Why? – The ontological positioning
Recordings of music present odd, multidimensional conceptual difficulties in this art space. While the recording, commodification and ‘stockpiling’ of commercialised sound recordings occupies a relatively recent development in the long history of music-making (Atalli, 1985), in recent times, for many aficionados recordings ‘are’ music (see for example, Bahanovich & Collopy, 2008) – who do you like? (ie, recordings), how many of their iTunes /CDs /records do you have? etc. In terms of the artist however, the boundaries are now often blurred between instrumentalist, performer, composer, producer and music technologist, and in reality the contemporary musician increasingly attends to all of these things at once in the creation of new material. Fordism is long past. Yet music research tends to be still published along these somewhat out-dated specialisation themes while in universities there remain many of the old departmental divisions of labour. In particular, the idea of ‘music technology’ remains elusive, or as Carla Boehm (2007) puts it, ‘the discipline that never was’:
… the multiplicity of what exactly is understood by ‘music technology’ is an indication of the fragmentation of commonalities at large and their emerging cultural boundaries … It also represents a fragmentation of our formerly holistically concept of knowledge and the delivery of knowledge. (p. 7)
Accordingly, technological aspects of music-making may be variously quarantined, for example: as ‘music technology’ in conservatoriums (sound recording, Tonmeister, record production); as ‘science’ in computing faculties (computational musicology, informatics, soft/hardware development); or as ‘art’ in some creative departments (popular music, live art, electroacoustic composition) – all of which I believe, has more to do with how something is done (theorizing about) rather than with what musicians actually do (theorizing through) (Draper, 2009b). Christopher Small’s influential work, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (1998) reminds us that music is not a noun but a verb in his theory of ‘musicking’ – an interweaving of social contexts, actions and decisions often hidden from view (and perhaps deliberately so given entertainment industry control, see Draper, 2008)2 in a viral web of ‘structure, sign and play’ (Derrida, 1967).
This then leads me to frame some overarching research questions for this piece:
- In my practice, what has been the exact nature of these interrelationships between music and technology? And, exactly how does this serve the artistic processes?
- What can I and others understand as ‘new knowledge’ through such an investigation?
- How does this better both my musical and academic portfolio?
To elaborate further on these last two questions – while there are certainly personal musical aspirations, professional academic considerations are also entwined. To explain: i) throughout the many incarnations of the Australian federal government research evaluation exercises, the justification of ‘art-as-research’ through various ill-considered schema has been somewhat counter-productive and confusing to many artists-in-the-academy. For example, impact assumptions, prestige of commercial outlets /venues, self-review statements, ticket sales and a range of other rather low level metrics have often substituted as a proxy for traditional research indicators3 (Harrison & Draper, 2012; Draper, 2009a). And ii), in the case of now burgeoning PhD research training, the often slippery relationship between the ‘product’ itself (in this case, performances, compositions, sound designs, web sites, etc) and the underpinning research development processes. There is little coherence across the sector: in some cases written dissertations are the only accepted outcome (albeit, with some added contemporary capacities to include new media as enhanced appendices); while in other frameworks there may be a dubious relationship between the performed ‘outcome’ for an audience (sometimes as ‘entertainment’) and the written components of the exegesis. Additionally, there is little scope to assess works in progress because current PhD rules require that all material be submitted together as a final work. This would seem at odds with the intrinsic time-based nature of music, not only in form, but also in its genesis, re-formulation and sometimes multiple execution demands (Draper & Harrison, 2011; 2010).
Leading on from these contexts, a number of sub-considerations arise for my project:
- Is there a risk that ‘the works will ‘totally disappear from sight’ (Borgdorff, 2010)?
- Or, have the recorded works themselves already ‘disappeared’ with reference to the multiple hermeneutic meanings ascribed above?
- Which leads me to a final overarching reservation: How and where might the research be indeed embodied in the artwork (if at all)?
This last point is the most puzzling to me, for example:
The constructivist perspective holds that objects and events actually become constituted in and through artworks and artistic actions … It does not represent things; it presents them, thereby making the world into what it is or could be. The hermeneutic perspective assumes that artistic practices and artworks disclose the world to us … offer[s] us those new vistas, experiences and insights that affect our relationship with the world and ourselves. (Borgdorff, 2010, p. 61) (underlined, mine)
As epistemic things, artworks not only play a constitutive role in a process of discovery that eventually culminates in produced and justified facts. They are not just generators of knowledge. They are also … that which is generated. (Ibid, 2012, p. 198) (underlined, mine)
Presently I see little relationship between how my music might speak in its own right through sound recordings4 vs. the complex processes of decision making, craft, improvisation, serendipity, genre-imitation and the mastering of both hidden and visible technologies that lead to any idea of a ‘final’ outcome, or the ‘critical edition’ as it were. In recorded music these would appear to be two very different matters, but I reserve an open mind in order to try to unpack and understand this a little better.