In the philosophy of music and in musicology, apart from ethnomusicology, there
is a long tradition of focus on musical compositions as objects of inquiry. But in both disciplines, a body of recent work
focuses on the place of performance in the making of music. Most of this work, however, still takes for
granted that compositions, at least in Western art music, are the primary
objects of aesthetic attention.
paper I focus on aesthetic attention to the performing activity itself. I begin by roughly characterizing what is involved
in attending to the performing activity of musical performers. I then argue that such attention is essential
to the full appreciation of the central compositions of the Western art music
canon. Finally, I argue that, often
enough, recordings provide a suitable vehicle for this sort of attention; listeners
to recordings can use them to listen to musical performance.
music, performance, recording, Western art music (WAM)
good reason music is classified among the performing arts. The domain of music most subject to academic study,
Western art music (WAM),
features written musical texts in the form of compositions. These compositions are what are typically
called musical works. But music is an
art of the audible, and the compositions at the core of WAM are audible only in
the sounds made by performers.
the philosophy of music and in musicology, apart from ethnomusicology, there is
a long tradition of focusing on musical compositions as objects of inquiry. But in both disciplines, a body of recent
work aims to do greater justice to the place of performance in the making of
philosophy, we now have extended discussions of the concept of historical
authenticity in musical performance, of
the relation of performances to recordings,
and of the nature of musical performance itself. Most of this work, however, still takes for
granted that compositions (at least in WAM) are the primary objects of
aesthetic attention. David Davies
describes what he calls the “classical paradigm:” works of art for performance are multiply
realizable, performances of those works are their realizations, and the
artistic role of performers is that of interpreters whose efforts "manifest
different qualities of the performable work." In John Rink’s anthology, Musical Performance: A Guide to
Understanding, Peter Walls endorses this view: "We value imagination and originality in
performers, but recognize that (normally) this serves the music they perform,
helping to illuminate its character or make palpable its emotional content."
might seem to entail that there is not much to be said about performance as an
object of musical listening, or of aesthetic attention. Within the classical paradigm, the proper
primary object of attention for listeners is supposed to be the work performed. But even for performance outside the classical
paradigm, one could argue that there is no need to take performance in and of
itself as an object of musical attention.
In typical cases, listening to music just is listening to performance, since it is in performance that music
is typically heard, so any account of listening to music might equally count as
an account of listening to musical performance.
This could be reinforced by the sense that what makes something a musical performance is exclusively a
matter of the musical sounds produced by the performing, so that attention to
the performing activity, in and of itself, is not really part of musical listening, even of musical
listening to musical performance.
version of this approach in the context of the classical paradigm and its
emphasis on the distinction of works from performances, is to take “listening
to performances” to be “listening to what is distinctive about individual
performances, i.e., what distinguishes one performance of a given work from
others of the same work.” And, indeed,
this is the exclusive focus of the chapter on “Listening to performance,” in
Each performance yields a somewhat
distinctive pattern of musical sounds, and listeners can attend to the
differences as well as the similarities among these patterns. Of course, the same basic point could be made
for patterns of musical sound created by performances outside of the classical paradigm.
does not yield an adequate account of what is involved in listening to musical
performance. For this, we need to move
from a focus on the sound-patterns produced by performing activity to the
activity itself, and to ask what it means to include this activity as an object
of aesthetic attention in its own right.
follows, I begin by roughly characterizing what is involved in attending to the
performing activity of musical performers, with particular attention to broadly
epistemic considerations. I then argue
that such attention is essential to the full appreciation of the central compositions
of the WAM canon. (I focus here on WAM
because it is the domain to which the classical paradigm is paradigmatically
applied.) Finally, I use the
considerations I have developed to argue that, often enough, recordings provide
a suitable vehicle for this sort of attention, and that listeners to recordings can use them to listen
to musical performance.
2. Listening to somebody do something
What is the
difference between listening to a musician performing and listening to a musical sound-pattern that I
know is the product of a musician performing? Let’s start with a homelier example. If I am in the next room washing the dishes,
you can listen to me wash them, rinse them, and stack them in the drainer. Alternatively, you can listen to a sequence
of sounds, such as clattering, susurration, and such, that is an audible
product of my activity. In the first
case (listening to me washing the dishes) you are following my activity through
the sounds, while in the second case you are just following the sounds
themselves. (Although, in the first case you may also be following the sounds, and in the second you may
incidentally draw inferences about what I am doing; the difference is one of
the focus of attention).
The first mode
of attention is clearly tied to the fact that listening to people doing things
is, like watching them, a way of perceiving what they’re up to. Indeed, listening in the second way,
attending to the sounds of human activity as sounds rather than listening to
what’s going on in a more full-bodied sense, is likely to require the
deliberate choice to do so.
3. Listening to somebody perform music
that you are in the next room singing. (For
simplicity’s sake, suppose you’re singing wordlessly). I can listen to you singing or,
alternatively, I can listen just to the melody, the pattern of sounds you
happen to be making. I can do the latter
even though I know perfectly well that you are making the sounds by singing. I might do this, for example, if I am trying
to memorize the melody or recognize it or analyze it. When I listen to you singing, I am following what
you are doing through the sounds you are making. On the other hand, and in contrast to the
dishwashing example, the activity I am following is just the vocal making of
that pattern of sounds, that is, the
singing of that melody, so listening to the melody is an essential part of listening
to your singing. If I am listening to
you sing the melody, I am aurally following both
the melody and your singing.
instead listen to your tone production, perhaps on the lookout for flaws,
without listening to the melody. But in
that case, while I am listening to something that you are doing – producing tones –
I am not, in the relevant sense, listening to you sing the melody. To listen to you sing the melody, I must also
listen to the melody itself, that is, to the musical sounds you are making,
rather than just listening through
the sounds to the activity. And this
means that listening to a sequence of musical sounds and listening to
music-making activity are not mutually exclusive; the latter entails the
are, then, three different types of listening:
to someone do something, and using the sounds made by the activity to follow the
activity, to which the sound-making is incidental. (Silent dishwashing is
to the sounds made by someone doing something, without attending to how the
sounds are produced; and
to someone do something, where the activity to which one attends is the
activity of producing a certain sequence of sounds in a certain way, such as,
the activity of singing a melody. Listening to music-performing activity is an
example of this third kind.
4. Epistemic considerations
relevant sense, listening to somebody doing something requires that the
listener hear what the other is doing. This
means that whether someone is listening to what somebody is doing reflects both
the beliefs of the listener and their accuracy.
I am not, in this sense, listening to someone play a violin unless I
believe that I am hearing someone play a violin, but neither am I listening to
someone play the violin unless someone’s violin-playing is actually audible to
other hand, the relevant sense of listening, and the correlative sense of
hearing, do not entail that we can distinguish what we’re hearing from any
possible impostor. I can listen to, and
hear, Perlman playing the violin even if there are circumstances and/or phrases
in which I cannot distinguish Perlman’s playing from Zuckerman’s, or from a
sufficiently cunning synthesizer. Similarly, I can listen to you washing the
dishes even if I could be fooled by just the right combination of rain
splashing from the roof and squirrels romping in the garbage or, perhaps more
plausibly, by the dishwasher being emptied while the sink is being filled. When I listen to what you are doing, I follow
what you are doing aurally, but I may be able to do this only because I also
have other sources of information about what I am hearing. The possibility of error does not
automatically prevent the relevant sort of listening.
in listening to someone performing music, I am listening to the activity of
making certain musically-patterned sounds in certain ways. This involves attending aurally to both the
sound-pattern and the ways the sounds are being made (singing, fiddling, etc.). This,
in turn, requires that I be in a position to use the sounds as a source of
information about the activity. It does
not require that I be in a position to do so infallibly, or in the absence of
information in addition to what I get “purely” from the sounds themselves.
5. What to listen to in Western art music
described some of what’s involved in listening to performing activity, I can
now consider the question of how such listening ought to figure in the aural
reception of performed music. There is no
reason to expect the same answer for every kind of music and performance, so in
what follows, I will focus on the central repertory of WAM. This is the home ground of Davies’ classical paradigm,
which conceives performance as directed to the exhibition and illumination of
compositions. WAM is perhaps the domain in which we might
expect the very least role for attention to performance as such.
listen to music, I am attending aurally to certain features of what is going on. Which audible features of a performance are
musically relevant? An extreme abstract
sound-centered position might limit relevance to features shared by anything
that sounds just like a correct performance of the composition. However, if compositions are just
sound-sequences, as Kivy suggests, this come to the same thing as attending to
But one might also claim that the
idiosyncratic sound-details of particular performances are relevant, adding
that the only relevant features are the sounds produced. This suggests focusing attention on what Kivy
calls performed “versions” of compositions. On neither of these views is the sound-producing activity of any
musical relevance. We are not listening
to performing activity at all, just to a sequence of sounds. We listen to Bach-sonata-sounds that Perlman
is making, or maybe to Perlman-version-of-Bach-sonata-sounds, but not to Perlman making Bach-sonata-sounds, or to
Perlman playing a Bach sonata on a
violin, much less playing a series of double stops to imitate the sounds of
several violins playing at once, or arpeggiating chords that can’t be played as
written on a violin. We are to attend to
the sounds made by someone playing the violin, but not to the violin-playing.
compositions seem to invite this kind of listening. Bach’s Art
of Fugue was published in open score, apparently in part to emphasize its
status as a work of “learned counterpoint,” that is, a certain kind of abstract
This suggests that even if it was meant
as a set of pieces for keyboard, as Leonhardt and others have argued,
the purpose of playing it on, say, a harpsichord would be to sound the
structure, and listeners should ideally attend to the fugal structures as
opposed to the harpsichord-playing activity.
6. Beyond abstraction
other music directs listeners’ attention in other ways. It is possible, of course, in a performance
of a Chopin étude, to attend solely to the sound-structure, and one of Chopin’s
triumphs in these pieces was to write études that reward such listening. But here, clearly enough, the piano-playing,
as such, is not beside the point.
goes for any composition that, whatever else it might do, is also meant to
display the virtuosity of performers. When a Paganini violin caprice is performed,
it would just be perverse for the audience to neglect the violin-playing, as
such, attending instead only to the pattern sounds being produced. Now it is common enough to distinguish between
empty pyrotechnical display and musical substance, and between virtuosity for
its own sake and virtuosity in the service of the music. The latter phrase suggests that the
significance of virtuosity should be limited to its role in facilitating the
production of musically valuable sound-patterns. On this view, instrument-playing or singing
should not call attention to itself, and listeners should attend to the music
performed rather than to the performance.
Compositions like Paganini’s, for which this sort of listening would be
perverse, are for that reason decidedly second-class.
there is an enormous class of compositions that can’t be dismissed as empty
display-pieces but that invite or even demand attention to the performing-means
used to produce the sounds of their performance. Among them are Bach’s sonatas and partitas
for solo violin; the example above of attending to Perlman “making
Bach-sonata-sounds” was meant to seem incongruous. Part of what matters in these pieces is that
Bach has devised ways to produce or suggest certain kinds of contrapuntal
sound-patterns by playing just one violin.
And this feature of the performing activity interacts with the sound as
sound in the object of musical attention:
D minor Chaconne for solo violin by Bach … is undeniably one of the most noble
and profound utterances for solo violin in the history of music, and a
remarkable study in implied harmony. Its
effect of titanic strain, as of a giant Atlas, bearing the burden of the
world’s great sadness, is inseparable from the way in which the performer must
stretch across the four strings of the instrument, to provide as many voices as
can be produced by it, and to imply as many more. The performer’s effort must be heard in the
music, but heard too as part of the music.
The brilliance of Bach’s writing was precisely to achieve that effect:
to make the difficulty of the piece into a quality of the music, rather than a
matter of virtuosity.
are especially apt to be derided as empty display pieces, but concertos by Bach
and Mozart and Beethoven and Brahms are central to the category of
“first-class” classics. And the very
idea of the concerto involves the distinction between solo or solo group and
tutti. To paraphrase Lee Brown’s related
point about jazz, someone who approached a concerto as if it were merely an
interplay of timbrally-contrasted sound-patterns would not be in a position to
respond to it in an aesthetically fully informed way. While it can be valuable and rewarding to
focus on the timbral contrast between solo and tutti passages in a concerto,
such a focus of attention emphasizes one feature of the musical contrast while
neglecting other genuine features. And
although concertos typically require virtuoso performance, the solo-tutti
contrast invites attention to who is doing what in a way that is quite
independent of the degree of virtuosity demanded by the solo part. To hear the full contrast between solo and
tutti is to hear the soloist as a single performer and to hear the orchestra as a collective; attending to who is
playing when is necessary for both.
with concertos, the genre of WAM that most clearly demands attention to the
activity of performers is probably opera.
It’s no accident that opera and concerto are the genres whose history
includes the strongest emphasis on performer, rather than composition-centering,
and the attendant notion that the function of the composition is to serve the
performer and not vice-versa. The
operatic show includes musical sound-patterns, such as melodies, harmonies, and
so on, and drama, but singing is
certainly also part of the show. Someone
who approached an operatic number as merely an abstract sound-pattern, or even
as a part of an audio-visual narrative presentation, neglecting the special
kinds of human vocalizing that constitute operatic singing, could not fully
“get” the art. The nature of the
performance as singing "gnaws into the very essence of the (operatic)
7. Non-virtuoso examples
of chamber music places it at the opposite pole from virtuoso display-pieces,
although plenty of chamber music makes great demands on the technique of its players. But here, too, in a very different way,
attention to the activity of performers is necessary to fully “get” what’s
going on. Unlike orchestral music or
opera, chamber music is often written for the use of performers. It is sometimes described as music written in
the first instance to be played rather than for listening by a nonplaying audience. But if that is so, then to appreciate the
music as chamber music requires that
we hear the musical sounds as the product of an activity of collective
music-making. To fail to do so is to
miss something essential.
“songfulness” can stand in contrast to the characteristic busy-ness of
virtuosity. Lieder can often enough demand
virtuoso performance, but the more direct communication of lied-singing is characteristically
contrasted to the artificial virtuosity of operatic vocal display. Still, the significance of the human voice as
the medium of musical communication doesn’t go away. Quite the contrary. And in instrumental music that is meant to
emulate the characteristics of song (for example, Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words), the very nature of
the musical task involves the production of song-like effects by other
performing means, and an appreciation of the musical result requires attending
to the fact that somebody is, as it were, singing with a piano rather than a
voice. To attend only to the sounds
themselves is to miss some of the musical substance.
these examples indicate is that listening to performing activity has an
essential place in the world of WAM, and one that is not limited to a
peripheral, second-class realm of empty display. But it is not yet clear whether that place extends
to the very heart of WAM. The
compositions at the very center of the practice of Western classical music are
symphonies. To find a need to listen to
performing activity at the heart of WAM, we shall have to find it in the
canonical great symphonies of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. Here, the performing activity of players and
conductor realizes sound-structures of a richness that suggests the structures’
self-sufficiency as objects of attention, without the systematic solo-tutti
patterns of the concerto, the striking
disproportion of performing resources and musical outcome of Bach’s solo violin
music, the performer-directedness of chamber music, or a central role for the
I can think of
four sets of considerations that nonetheless suggest that the performing
activity is an essential object of attention in symphonic music. These concern respectively significant
patterns of performing activity, the collective nature of symphonic
performance, the gestural role of the playing required by some passages, and
appreciation of the gap between score and sound.
First of all,
then, there is in symphonic music a variety of less persistent and systematic
analogues to the solo-tutti contrast in concertos. Symphonies do contain solo passages, and their
significance goes beyond the reduced sonority or the isolation of a timbral
strand otherwise included in a larger sound,though these are of course also
important elements. It seems also important
that these are passages in which just one instrumental voice is heard.
Similarly, the contrast between passages
played by different sections of the orchestra should be understood, at least in
part, in terms of the fact that it is trumpets playing this time rather than
strings, and so on. Again, timbral
contrast will be part of the picture but will not exhaust the significance of what
is going on. Full appreciation of
musical patterns that include these contrasts requires some attention to
performing activity that is producing the sound. Is it one musician playing or many? Is it trumpets or violins?
A second set of
considerations is closely related to the first.
The variety of contrasts I have mentioned is possible because an
orchestra includes many players playing a variety of instruments in various instrumental
families, and cooperating, under the leadership of a conductor, in the
performance of symphonic scores. Just as
appreciation of solo-tutti and sectional contrasts is part of the appreciation
of symphonic music, so, too, is cognizance of the fact that the symphonic
sounds one hears are made by the organized and coordinated activity of a large
group of musicians playing together. There
are many contrasts between a symphony by Beethoven and its piano-reduction by
Liszt, but the most obvious one is that
the reduction is performed by a single pianist whereas the symphony mobilizes
the efforts of an entire orchestra. There
is a sense in which a good enough performance of the piano reduction will
contain more of the symphony than a bad enough performance of the full score,
but there is also a sense in which it will not.
Davies describes the similarity between transcriptions and orignals by
saying that transcriptions preserve the musical content of the original. But, in this sense of “musical content,” there
is more to the music than just its
musical content. Davies recognizes this
in his insistence that transcriptions are different musical works than their
originals. Again, the difference is partly but not
entirely a matter of issues like timbral variety. Symphonic music is a kind of orchestral
music, and orchestral music is music played by an orchestra. To hear it as such is to listen not just to
patterns of sound but to the sound-making of performers.
A third set of
considerations, emphasized by Levinson, is that many aesthetic qualities of
instrumental passages are closely tied not just to the timbral qualities of
passages when played on the specified instruments but to the playing of the
actual instruments themselves. Levinson’s
many examples range from the sublime cragginess of the close of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata to the honking
quality of the opening of Mozart’s wind serenade K.375, and from the specifically saxophonic suave sliminess of
the sixth section of Vaughan Williams’s Job
to the gestural percussiveness of the timpani in the scherzo of Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony and of the snare drum in the first movement of Nielsen’s Fifth.
Levinson’s discussion strongly suggests
that appreciating the qualities in question requires appreciation of relevant
features of the performing activity in question.
appreciation of symphonic compositions requires appreciation of the gap between
score and sound. A symphony is a certain
kind of scored work for performance. What one hears is the product of the musical
artistry of both composer and performer, including the artistry proper to performance
that controls details “on the fly,” exercised, in this case, by the conductor
and players. As Kivy’s category of “personal authenticity”
in performance suggests, the style and originality of composer and performers
may both be engaged, and while the former predominates, still one’s experience
would be impoverished by excluding the latter altogether.
consideration, of course, applies not just to symphonic music but to any
composition played from a score. It
suffices to make at least a prima facie
case that, even apart from opera, concertos, and like works of virtuosity, WAM
demands attention to performing activity.
Such activity is part of the art on display to engage the attention of
discerning listeners. The performance as an aesthetic object, the musical
end-product presented to listeners, includes elements of patterned human action.
examples suggest, how exactly this proceeds will vary from genre to genre and
from composition to composition. As with
respect to features of the sound-pattern produced by the performance, different
elements will be most salient for different compositions, and performing
activity itself will be more salient for some than for others. And just as different performances of a given
composition might bring out and emphasize different features of the
sound-pattern, so might they bring out and emphasize different features of
performing activity and feature different degrees of emphasis on performing
9. Listening to performers in recordings
recent flurry of work on performance in philosophy and musicology, quite a lot
concerns the relation of performances to recordings. Much of the work concerns the question of
whether the key aesthetic objects enjoyed by live musical audiences are
perceptually available to listeners to recordings. This is sometimes, and especially in
philosophical work, put as a matter of transparency. Can I hear a
performance through a recording of it? And it is sometimes, and especially in
musicological work, put in terms of reproduction. Does a recording reproduce, or, instead, only represent, a pre-existing reality? The issue is complicated by the fact that
only some recordings are straightforward recordings of pre-existing
performances at all.
concern here seems importantly related to the idea that performing activity is
an appropriate object of musical attention.
If truly musical attention is directed exclusively to a disembodied
sound-sequence, it shouldn’t matter whether or not I am hearing the sequence in
its original acoustic tokening. The music I hear will be the same either way. So the crucial question here seems to be, “Can
recordings make musically relevant performing activity available to the
listening attention of an auditor?” or, conversely, “Can a listener to a
recording listen in the appropriate way to the musically relevant activities of
return to the example of listening to somebody washing the dishes. I distinguished earlier between listening to
what somebody is doing (washing, rinsing, stacking dishes in the drainer) and
just listening to the sounds they are making (clattering, susurration). Suppose that in a fit of narcissistic
self-documentation I make a sound recording of my dishwashing. These two modes of attention will be
available to listeners to the recording in just the same way they are available
to you as you listen “live” from the other room. We could, for example, instruct a listener to
adopt one or the other mode, and the listener could follow the instruction
while listening to the recording.
to a musical example, suppose I am present at a performance of Beethoven’s Violin
Concerto. To follow the concerto, I must
among other things follow the alternating sequence of passages played by the
soloist and passages played by the orchestra.
That is, I follow who is playing and who is not, and certain patterns of performing activity, that is,
certain aspects of who is doing what, in addition to strictly acoustic patterns. The alternation of such passages is highly
salient, and I follow it more or less automatically, without deliberate effort. But the same thing happens when I listen to a
recording of the performance. Listening
to the recording, I effortlessly follow the sequence of orchestra, soloist, soloist accompanied by orchestra,
and, less frequently, orchestra accompanied by soloist.
case of a performance that was reasonably well recorded as it occurred, I think
the answer is clear. Listening to such a
recording, I can listen to the performers’ activities. The character and object of my attention can
be the same whether I’m listening to the performance live or by way of the
recording. There is nothing about listening
to recordings in themselves that is incompatible with directing one’s aural
attention to what the performers are or were doing.
10. Studio recordings
get more complicated in connection with other kinds of recording. Consider first a typical studio recording of
a WAM composition. This may be made from
many takes, that is, recorded performances of temporal segments of the
composition. The segments may be long or
short, and may or may not be recorded in the order in which they appear in the
composition. Each segment may have been
recorded several times. The recording is
assembled by splicing together one take of each segment in compositional order. Listening to such a recording of a concerto,
I can still attend to such factors as whether, at a given moment, the soloist is playing or the orchestra, and,
in this sense, I can attend to a sequence of changes in performing activity involving
soloist and orchestra. This will allow me
to hear the concerto as a concerto. In
general, features of performing activity that are audible in short enough
temporal spans can be tracked when listening to such a recording. I can attend to who is playing or singing, to
how a pianist is articulating individual chords, and to momentary features of
timbral production, in short, to any audible features of performance activity
that can be safely assumed to be exemplified within a single take, appearing
between adjacent splices in the recording.
cannot aurally follow features of performing activity that are likely to be interrupted
by boundaries between takes. If I am
listening to a live performance, I can sometimes listen to a soloist pick up a
subtlety of phrasing from the preceding tutti and emulate, modify, or play
against it. But if I am listening to a
studio recording and I don’t know whether the tutti or the solo was recorded
first, this mode of listening is no longer available to me. Even if the soloist is, in fact, responding
to the phrasing of the tutti, that is not something I am in position to follow
in my listening.
issue is not just that I might be fooled by what sounds like a response in the
recording. I might be fooled by what sounds to me like a response in a
performance that is taking place in my presence. For example, what I hear as a response might
have been the soloist’s customary phrasing, used no matter what had preceded
it. Listening to performing activity, like
following almost any process or activity in any sensory modality, is a fallible
matter. But I can only follow a given feature
of the activity aurally if the auditory signals available to me are generally
reliable for tracking that feature. For
example, if I know that a studio recording has been made in long takes, I might
be able to follow temporally extended features of performing activity, but I
might be fooled now and then by take-boundaries or error-correcting patches. The nature of multi-take studio recording can
interfere with my following of such features in two different ways. (1) The length and recording-order of the
takes can prevent the occurrence of certain temporally extended performing
processes. For example, if the solo is
recorded before the preceding tutti, the soloist cannot respond to the special features of that take of the tutti. (2) Common recording practices might
frequently produce illusory semblances of the processes, which I cannot
distinguish from genuine instances.
11. Multi-track recordings
in rock and related kinds of music creates further complications and
limitations. Here, the pieces from which
the whole is assembled are not just temporal but instrumental. For example, performers typically record their
parts, or segments of their parts, separately.
Sometimes a performer can hear the previously recorded parts as he or
she records, and sometimes not. So the
characteristic activities of ensemble performance, involving listening and
mutual adjustment, are largely removed from the process. The character of the recording process
prevents the occurrence of such performing activity. Even here, though, a listener can follow some
important elements of the performing activity.
For example, one can often tell whether one is listening to singing,
guitar playing, drumming, and so on. Moreover,
these activities figure in patterns that can be important, for example, how the
vocals relate to the rest. As with the solo-tutti
patterns in concertos, there is a timbral element to such a pattern but it
seems also to matter, at least sometimes, that the vocal is vocal, that is, a person singing, even
if the sound of the singing is in significantly modified by electronic
processing. And, of course, vocal and
instrumental virtuosity can figure importantly in rock and related recordings.
kinds of recording I have mentioned are made substantially from larger or
smaller recorded bits of individual or corporate performing activity, and all
of them afford listeners some significant scope for listening to that activity,
as well as to its sonic output. And in
some cases, like those involving well-made recordings of full performances,
listeners to the recordings will be able to follow aurally the musical
performing activity in ways that are very close indeed to those available to
12. Recording and pretense
brings me to the end of the main argument that recordings can provide a way of
listening to performing activity. But
one final concern needs to be addressed.
The argument rests on the claim that the different modes of attention
that can be chosen when listening “live” to someone doing something, such as washing the dishes, or singing, or whatever,
can be chosen in just the same way as when listening to recordings that have
been made of the dishwashing, singing, and so on. It might seem that this establishes
altogether too much. Suppose I am
listening to a radio sketch, say on Prairie
Home Companion, in which Tom Keith is vocalizing the sound-effects for a
scene of dishwashing. Surely the very
same modes of attention are available to me here in that I can attend to the
activity portrayed by the sound-effects (washing, rinsing, stacking in the
drainer), or just to the sounds themselves.
But here nobody is (or, if the
sketch is recorded, was) washing dishes, so the mode of attention cannot amount
to listening to someone wash dishes. The
fact that the mode is available to listeners of recordings cannot show that
such listening includes listening to the musical activities of the recorded
begin to sort this out by noting that the vocal sound-effects portray the activity of dishwashing. They are instances of representational art. Following Kendall Walton, we might say that
engaging with the representational character of the passage is a matter of pretending that we’re listening to actual
dishwashing. And make-believe
listening-to-someone-washing-dishes, particularly in the presence of
appropriate sonic props, is very much like actually listening to someone
raises the question of whether recordings allow genuine or only make-believe
listening-to-performers. Indeed, concerns
about the relation of performances to recordings are sometimes expressed by
wondering whether recordings reproduce performances or only represent them.
can, in fact, often be an element of make-believe in the experience of
listening to recordings. While listening
to a highly constructed rock recording, I might imagine that I am listening to
the band playing. And, while listening to
a recording of a symphony concert, I might imagine that I am present in the concert
element of make-believe, though, is quite consistent with actually listening to
the performing activity in question. In
the sound-effects case, the make-believe attaches to the very activity of
listening to someone doing something, whereas in the others, it attaches to
some further qualifying detail of that activity or my relation to it. In typical cases of make-believe, part of the
content of the pretense is actually true.
Consider a child pretending she is a spy who is listening to her
neighbors talking in order to uncover a dastardly plot. She may really be listening to them talk,
even though her listening has this further element of pretense. The key here is the idea that listening to
people doing things is a way of finding out what they are doing. The “spy” might pretend that she is finding
out about a plot that her neighbors are hatching, but meanwhile she really is
finding out what they are saying.
when I pretend I am present in the hall as I listen to a recording of a
concert, I might still be listening to what the performers are (or were) doing. I am just pretending that I am doing that one
way, as part of a live audience, when in fact I am doing it another way. My mode of attention is one that is suitable
for aurally informing myself about the performers’ doings. Even if the recording is familiar to me, my
listening puts me in position to find out about previously unnoticed features
of the playing or singing.
are a bit more complicated when I listen to a rock recording and pretend I am
listening to the band playing, but the essential phenomenon is the same. I pretend that I am registering the details
of a group performance and, in fact, I really do register information about
individual singing, drumming, and so forth.
contrast to the sound-effects case, pretense in listening to recorded music does
not generally interfere with the main point, that studio recordings of WAM
compositions typically do allow listeners to follow the crucial actions, and
even more highly constructed recordings can allow a substantial measure of
listening engagement with the musical doings of their makers, along with the
sonic results of those doings. And, as I
have argued above, that combination is part of what makes musical listening the
kind of vivid listening that it is.
Edidin is Professor of Philosophy at New College of Florida, where he writes and
teaches widely in analytic philosophy. His most recent work has focused on
thinking philosophically about musical performance.
Published on November 24, 2015.
 That is, what is casually known in Europe and America as “classical
music.” The term and acronym are
commonly used by musicologists for this musical domain in order to avoid
confusion with the use of ‘classical’ to designate a period, and also in light
of the existence of “classical” traditions in other musical cultures. The use of ‘WAM’ invites its own confusions,
notably in the suggestion that other Western musical domains, including, as
examples, jazz and rock, do not produce musical art.
traditional focus on WAM in both disciplines remains in this work, though not
without important exceptions.
Kivy, Authenticities (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1995); Stephen Davies, Musical
Works and Performances (Oxford: OUP, 2001); Roland Dipert, "The
Composer’s Intentions: An Examination of their Relevance to Performance," Musical Quarterly 66 (1980), 205-218;
Stan Godlovitch, "Authentic Performance," Monist 71 (1988), 258-277; Aron Edidin, "Look What They’ve
Done to my Song: Historical Authenticity and the Aesthetics of Musical
Performance," Midwest Studies in
Philosophy 16 (1991), 394-420; "Playing Bach His Way: Historical
Authenticity, Personal Authenticity, and the Performance of Classical Music," Journal
of Aesthetic Education 32 (1998), 24-39; "Consequentialism Concerning
Historical Authenticity," Performance
Practice Review 13 (2008), http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?
 Aron Edidin,
"Three Kinds of Recording and the Metaphysics of Music," British Journal of Aesthetics 39 (1999)
24-39. Christy Mag Uidhir,
"Recordings as Performances," British
Journal of Aesthetics 47 (2007), 298-314; Andrew Kania, "Musical
Recordings," Philosophy Compass
4 (2009), http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00194.x/full;
Theodore Gracyk, "Listening to Music: Performances and Recordings," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 55
(1997), 139-150; Mine Dogantan-Dack (ed.), Recorded
Music: Philosophical and Critical Reflections (London: Middlesex University
 Stan Godlovitch,
Musical Performance: A Philosophical
Study (London: Routledge, 1998) and Aron Edidin, ‘Artistry in Classical
Musical Performance’, British Journal of
Aesthetics 40 (2000), 317-325.
Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts
(Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), p. 29.
Walls, "Historical Performance and the Modern Performer," in Musical Performance: A Guide to
Understanding, ed. John Rink (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2002),
pp.17-34. ref. on p. 17.
Clarke, “Listening to Music” in Rink, Musical
 cf. Rob
van Gerwen, "Hearing Musicians Making Music: A Critique of Roger Scruton
on Acousmatic Experience," Journal
of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 70 (2012), 223-230, at 223-226.
Kivy, The Fine Art of Repetition
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 35-58, 75-94.
 Kivy, Authenticities, pp. 133-134.
Moroney, "The Art of Fugue" (notes to Harmonia Mundi CD
HMX2908084.90, 1999), 33.
Jerrold Levinson, Music, Art, and
Metaphysics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 77.
Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music
(Oxford: OUP, 1997), p. 452. Scruton’s
emphasis on the importance to music of what he calls ‘acousmatic hearing,'
which is a hearing of sounds without regard to their sources, must be
understood in combination with passages such as this one.
 Lee B.
Brown, "Musical Works, Improvisation, and the Principle of Continuity,"
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
54 (1996), 353-369, at 360.
 I am
grateful to an anonymous Contemporary
Aesthetics reviewer for emphasizing the importance of non-virtuoso examples
to my discussion.
 Note, for example, the interplay between solo
and group passages in the openings of Mahler’s 3rd, 5th,
and 7th symphonies.
Levinson makes a parallel point about the dialogic quality of exchanges between
the soloists in Bach’s concerto for two violins. See Levinson, p. 77.
Davies, "Transcription, Authenticity, and Performance," British Journal of Aesthetics 27 (1998),
Levinson, pp. 215-263.
 Cf. van
Gerwen, "Hearing Musicians Making Music." Van Gerwen is particularly concerned with the
appreciation of the instrument-playing skill that goes into performance in WAM
 Kivy, Authenticities, pp. 260-286 and Edidin,
"Artistry in Classical Musical Performance."
 It is in
this last sort of variation that we might find a home for the concept of
“letting the music speak for itself.”
example, Kania, "Musical Recordings."
example, Nicholas Cook, Beyond the Score:
Music as Performance (Oxford: OUP, 2013), pp. 337-413.
"Three Kinds of Recording and the Metaphysics of Music."
Counting the human voice as an instrument.
that the activities in question are ones of making certain sounds in certain
ways, so listening to the sonic output will always be included in listening to
the musical doings.
Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the
Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Cook, Beyond the Score, 374-375.
"Three Kinds of Recording," 30-36 and Kania, "Musical Recordings,"