM

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