Residential symposium at Royal Holloway, University of London

Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham - 14-16 April 2005



Thursday 14 April 2005 SESSION 1
Friday 15 April 2005 SESSION 3
SESSION 5 - joint with British Forum for Ethnomusicology
Saturday 16 April 2005 SESSION 6
  • Final discussion


Session One


Nicholas Cook

Royal Holloway, University of London


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Stephen Cottrell

Goldsmiths College, University of London

Self and other in the study of historical recordings

LP Hartley’s celebrated observation that ‘[t]he past is another country. They do things differently there’ alerts us to the potential parallels between the study of historical recordings and the study of music from other cultures. In each instance we are engaging with and seeking to understand music cultures which are unfamiliar to us; without due caution we risk making inappropriate assertions about the nature of those music cultures and the bases on which we believe musical performances within them might be predicated. In both cases we also need to consider our own relationship with the object of study, and the principles which we - consciously or unconsciously - bring to it. These issues appear to be particularly crystallised in the case of performers who are seeking to use historical recordings as a means of informing their own performances: where does the self begin and the other stop, and what happens in the middle?

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Session Two


Robert Philip

Open University

Why are we listening, and what do we hear?

The establishment of CHARM indicates that the study of historical recordings has at last become a respectable academic discipline. But now that we no longer have to justify the importance of our field, we are in danger of ceasing to ask the big questions. What are old recordings for? Does their existence give us an advantage over earlier generations? And how should we, as musicians, respond to them?

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John Cowley


Iron Duke in the Land : Case studies in the use of discography as a source for the history of vernacular music

From the inception of the recording industry, vernacular music was a prime component in the enterprise. The commercial distribution of repertoire from particular locales was used to encourage the sale of gramophones. Documentation of genre recordings, therefore, is an important tool in understanding the history of specific musical styles. Using case studies from the English-speaking Caribbean – principally Trinidad – and comparison with similar circumstances in the USA (and elsewhere) this treatment explores how select commercial recording activities relate to discographical compilation. Observations will be made on similarities and differences between commercial and field recordings and their place in discographical research. As the title implies, the presentation will touch on the way in which the Trinidad carnivalesque tradition coexists with the wider social and political world in which performers were living at the time their records were made.

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Open forum

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Session Three


Alf Björnberg

Göteborg University

Probing the reception history of recording media: Problems and possibilities

In the recently initiated research project The Cultural History of Music Technology in Sweden, the author intends to investigate the consequences of the medialization of music for music use, listening patterns, conceptualizations of music, and the cultural meanings associated with music technology. The project deals with both recording and broadcasting media; emphasis is placed on developments in Sweden and on the reception rather than production of music.

The purpose of this paper is a) to present a brief overview of the studies included in the project which pertain to recording media and b) to discuss the problems and possibilities associated with the use within the project of various types of source material. The aspects of the reception history of recordings dealt with include a) the role of recorded music in musical socialisation, b) the practices of mobile listening, c) the transparency of recording media in different use-contexts, and d) the relationships between recording media, commercialism and amateur music activity.

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Allan Moore

University of Surrey

The sound of popular music: Where are we?

This paper, in part a literature survey, will indicate the need for an as-yet unformulated language for the discussion of key aspects of the virtual performances of ‘popular music’ presented on recordings. It is driven by frustration at the gap which generally exists between an understanding of the aural manipulation of sound-sources in the studio and an understanding of the musical consequences of musical decisions, and will address through isolated cases possible means of continuation.

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Session Four


Peter Johnson

Birmingham Conservatoire

The legacy of art-music recordings: Performance as embodied knowledge

Recordings record the extent to which performers in the art-music tradition enjoy significant freedom, despite reliance on principles such as Werktreue and the peculiar demands and distortions of recording. In this paper I examine this freedom as a domain in which artistry and new knowledge may flourish.

One way of capturing the performer’s essential freedom is in terms of ‘artistic prerogatives’ (Rink). I show that these inform every stage of generating and realising a performance and that performers’ choices are essentially critical and therefore knowledge-based. Recorded performances thus afford one way by which musical knowledge is propagated through musical actions. My discussion of performance as knowledge-based artistic production is grounded on Foucault’s theory of ‘practical’ knowledge as itself a critique of abstract or ‘hegemonic’ knowledge. I touch briefly on the implications of these arguments for the assessment of performance as research.

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Simon Trezise

Trinity College Dublin

Musical archaeology: Learning to learn from early recordings, the pitfalls and the pleasures

The first half century of recording used an acoustic system. This system had severe sonic limitations and imposed restraints on the performers, which have frequently been cited as reasonable grounds for dismissing or marginalising records made before 1925; at the very least reception of these recordings is inclined to the view that they are an uncertain prequel to the real thing, which appeared in 1925 with the microphone. These concerns are most pointed in the field of Wagner performance, which benefited more than most from electrical recording. My research is focused on acoustic recordings of opera, especially Wagner's, and the information they impart about performance, interpretation, the performers, and the music itself. Understanding these recordings requires more mediation from both the imagination and the technology if we are to enter into their diverse and rich cultural legacy. They also demand a greater level of acquiescence on our part. This paper includes a series of questions directed to those involved with the technical aspects of restoring and transferring historical recordings.

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Session Five


Susan Melrose

Middlesex University

Out of words

In this presentation I am concerned firstly with some of the implications, for understanding and analysis of what I call “mixed-mode” performance practices (including pre-recorded elements), of a training in the arts of writing; secondly with what those of us who are writers produce, ostensibly ‘about performance’, when we draw on discursive conventions which range from use of the ontologising verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to have’, through nominalisation (as though in performances’ name), and to commonsensical - as well as ‘expert’ - uses of metaphor. I shall argue that writing ‘about’ performances tends to be writing which reproduces spectator (or listener) theories of knowledge, as though these were “performance theories”; whereas what might well be at stake, in the institutional dispositifs (or set-ups) which bring together performance-making, performances, and spectators, are curious “events”, which “lie[...] at the intersection of at least two (and in reality many more) process lines”. “[E]xperience” in the event, writes Brian Massumi, “never stops ‘streaming’, and its streaming snowballs”, with similarly curious implications for those concerned to identify - for example - “its meaning”. I draw on accounts of one or two instances of mixed-mode performance events (and one or two accounts of performance writing), in order to argue that the orders which regulate (performance) writing tend to be incommensurable with the “autonomy of experience” of individuals caught up in certain performance events. The consequence is that each instance of performance-analytical writing constitutes no more than a momentary and imperfect instantiation of a fragment of an experience, which means that writing’s struggle is endless.

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Philip Auslander

Georgia Tech

Sound and vision: Record of the past or performance in the present?

While writing my forthcoming book, Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music, I made a conscious decision to discuss sound recordings in the present tense and video recordings in the past tense. This decision was based on an intuitive sense that, for me, video made most sense as records of specific past performances while sound recordings continued to feel like performances in the present.

At present, I can neither fully explain nor defend this distinction and the way I’ve mapped it onto two different recording media. While I wish to avoid the idealization inherent in suggesting that sound recordings are somehow timeless (perhaps because they are restricted to aurality) while video recordings are time-bound (perhaps because they appeal to the eye as well as the ear), my own experience leans toward an understanding of this kind. I will use my presentation as a “think-piece” to explore this issue.

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Michelle Kisliuk

University of Virginia

Singing and re-singing: Positioning a 'field recording' between Central Africa and Virginia

My intention has been to foreground experience and interaction in research and writing, performing and teaching - and to use recordings in minimal ways so as to facilitate the evocation of experience or to inspire interaction. Nevertheless, the tendency toward reified, agency-deprived human relationships that I have found field recordings usually provoke requires constant resistance, even as the luxury of fine audio and video material as a reference tool or as an interactive pallet offer enormous creative and educational opportunities. I will briefly trace my recording in the Central African Republic since 1986, outlining both intended and actual uses of recordings during field research, in writing/publishing, for illustrating ethnographic information, and for teaching songs and dances that are reinterpreted by my American university ensemble. I'll focus the discussion on one BaAka song, Mawa na Mwe, two versions of which are included on the CDs that accompany my book, and which has since been re-imagined and altered in performance, largely unconsciously, by my ongoing community of students in America -- then readjusted again to the recordings. The emerging issues include: how the context of the recording as well as the recorded artifact can either enable or hinder a battle against the objectification of people and of musicking, and how using and not using the equipment and the artifact can generate a dialogue about sociomusical aesthetics, processes, and politics, that spawns new interactions and creative responses by those who are recorded as well as by those who interact with the recording.

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Session Six


Janet Topp Fargion

British Library Sound Archive

Recordings in context: The place of ethnomusicology archives in the 21st century

Ethnomusicology came into being with the invention of sound recording technology. Early research centred on transcribing and analysing these recordings primarily for comparative purposes. The recordings were taken out of their cultural context and the music was equally valid in the field and in an archive. By the 1960s emphasis had shifted and researchers concentrated on empirical research - to observe culture as played out through music performance - and their own recordings made during extended trips to the field. Recordings made by others and deposited in archives lost their significance as the discipline turned to an exploration of music in context. Thus, by placing performance at the centre of ethnomusicological research, the use of existing recordings has been displaced, somewhat contrary to the CHARM principle. This paper will explore models for an ethnomusicology based on archived ethnographic recordings in relation to 21st century trends in musicology.

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Richard Middleton

University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Last night a DJ saved my life : Aspects of the social phenomenology of the record

How could dead music (canned, reified, recorded) possibly save a life? Adorno’s early writings on the phonograph point towards the needle’s direct inscription of a pre-lapsarian Ur-language, as if bracketing the babble of subjectivity; and the early reception of the apparatus is full of references to spectral voices from beyond the grave. But as cultural technology, records enter a social field that is always already formed – is alive and lively, one might say. In particular, as the needle circles towards the central ‘black hole’ (which connects, phenomenologically, to the horn of the loudspeaker sound-source), it is clear that its social dynamics are always raced and gendered. However reductively, we might speculate that in the field of popular song the privileged objects are the voices and bodies of women, blacks and feminised men, with normative authority in the hands of white males. George Clinton’s Dr Funkenstein (1976) articulates this implicit master-slave dialectic in the context of a play between deadly Frankensteinian science on the one hand, animating dance groove (not grave) on the other. Are the cyborgian bodies conjured up here to be heard as ‘slaves to the rhythm’ (Grace Jones/Michael Jackson) or symptoms (‘sinthome’, or synth-men, in Slavoj Žižek’s fantastical etymology) of ‘significant prosthesis’ (Donna Haraway’s description of embodiment)?

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Session Seven

Final discussion

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