Study Day at Royal Holloway, University of London, sponsored by the Society for Music Analysis

Music Department, Wettons Terrace, Egham - Saturday, 30 October 2004



10.30 SESSION 1
12.30 LUNCH
1.30 SESSION 2
4.00 SESSION 3
5.30 END


Session One


Elizabeth Eva Leach

Royal Holloway, University of London

Parrots, phonographs and other imitators

Until the invention of the phonograph, no machine had been invented which could produce musically intoned pitches and words in combination. Singers alone had been able to preserve the un-mechanized ‘live-ness’ of their status as performing musicians. A late nineteenth-century song performed by the ‘coster’ comedian Gus Elen reflects the anxieties that popular singers must have felt about the new recording technologies by picturing the effect of the machine as that of a tortured parrot in a box. This song, ‘The Finest Flow o’ Langwidge Ever ’Eard’, circulated not as a recording but as sheet music. As its cover art shows, this sheet music offers the song in a manner closely bound to its performer and its performances, although it is ‘recorded’ in the older non-sonic form of symbolic music notation. Drawing on scientific understanding of graphs as the ‘language of instruments’, early twentieth-century commentators on the phonograph such as Adorno and Benjamin tended to consider its ability to notate sounds as a kind of writing. For Adorno this secret language re-established the relation between music and writing, a link that had been broken by the need for scores. However, ‘Professor Elen’s Phonygraff’ arguably situates the new technology between written and performed language, reflecting a popular mistrust of acousmatic sound and defending the performative spaces that popular musical practices inhabited.

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Stephen Cottrell

Goldsmith’s College, University of London

The ethnographic study of the recording event in Western art music

We know relatively little about what actually goes on in recording sessions. We are familiar enough with the final outcomes of such sessions, whether made available to us on tape, disc or via other media; and the comparative study of such media to determine changes in performance practice has, since Robert Philip’s pioneering work in this field, become a more common feature of our academic landscape. But we know little about the way in which these end products are shaped by the peculiar and particular social dynamics which arise as a result of the often intense pressures generated in the recording studio.

In this paper I shall argue firstly that these recording sessions can and should be conceived as particular cultural entities, ‘recording events’, in much the same way as ethnomusicologists often speak of ‘the performance event’, albeit on a rather smaller scale. Secondly, I shall examine the kinds of issues which might be explored through the ethnographic study of these events, and the impact such issues have on the musical outcomes. Finally, I shall illustrate these points with reference to a number of recordings in which I have myself performed, which I hope will demonstrate the sonic outcomes of the social and musical negotiations which are so integral to these recording events, and which I believe provide such a potentially rich yet under-explored area for investigation.

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Neil Heyde

Royal Academy of Music

Processes and documents: the politics of recording

In 1937 Schoenberg unflinchingly described the Kolisch Quartet's just completed recording of his Second Quartet as a 'perfect performance'. Today it is difficult to imagine a composer (or indeed a producer or performer) making such a comment. Schoenberg's 'perfect performance' has become deeply problematic - not only because decades of scholarship have made these words dangerous, but also because of the evolution of recording itself. Even at its most streamlined, recording is a complex series of negotiations between conflicting demands that can be seen to have implications at every level. These conflicts are not resolved, but managed in order to produce the desired result.

This paper draws on a number of significant historical recording situations and associated documents - from Schoenberg to Gould - and combines them with evidence from more recent work involving players and producers from inside and outside the Royal Academy of Music. In so doing it aims to sketch a map of the ethical and practical conflicts inherent in the recording process, and of the ways in which they are negotiated in practice.

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Simon Zagorski-Thomas

London College of Music and Media

Technology and authenticity in world music production

Why are some forms of distortion in the music production process accepted and even valued while others are rejected and denigrated? Why do different consumers of World Music value and denigrate different recording parameters?

This paper discusses the concept of ‘authentic’ recording practice and the way that consumer perception of it might have affected market developments. Three identifiable strands of recording practice in the World Music market are discussed: Field – type recordings, local recordings and westernised commercial recordings. The promotion of certain textual characteristics over others in each of these strands is analysed from a psychoacoustic perspective. This in turn is used to emphasise the subjective nature of the concept of authenticity and to discuss how it impacts on the production as well as on the consumption of World Music.

How much do the availability and economics of recording technology impact on the sound of the audio product? The training and experience of the engineers and producers are also discussed, as are the way that localised and generic production practices reflect cultural values and meaning. Do western record companies impose production values that they believe will make the product more accessible in the west? Does distortion that implies age confer dignity on a recording whilst distortion that suggests sophisticated processing trivialises it? What do these concepts say about our conception of the recording as the musical object rather than the original performance?

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Session Two


Uri Golomb

Cambridge University

Hierarchies and continuities in televised productions of Bach’s Passions

Bach’s passion music presents the Biblical narrative of Christ’s final hours and the Christian believer’s response to this story. In Bach’s original conception, these different layers were closely knit: the same singers represented the characters in the narrative and the contemporaneous congregation. In modern performances, this unity is often compromised through the separation between soloists and choir.

This is strikingly evident in the ZDF-Unitel films documenting studio performances conducted by Karl Richter (Arne Arnbom’s 1970 Johannes-Passion and Hugo Käch’s 1971 Matthäus-Passion). Both directors highlight the distinction between the three strands in Bach’s music (Biblical narrative; chorales; arias and choruses). Käch, in particular, makes no attempt to simulate concert-like continuity, and actively disguises the fact that the same choir takes part in all three strands. Performances and stagings alike reflect a monumental, hierarchical vision of the music.

This approach contrasts markedly with NHK/EuroArts film documenting Masaaki Suzuki’s live performance of the Johannes-Passion (Suntory Hall, Tokyo, July 28, 2000). Suzuki and his musicians project a more rounded, continuous vision of the work; among other things, most soloists are an integral part of the choir. The director Shokichi Amano highlights this continuity, drawing attention to the unity and intimacy of the performers’ interpretation.

Both Arnbom and Käch openly project their own visions of Bach’s Passions; Amano seems more intent on ostensibly unobtrusive documentation. In all three cases, however, visual and auditory mediums complement and (occasionally) contradict each other as they jointly shape the viewer’s experience of the music.

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Aidan O'Donnell


Nino Rota's last score: Orchestral Rehearsal

Twenty-five years ago, Federico Fellini chose to film a mock documentary on a fictional orchestral rehearsal that falls apart. What contribution did his long-time collaborator Nino Rota bring to the project with his pre-composed orchestral pieces? Why did Fellini choose music-making as a metaphor and exactly what did he intend it as a metaphor for? To what extent does the film follow, or break with, conventional attitudes to recording music through the medium of the screen? And is the musical ensemble a vehicle for something entirely unrelated or is it the focus for a comment on communal music making?

In a curious way this film occupies the territory between diegetic film music and the filming of music for its own sake (i.e. without an extraneous narrative). Not being a straightforward recording of a musical event (as in film recordings of orchestra performances) it nonetheless places the music too close to the storyline to be classed with other diegetic film music (films like The Piano place the music in the storyline but not to the same degree as Orchestral Rehearsal whose surface storyline revolves entirely around a rehearsal). In the ultra-contemporary setting of the film why did Rota choose the musical language he did — rather than a musical language to arguably bear closer witness to the disillusionment of the musicians' working lives? I intend to examine this unique case of diegetic film music through an analysis of both the music and the motivations behind its on-screen portrayal.

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Charles Wiffen

Royal College of Music

Capturing life and selling the mix: the simulation of live performance in the music video

This paper examines how the ‘live’ element of diegetic performance in a music video may be simulated, and explores the narrative origins and implications of the performance context. The first case study is a sequence extracted from a film by Kevin McMahon, based on a performance by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma of Bach’s G major Cello Suite; the second study is taken from ‘Big Beach Boutique 2’, a 2002 Brighton performance of DJ Norman Cook. Both examples present performance as an apparently spontaneous act in an outdoor environment with contingent technological challenges; both use music diegetically and non-diegetically; both exploit mime, structural coordination and gesture; both present a conflict between high and low budget visual and musical effects; each focuses on the artistry and charisma of a single artist; each seeks to represent the artist as promoting participation, inclusivity and egalitarianism; each places performance within a narrative framework.

Tony Langlois has suggested that electronic dance music constructed from samples is ‘blatantly artificial’, and that ‘there is no pretence that the record represents a live performance’. This paper demonstrates not only the manufactured ‘liveness’ of such performance, but that this characteristic is integral to the identity and commercial success of the recording venture. Both Ma and Cook seek to represent a free, ‘not-for-profit’ experience, but this is instantly commodified in the various formats in which the performances are commercially available (CD, video and DVD) and in their publicity: despite the narrative, the live experience is for sale.

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Naomi Waltham-Smith

King’s College, London

Captive audiences: opening up space for freedom in the experience of recorded performance

Taking the act of listening to recordings as its primary focus, this paper explores how the experience of recorded performances might engender the creative production and transformation of the spaces around us. More specifically, it considers the ways in which this transformative power of performance is represented in Yo-Yo Ma’s collaborative film, The Sound of the Carceri, in which the performer is placed within a series of computer-generated, three-dimensional recreations of the celebrated prison etchings. In striving to create a sound analogous to the perspectival conundrums of Piranesi’s drawings through the use of sound engineering technologies, Ma’s endeavour makes transparent a manoeuvre which underlies our everyday encounters with recordings.

The notions of illusion and fantasy then form the basis of an attempt to theorise the ways in which listeners negotiate between the illusory spaces suggested by acoustic cues in the sound and their real, lived surroundings, overlaying and interlacing the two, and in the process reproducing these spaces. It is this capacity to create imaginary, even impossible, spaces which, it is proposed, lends the act of listening to recordings a subversive potential. Contrary to the view which characterises recordings straightforwardly in terms of loss, this paper will argue that the inherent antagonism between illusory and real spaces instead generates an uncontainable excess and inconsistency which open up space for freedom. Drawing on the work of Slavoj Žižek, it will ask whether these spatial transformations might constitute not mere performative transgressions within the framework, but radical, thorough reconfigurations of the socio-symbolic space.

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Session Three


Jim Barrett

University of Glamorgan

Round table on commercial music recordings: whose performance?

Recent industry debate on the payment of record producers for public performance of recordings centred on the extent of the producer's ‘audible contribution’. The contribution of music producers to the construction of a preserved audio/performance object is constantly changing, as much due to their developing perceptions of the task as to refinements of enabling technology. Meanwhile much academic discourse assumes the named artist as the unproblematic single author of their recorded works, especially in the emerging area of Popular Music Studies. Popular Music Studies could be argued to represent an analysis based on the perspective of the consumer, although more recently music professionals have begun to enter and inform the discipline.

What do music producers think they are doing? How do their perceptions correlate with academic constructions of performance in the recorded artefact? Several well-established music producers have migrated into education and their reflective practice forms the basis of this round table discussion.

University of Glamorgan
  • Jim Barrett (coordinator) – Music Producers Guild Co-Vice Chairman
  • Paschal de Paor
  • Mike Howlett – Music Producers Guild Co-Vice Chairman
Thames Valley University
  • Andy East – Music Producers Guild Chairman
  • Pip Williams – Music Producers Guild Director
  • Mark Irwin – Music Producers Guild Director

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