Music Theory Online

The Online Journal of the Society for Music Theory


Volume 7, Number 2, April 2001
Copyright � 2001 Society for Music Theory

Table of Contents

Nicholas Cook*

Between Process and Product: Music and/as Performance

KEYWORDS: performance theory, work, text, script, analysis

ABSTRACT: The text-based orientation of traditional musicology and theory hampers thinking about music as a performance art. Music can be understood as both process and product, but it is the relationship between the two that defines "performance" in the Western "art" tradition. Drawing on interdisciplinary performance theory (particularly theatre studies, poetry reading, and ethnomusicology), I set out issues and outline approaches for the study of music as performance; by thinking of scores as "scripts" rather than "texts," I argue, we can understand performance as a generator of social meaning.

Received 22 January 2001

The Idol Overturned

[1] "The performer," Schoenberg is supposed to have said, "for all his intolerable arrogance, is totally unnecessary except as his interpretations make the music understandable to an audience unfortunate enough not to be able to read it in print."(1) It's difficult to know quite how seriously to take such a statement, or Leonard Bernstein's injunction (Bernstein, of all people!) that the conductor "be humble before the composer; that he never interpose himself between the music and the audience; that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer's meaning."(2) And it might be tempting to blame it all on Stravinsky, who somehow elevated a fashionable anti-Romantic stance of the 1920s into a permanent and apparently self-evident philosophy of music, according to which "The secret of perfection lies above all in [the performer's] consciousness of the law imposed on him by the work he is performing," so that music should be not interpreted but merely executed.(3) Or if not on Stravinsky, then on the rise of the recording industry, which has created a performance style designed for infinite iterability, resulting over the course of the twentieth century in a "general change of emphasis . . . from the characterization of musical events to the reproduction of a text."(4)

[2] But in truth the idea that performance is essentially reproduction, and consequently a subordinate if not actually redundant activity, is built into our very language. You can "just play," but it's odd to speak of "just performing": the basic grammar of performance is that you perform something, you give a performance "of" something. In other words, language leads us to construct the process of performance as supplementary to the product that occasions it or in which it results; it is this that leads us to talk quite naturally about music "and" its performance, just as film theorists speak of the film "and" the music, as if performance were not already integral to music (and music to film). Language, in short, marginalizes performance.

[3] Much of the disquiet which musicology shared with other disciplines in the 1990s revolved around the (Stravinskian) idea of music being some kind of autonomous product. At stage center, the so-called "New" musicologists focused on the impossibility of understanding music (or any other cultural production) as truly autonomous, independent of the world within which it is generated and consumed. Entering from the wings, so to speak, the philosopher Lydia Goehr developed a critique of the concept of the reified musical work which had more impact on musicologists than it did on philosophers.(5) In a nutshell, she argued that the idea of the musical work (an entity which, in Stan Godlovitch's words,(6) seems "not quite of this world") is not intrinsic to music as a cultural practice, but is a strictly historical concept associated with Western "art" music (hereafter WAM) since around 1800. The idea of conceptualizing music as performance, increasingly central in ethnomusicology, was not so strongly represented in the musicology of the 1990s, or at least not directly so, but in a sense it was already implied in the critique of the autonomous work: if the transcendence and permanence of musical works was not some kind of inherent quality but an effect of social or ideological construction, it followed that music was to be understood as in essence less a product than a process, an intrinsically meaningful cultural practice, much in the manner of religious ritual. Indeed one might think of twentieth-century WAM musicians and audiences as jointly "performing" music's autonomy, through the ritual of the concert hall, in the same sense that the royal chapels and courts of the seventeenth century "performed" monarchy.

[4] This emphasis on the performative dimension of music can also be seen as the logical outcome of a number of developments and tensions within the discipline. One of these was the enlargement of the repertory falling within a broadly conceived musicological purview, reflecting (or contributing to) contemporary trends in multicultural education: the idea of performance "of," of performance reproducing a self-sufficient work, is at best problematic and at worst nonsensical when applied to jazz, rock, or remix culture. (There was a suspicion, deriving largely from ethnomusicology, that the traditional musicological insistence on seeing music as product rather than process represented a kind of cultural hegemony, an assertion of the values of high over low art.) Another of these tensions had to do with what Glenn Gould contemptuously referred to as "the class structure within the musical hierarchy."(7) In its quest for historically authentic performances, the subdiscipline of performance practice placed the musicologist in the combined role of legislator and law enforcement officer; Richard Taruskin quotes the definition given in the (old) New Grove Dictionary (performance practice is concerned with "the amount and kind of deviation from a precisely determined ideal tolerated . . . by composers"), and draws out the implied premise: "Performers are essentially corrupters--deviants, in fact."(8) As for theorists, the ideal of analytically-informed performance, which was pursued with some vigor in the decade after the publication of Wallace Berry's book on the subject, similarly placed the analyst in charge: Berry spoke of "the path from analysis to performance,"(9) but the chronological sequence masks another expression of the hierarchy Gould complained about. Not surprisingly, there was concern about the relationship between theory and practice that this seemed to imply.

[5] It is tempting to say that all this is rather silly and that what is needed is simply a proper sense of balance and mutual respect between musicians. But that ignores the influence of what I referred to as the grammar of performance: a conceptual paradigm that constructs process as subordinate to product. That such a paradigm should be deeply built into musicology is not surprising: the nineteenth-century origins of the discipline lie in an emulation of the status and methods of philology and literary scholarship, as a result of which the study of musical texts came to be modeled on the study of literary ones. In effect, and however implausibly, we are led to think of music as we might think of poetry, as a cultural practice centered on the silent contemplation of the written text, with performance (like public poetry reading) acting as a kind of supplement. Moreover the traditional orientation of musicology towards the reconstruction and dissemination of authoritative texts reflected a primary concern with musical works as the works of their composers, understanding them as messages to be transmitted as faithfully as possible from composer to audience. It follows then from what Peter Kivy calls "composer worship"(10) that the performer becomes at best an intermediary, as reflected in the quotation from Leonard Bernstein, and at worst a "middleman":(11) someone who puts a markup on the product without contributing anything to it, and who should accordingly be cut out wherever possible (as in the Schoenberg quotation). The performer's only legitimate aspiration thus becomes one of "transparency, invisibility, or personality negation."(12)

[6] Nor does the case for the prosecution stop there. The idea of music being some kind of intellectual property to be delivered securely from composer to listener ties it into the wider structures and ideologies of capitalist society. Matthew Head points out that musical works function like investments, generating regular income; Jacques Attali that, through sheet music or sound recording, musical experience can be endlessly deferred and stockpiled.(13) Music has become part of an aesthetic economy defined by the passive and increasingly private consumption of commodified products rather than through the active, social processes of participatory performance.(14) In short, we seem to have forgotten that music is a performance art at all, and more than that, we seem to have conceptualized it in such a way that we could hardly think of it that way even if we wanted to. Taruskin remarks that "the work-concept is hard to bring up to the surface of consciousness,"(15) and in this context performance emerges as a kind of deconstructive lever: writing from the perspective of theater studies (but also taking in contemporary music and dance), Nick Kaye characterizes performance as "a primary postmodern mode," tracing the way in which the performance-oriented practices of artists like Foreman, Cunningham, or Cage subvert the "discrete or bounded 'work of art'" definitive of modernism, or dissolve it into "the contingencies and instabilities of the 'event' . . . penetrated by unstable and unpredictable exchanges and processes."(16)

[7] Construed in the manner of critical theory as an act of resistance against the authority and closure of the reified text, the cause of performance becomes a vehicle for rehabilitating the interests of those marginalized by traditional musicological discourse: not only performers themselves, obviously, but also listeners, for in Robert Martin's words, "Performances . . ., rather than scores, are at the heart of the listener's world. . . . [M]usical works, in the listener's world, simply do not exist."(17) From this it follows that "musical works are fictions that allow us to speak more conveniently about performances," or as Christopher Small has it, that "performance does not exist in order to present musical works, but rather, musical works exist in order to give performers something to perform."(18) With the idol of the reified work thus overturned, the inversion of the performance "of" paradigm is complete. Whereas, in Small's almost evangelical words, "Western classical music embodies a kind of society that does not allow for mutual participation of all peoples because it is based upon works, not interactions," in a more inclusive and creative society there shall be "no such thing as a musical work, [but] only the activities of singing, playing, listening [and] dancing."(19) Indeed, for Michel Chion the "new sound reality" has already arrived, bringing with it a now "standard form of listening . . . that is no longer perceived as a reproduction, as an image (with all this usually implies in terms of loss and distortion of reality), but as a more direct and immediate contact with the event."(20) In this brave new world there is in Small's terminology not music but musicking, in Taruskin's not things but acts,(21) in short, not product but process.

Second Thoughts

[8] The problem with this kind of reconceptualization of music is obvious enough. It inverts the performance "of" paradigm but otherwise leaves everything intact; instead of fetishizing the text, to borrow Jim Samson's term, it fetishizes the performance.(22) If we are to develop a better nuanced conception of musical performance, we shall have to concede some of the ground we have just won.

[9] In the first place, we need to refine the idea that the musical work is purely a construct of post-1800 WAM. A number of musicologists, among them Harry White, have responded to Goehr by pointing out how many aspects of the work concept can be traced in WAM prior to that date; Michael Talbot argues that the essential transition was not from the absence to the presence of a work concept, but rather from one centered on genre to one centered on the composer.(23) Then again, the ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl points out that, if there are such things as universals in music, a strong candidate is that "One does not simply 'sing,' but one sings something."(24) But what matters is the value that attaches to this something in the processes of performance and reception. Robert Martin's work-free experience of music may occur, but arguably not within the bounds of WAM where, however much you may be focusing on Rattle, it is almost impossible to entirely forget that you are listening to Mahler's Ninth (or, if you don't know what you are listening to, not to be wondering what it is). When you listen to "Material Girl," by contrast, the work is still there (though you may well not know that it was written by Peter Brown and Robert Rans), but performance values come to the fore: product is no longer so clearly separable from process, and there is a sense in which you might want to say it was a different song if another singer covered it. And the so called "process" music of the early minimalists represents an even more thorough-going dispersal of product (though paradoxically underpinned by a very traditional concept of authorial identity). In this way there is a continuum between experiencing music as process and as product--a continuum that becomes directly perceptible, for instance, as the characteristic phrases of "The Star-Spangled Banner" emerge from the improvisatory context of Jimi Hendrix's Atlanta performance, the sounds as it were condensing onto a pre-existing musical object and being mentally reconfigured as a flood of associations and connotations are brought into play.(25) Against such a background what might be termed the all-singing, all-dancing model of performance begins to look like a distinctly essentializing stereotype.

[10] Then again, post-1800 WAM is by no means a monolithic terrain. In a kind of codicil to her 1992 book, Goehr distinguishes between "the perfect performance of music" (the approach that "takes the 'of' seriously," as she puts it), and "the perfect musical performance" that "celebrates the 'lower' world of the human, the ephemeral, and the active."(26) And her point, underscored by several of the contributors to the Liverpool symposium on the musical work that I have already cited, is that the "opus" tradition of nineteenth-century music associated above all with Beethoven was complemented by a quite distinct, performer-oriented tradition, associated with composer-pianists like Chopin and Liszt but even better exemplified by such largely forgotten virtuosi as Thalberg, Tausig, or (Anton) Rubinstein. If the paradigm of the "opus" tradition is the Beethoven symphony, that of the virtuoso tradition is the variation set, generally based on popular operatic melodies of the day but designed as a vehicle for artistic display; if the first tradition is associated with the single, authoritative text reproduced in performance, the second invokes the multiplicity of texts normative in rock music, for example, but troubling to musicologists trained in the philological tradition. Many of Chopin's and Liszt's works survive in any number of different, equally authentic notated versions, themselves the traces of different, equally authentic performances (and the resonance with the Jamaican usage of 'version' to refer to the intertextual practices of reggae is not inappropriate). If, to repeat Small's words, musicking means that "musical works exist in order to give performers something to perform," then there was musicking even within the heartland of the musical work.(27)

[11] There is also another respect in which the complexity of WAM performance has been underestimated. No one performance exhausts all the possibilities of a musical work within the WAM tradition, and to this extent the performance might be thought of as a subset of a larger universe of possibility. But a better way of thinking this thought is that, as Godlovitch puts it, "works massively underdetermine their performances."(28) There are decisions of dynamics and timbre which the performer must make but which are not specified in the score; there are nuances of timing that contribute essentially to performance interpretation and that involve deviating from the metronomically-notated specifications of the score. In ensemble music such unnotated but musically significant values are negotiated between performers (that is a large part of what happens in rehearsal). And as Kivy has observed,(29) there is a distinction of scale but not of principle between such interpretive practices, which happen so to speak within the interstices of notation, and the more drastic reconfigurations of the score that are normal in the performance of a Corelli violin sonata (where the continuo player will realize the figured bass and the soloist may embellish the melody out of all recognition), or in the interpretation of a jazz lead sheet: in each case the art of performance inhabits a zone of free and yet musically significant choice that is established in and around the notated work. (Kivy refers to this as the "gap between 'text' and performance," describing it as "a desired, intended and logically required ontological fact."(30)) In fact it might be argued that music is projected most strongly as an art of performance precisely when the work itself is so familiar, so over-learned, that the individual performance becomes the principal focus of the listener's attention. If, as pessimistic commentators complain, the live orchestral repertory has diminished to a handful of interminably repeated war-horses, then the result is a culture oriented in the highest possible degree towards the experience of music as performance (which explains the importance of brand marketing in the classical music industry: it isn't so much Beethoven's Seventh Symphony that is being sold, but rather the difference between Harnoncourt's and John Eliot Gardiner's interpretations of it).(31) If that is the case, then there is a striking mismatch between the largely performance-oriented manner in which such music is experienced and the almost exclusively composer- or composition-oriented manner in which it is represented in historical and critical writing.

[12] One way to respond to this situation is to see music as a tandem art: there is the art of the composer, and there is the art of the performer. According to Kivy, "as the music of our historical past has traditionally been performed . . . we are in possession, always, of two artworks: the work of music, and, given an outstanding or high-quality performance, the performance (product) itself."(32) Two points need making here. First, by referring to traditional performance, Kivy intends a contrast with the so-called historical performance movement, which he sees as collapsing performance into text, so squeezing out the gap between them and substituting one artwork for two.(33) (The same might be said for wholly studio-based electroacoustic music.) The second has to do with Kivy's curious formulation "the performance (product) itself," which he elsewhere glosses as "the 'thing' the performer produces in the act of performing."(34) Exactly what this "thing" might be is never entirely clear, but Kivy provides a clue when he refers to the quality that persists through Landowska's various performances of the "Goldberg" Variations: performance is to be valued not as process but for the interpretation it embodies.(35) Again, Kivy argues that performances are versions of works in precisely the same sense as arrangements,(36) and this means that he treats performance as a vicarious kind of composition; indeed he claims that "Western performance practice tout court is the exercise of a peripheral skill of the composer's art."(37) Leaving aside the hierarchical implications of "peripheral," the result is exactly what Kivy's reference to "two artworks" suggests: we have two products and no process. In this way, we are back to music and performance, rather than music as performance.

Music as Performance

[13] Keir Elam has written, with reference to theatrical performance, of the "relationship of mutual and shifting constraints between two kinds of text, neither of which is prior and neither of which is precisely 'immanent' within the other, since each text is radically transformed by its relations with the other."(38) Elam's formulation vividly captures the interaction which is constitutive of music as (rather than "and") performance, but the characterization of performance as "text," reminiscent of Kivy's "performance (product)," is characteristic of an earlier phase in theatrical semiotics (the Elam quotation dates from 1977). The contemporary performance studies paradigm that has developed primarily in the context of theater studies and ethnomusicology stresses the extent to which signification is constructed through the very act of performance, and generally through acts of negotiation between performers, or between them and the audience. In other words performative meaning is understood as subsisting in process and hence by definition irreducible to product; as Charles Bernstein expresses it with reference to poetry reading, "Sound . . . can never be completely recuperated as ideas, as content, as narrative, as extralexical meaning."(39) In many ways musicology's faltering advance towards a performance studies paradigm, most visible perhaps in opera studies (where the concept of the operatic "work" has largely given way to that of the operatic event), replicates the breaking away of theater studies from literary studies that took place during the last generation.(40)

[14] To understand music as performance means to see it as an irreducibly social phenomenon, even when only a single individual is involved. (Again there is a comparison with religious ritual, which involves the reproduction of socially agreed forms of expression even when conducted in private.) This observation derives its force from the extent to which the manifestly social practice of music has been conceptualized in terms of a direct and private communication from composer to listener. Because of this hierarchical communication model (one that reflects the traditional alignment of divine and human creation), even the everyday fact of divided authorship has been problematic for the musical academy. Certain music theorists have attempted to understand rock music as the creation of a single authorial persona ("the band"), rather than accepting that it results from the interaction of different individuals--not only the players but also, typically, producers, managers, and A & R personnel.(41) A performance studies paradigm would turn this upside down and emphasize the extent to which even a Beethoven symphony, understood as a dynamic practice within contemporary culture rather than a historical monument, represents the work not only of the composer but also of performers, producers and engineers, editors, and commentators.

[15] To emphasize the irreducibly social dimension of musical performance is not to deny the role of the composer's work, but it does have implications for what sort of a thing we think the work is. Referring to one of the mostly overtly interactive of musical practices, jazz improvisation, Ingrid Monson writes that "the formal features of musical texts are just one aspect--a subset, so to speak--of a broader sense of the musical, which also includes the contextual and the cultural. Rather than being conceived as foundational or separable from context, structure is taken to have as one of its central functions the construction of social context."(42) Seen this way, the term "text" (with its connotations of New Critical autonomy and structuralism) is perhaps less helpful than a more distinctively theatrical word, "script." Whereas to think of a Mozart quartet as a "text" is to construe it as a half-sonic, half-ideal object reproduced in performance, to think of it as a "script" is to see it as choreographing a series of real-time, social interactions between players: a series of mutual acts of listening and communal gestures that enact a particular vision of human society, the communication of which to the audience is one of the special characteristics of chamber music (the reproductive aspect is arguably stronger in symphonic music).(43) It is in recognition of this kind of performative meaning that non-musicological writers have often advocated the same kind of retrenchment in the concept of the musical work that motivates my use of the term "script"; Paul Val�ry compared a piece of music to a recipe, R. G. Collingwood saw the score as a "rough outline" of directions for performance, while Godlovitch refers to notated works as "templates, sketches, outlines, or guides which, when consulted within the bounds of conventional approval, hold promise for workable and working music."(44)

[16] Musical works underdetermine their performances, but to think of their notations as "scripts" rather than "texts" is not simply to think of them as being less detailed. (As I mentioned, performance routinely involves not playing what is notated as well as playing what is not notated; in this sense there is an incommensurability between the detail of notation and that of performance, so that notions of more or less are not entirely to the point.) Rather, it implies a reorientation of the relationship between notation and performance. The traditional model of musical transmission, borrowed from philology, is the stemma: a kind of family tree in which successive interpretations move vertically away from the composer's original vision. The text, then, is the embodiment of this vision, and the traditional aim of source criticism is to ensure as close an alignment as possible between the two, just as the traditional aim of historically-informed performance is to translate the vision into sound. But the performance studies paradigm in effect turns this model through ninety degrees: as Richard Schechner expresses it, it emphasizes "explorations of horizontal relationships among related forms rather than a searching vertically for unprovable origins."(45) In other words, it seeks to understand performances in relation to other performances (Schechner's "related forms") rather than in relation to the original vision supposedly embodied in an authoritative text; a given performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, for example, acquires its meaning from its relationship to the horizon of expectations established by other performances. (It is easy to recognize this in relation to such obviously anomalous interpretations as Mengelberg's, but I am suggesting that the same applies to all performances, so that if we hear Karajan's Ninth as simply a performance "of" the Ninth that is because we are unconscious of the weight of tradition within which we are immersed.(46)) But more than this, the shift from seeing performance as the reproduction of texts to seeing it a cultural practice prompted by scripts results in the dissolving of any stable distinction between work and performance.

[17] Busoni, for Samson the archetypal representative of performance culture, refused to admit any ontological distinction between scores, performances, and arrangements, because he saw all of them as equally transcriptions of an abstract, platonic idea; as John Williamson points out, the result is not only a blurring of the distinction between composition and performance, but also a "confusion of the roles of editor, transcriber, and composer, whereby a 'work' may be a variant, completion, or complete rethinking of a pre-existing work."(47) Current performance theory reaches exactly the same conclusion from exactly the opposite premise: there is no ontological distinction between the different modes of a work's existence, its different instantiations, because there is no original. Charles Bernstein invokes Alfred Lord's study of the Homerian epic in order to oppose the reduction of poem to text: "I believe," wrote Lord, "that once we know the facts of oral composition we must cease to find an original of any traditional song. From an oral point of view each performance is original."(48) And Godlovitch sees the related practice of story-telling as the best model for musical performance, not only because it emphasizes presentation, skill, and communication, but also because "this view of the relationship between works and performances puts the former in their proper musical place primarily as vehicles and opportunities for the latter in the larger business of making music."(49) Godlovitch's formulation, however, would be more accurate if he spoke of the relationship between "scripts," not works, and performances: after all, if there is no original, or if as Lord puts it each performance is original, then instead of a single work located "vertically" in relation to its performances we have an unlimited number of ontologically equivalent instantiations, all existing on the same "horizontal" plane. Again the story-telling model shows what is at stake: Barbara Herrnstein Smith's demonstration that there is no such thing as "the" story of Cinderella but only an indefinite number of versions of it (paralleled by Charles Seeger's judgment that "no such entity as 'the "Barbara Allen" tune' can be set up other than for temporary convenience") suggests that the only viable model for the musical work is the Wittgensteinian "family resemblances" one, and indeed a number of musicologists have invoked family resemblances in this context.(50)

[18] Or have we moved too fast and too far? Is it really credible to claim that we have no "original" in the case of, say, the Ninth Symphony when we have Beethoven's text? I have two answers to this question. The first, which might seem rather quibbling, is that there is no such thing as Beethoven's text, except as in interpretive construct; there is an autograph score, there are a few autograph parts and a larger number of non-autograph ones, and a variety of copyists' scores, but all of them contradict one another to a greater or lesser degree. And to see this as the kind of transient difficulty that can be put right by a proper critical edition is to miss the point: Herrnstein Smith would say that the Urtext editions of Beethoven's symphonies that are at last beginning to appear do not replace the earlier texts, but just add new ones. (So perhaps this answer was not so quibbling after all.) The second answer is that while these historically privileged texts have a particular significance and authority within the field encompassed by the Ninth Symphony, they are not ontologically distinct from any other occupant of that field: scores and performances, with their different patterns of determinacy and indeterminacy, their different construals of what is essential or inessential to the Symphony's identity, are linked to one another only by virtue of acts of interpretation, resulting in just the kind of intertextual field to which Keir Elam referred. (It is because the relationship of score to performance necessarily involves interpretation that even WAM might be seen as essentially an oral tradition, no matter how closely prompted by notation.) In a passage which I have quoted so often that I might as well quote it once more, Lawrence Rosenwald has characterized the identity of the Ninth Symphony as "something existing in the relation between its notation and the field of its performances,"(51) and this precisely captures what I am trying to convey: that Beethoven's text (whatever that means) has an obviously privileged role and yet relates horizontally, as Schechner would put it, to the symphony's other instantiations. In other words, the work does not exist "above" the field of its instantiations, but is simply coterminous with its totality--which, of course, is why the Ninth Symphony is still evolving. There is a sense, then, in which to refer (like Godlovitch) to "work and performance" is just as wrong-headed as speaking of "music and performance."

[19] At the same time, to construe music as performance in this manner, rather than as the reproduction through performance of some kind of imaginary object, is not to devalue works (as Godlovitch arguably does in describing them as primarily vehicles and opportunities for performances). In fact I would argue the opposite. That music is a performing art is self-evident as soon as you say it; it is only the literary orientation of musicology that makes us need to say it in the first place. In such a context the fact that, as Kaye constantly reiterates, performance tends to undermine the closure and quiddity of the textual object is hardly to be wondered at; what is to be wondered at is the way in which the real-time process of performance routinely leaves not a few, fragmentary memories (like a holiday, say) but rather the sense that we have experienced a piece of music, an imaginary object that somehow continues to exist long after the sounds have died away. "The belief that quartets and symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven rise above history can never be completely erased," Charles Rosen declares, because "the autonomy was written into them."(52) Rosen's confident tone belies the fragility of this snatching of eternity, so to speak, from the jaws of evanescence. It is only when you conceptualize performance as process that you realize how extraordinarily compelling the central illusion of WAM, that of music as product, can be.

[20] And yet, in the end, the distinction between product and process does not really hold up. Schechner sees it as a matter of emphasis: some cultures emphasize the dramatic text, others the theatrical performance.(53) In the same way, Goehr's "perfect performance of music" and "perfect musical performance" might be seen not as opposed paradigms but rather as contrasted emphases, opposed but in the sense of occupying distinct positions within a continuum (with Stockhausenian elektronische Musik and free improvisation perhaps defining its limits). Seen this way, process and product form an insoluble amalgam: Andrew Benjamin speaks, with reference to poetry, of "[t]he presence of the text . . . within the performance but equally the presence of the performance inside the text,"(54) and the same applies to music. But it is in the case of recordings that product and process have become most inextricably intertwined. The recording (a marketable product) purports to be the trace of a performance (process), but is in reality usually the composite product of multiple takes and more or less elaborate sound processing--in other words, less a trace than the representation of a performance that never actually existed.(55) And as recording increasingly replaces live performance as the paradigmatic form of music's existence, so we come closer to Chion's "new sound reality," which I cited as the purest form of music as process; but Chion's point is that there is no longer any distinction between presentation and representation, which means that it would make equal sense to describe it as the purest form of music as product. Pushed to such limits the concept of performance, as embodied in the WAM tradition, loses its substance. Process and product, then, are not so much alternative options as complementary strands of the twisted braid we call performance.

Studying Music as Performance

[21] But how might all this affect how we actually study music? In the space that remains I can do no more than offer a few pointers or links. But the most obvious way of studying music as performance is, quite simply, to study those traces or representations of past performances that make up the recorded heritage, thereby unlocking an archive of acoustical texts comparable in extent and significance to the notated texts around which musicology originally came into being. And this is beginning to happen, not only as a result of forces within the discipline but also in response to the initiatives of recording libraries anxious to encourage scholarly exploitation of their resources (the National Sound Archive in London being a particular case in point).

[22] Enough work of this kind has been carried out, some of it involving computer-based analysis of performance timing, that the drawbacks are beginning to appear. You can work with large numbers of recordings, in the manner of Robert Philip or Jos� Bowen;(56) this approach directly reflects the idea of music as a horizontal field of instantiations, and allows for a range of stylistic measures and the extrapolation of statistical trends, but an essentially inductive approach of this kind does not easily provide the kind of insight into the specific qualities of specific interpretations that score-based analysis characteristically offers. (It suffers, in short, from the traditional problems of style analysis.) The alternative is to seek to relate performance interpretation to the available analytical readings of a particular composition,(57) in effect working from analysis to recording; here the danger is of replicating Berry's "path from analysis to performance" and so interpreting the relationship purely vertically, to repeat Schechner's term.(58) It is likely that, as the field develops, ways will be found of combining what might be termed the inductive and the deductive modes of performance analysis, but a further problem remains: the assumption, common to writers as otherwise dissimilar as Schenker, Stein, Narmour, and Berry, that the role of performance is in some more or less straightforward manner to express, project, or "bring out" compositional structure. The universal validity of this orthodoxy is not self-evident, and there have been some explorations of the idea that performers might equally well seek to play against, rather than with, structure.(59) But of course this kind of inversion leaves the basic paradigm--the musical equivalent of what Susan Melrose calls the "page to stage" approach--in place: performance remains a supplement.(60) Pursued in this manner, performance studies might well become established as a specialist area within musicology and theory, but with little impact on the overwhelmingly textualist orientation of the discipline as a whole.

[23] A more direct route to understanding music as performance might be to focus on the functioning of the performing body, both in itself and in relation to the other dimensions of the performance event.(61) But again the conceptual framework is crucial. Melrose observes that structuralist approaches to theatrical performance attributed significance to the body only to the extent that they constructed it as "text" (and a similar complaint might be made about the approaches to performance timing I have just mentioned).(62) The contemporary performance studies paradigm, by contrast, seeks to understand the body in the same way as it understands sound, as a site of resistance to text, for as Charles Bernstein puts it, "Sound is language's flesh, its opacity, as meaning marks its material embeddedness in the world of things."(63) And in both cases performance is understood to be in "fundamental opposition to the desire for depth," for, in Simon Frith's words, "if we are moved by a performer we are moved by what we immediately see and hear."(64) Instead of seeing the relationship between work and performance in terms of a transparent revelation of underlying structure, as epitomized by the Schenkerian concept of performing from the middleground, a variety of terms come into play which thematize the opacity of the relationship: quotation, commentary, critique, parody, irony, or travesty, for example.(65)

[24] But there is a further vital conceptual ingredient. Melrose quotes Ariane Mnouchkine's observation that "the goal of text analysis is to attempt to explain everything. Whereas the role of the actor . . . is not at all to explicate the text."(66) But it is just this distinction that theoretical approaches to musical performance generally seek to deny. After all, you cannot perform from the middleground unless you have an authoritative knowledge of the text, and William Rothstein reveals the assumption that this is the foundation of articulate performance when he says (by way of the exception which proves the rule) that it is sometimes better to conceal than to project structure: on such occasions, he says, "the performer adopts temporarily the viewpoint of one or two characters in the drama, so to speak, rather than assuming omniscience at every moment."(67) By comparison, a postmodern approach, as advocated by Kevin Korsyn, would question the possibility of what he calls "a central point of intelligibility, a privileged position for the spectator"--or, in this case, the performer.(68) As might be expected, Korsyn invokes Bahktin's concept of dialogic in order to make his point, drawing a comparison between music and Bakhtin's concept of novelistic discourse as "an artistically organized system for bringing different languages in contact with one another, a system having as its goal the illumination of one language by means of another."(69) This image of different languages being brought into contact with one another--an image strikingly similar to the Elam quotation with which I began the previous section--provides a fertile framework for the analysis of musical performance, and indeed it is hard to think of an area in which the Bahktinian concepts of heteroglossia and double-voiced discourse might be applied in a more literal manner.

[25] This is a less than original observation. Richard Middleton has appropriated Bakhtin's concepts for the analysis of popular music, linking them to Henry Louis Gates Jr's concept of "Signifyin(g)"; Monson has made the same linkage in connection with the tissue of intertextual reference that is jazz improvisation, also adding W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of African-American "double-consciousness" into the mix.(70) Such approaches not only add depth to such concepts as parody, irony, and the rest, but also throw the emphasis firmly on the quality of creativity, of performative difference, which Gates invokes when he defines Signifyin(g) as "[r]epetition with a signal difference";(71) this semiotically charged figuring of iteration as commentary, ventriloquism, or even impersonation lies at the heart of, for instance, Hendrix's Monterey covers of "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."(72) That approaches such as these, developed for the articulation of characteristic features of African-American culture, should be well adapted for the analysis of jazz and popular music is not surprising. I would go further, however, and suggest that just as the spread of African-American musical practices has gone far towards establishing a global lingua franca, so the concepts of Signifyin(g) and double-consciousness can help to articulate the creativity that has always been present in the performance culture of WAM, but has long been repressed by the text-dominated discourses of musicology. Or to put it another way, thinking of WAM performances as reproductions may be less useful than thinking of them as monolithic, culturally privileged instances of intertextual reference.

[26] The issue of omniscience, of the availability or otherwise of a central point of intelligibility, also has a direct effect upon the relationship between the performance analyst and the phenomena that analyst is investigating, and it is the component of the contemporary performance studies synthesis that I have not yet directly discussed that makes this clearest: ethnomusicology. Through its functionalist orientation (that is, its insistence on understanding any practice within the totality of its cultural context), ethnomusicology from the start distanced itself from the model of detached observation and synthesis that characterized its predecessor discipline, comparative musicology. Instead it emphasized the necessity of fieldwork, understood as a prolonged period of residency within the target culture, during which musical practices would be observed in their cultural context and an understanding of native conceptualization acquired. Nevertheless the aim remained one of, if not omniscience, then at least an authoritative and objective understanding of cultural practice.

[27] More recent approaches to fieldwork, however, question the availability of such a central point of intelligibility in just the same way that Korsyn does; it is for this reason that Michelle Kisliuk describes the claim of ethnomusicological and other ethnography "to interpret reality for its 'informants'" as a "pretense."(73) The result is that, in Jeff Todd Titon's words, "Fieldwork is no longer viewed principally as observing and collecting (although it surely involves that) but as experiencing and understanding music," and he continues: "The new fieldwork leads us to ask what it is like for a person (ourselves included) to make and to know music as lived experience."(74) In a word, it stresses personal participation in the performative generation of meaning that is music, and as most conspicuously represented by such books as Kisliuk's Seize the Dance! it gives rise to a literary practice that is as close to travel writing or even autobiography as to the traditional literature of ethnomusicology, and which is also acutely conscious of its performative nature as writing.(75) As Titon puts it, citing Geertz, the performative approach "forces us to face the fact that we are primarily authors, not reporters."(76)

[28] Applied to more traditional musicological contexts, an ethnographic approach questions conventional constructions of relevance. For the drama theorist Baz Kershaw, it is "a fundamental tenet of performance theory . . . that no item in the environment of performance can be discounted as irrelevant to its impact," and Charles Bernstein provides an all too graphic illustration of what this might mean when he characterizes "gasps, stutters, hiccups, burps, coughs, slurs, microrepetitions, oscillations in volume, 'incorrect' pronunciations, and so on" as "semantic features of the performed poem . . . and not as extraneous interruption."(77) The point Bernstein is making is that "one of the primary techniques of poetry performance is the disruption of rationalizable patterns of sound through the intervallic irruption of acoustic elements not recuperable by monological analysis,"(78) and one might say that in music the performance "of" paradigm--the equivalent of Bernstein's "monological analysis"--filters out such dimensions of performance as are not directly referable to the work being performed. An ethnographic approach, by contrast, seeks to understand the performance of a particular piece in the context of the total performance event, encompassing issues of program planning, stage presentation, dress, articulation with written texts, and so forth. To date, work of this kind is more familiar in the context of popular music than of WAM, and the work of Les Back offers a representative example which parallels both Kisliuk's self-consciously performative writing and, in its invocation of Deleuze and Guattari's cultural "rhizomes," Schechner's concept of the horizontal: Back shows by such means how the performances of the Birmingham (U.K.)-based musician Apache Indian function as an arena for complex negotiations of cultural identity reflecting, as he puts it, "a diasporic triple consciousness that is simultaneously the child of Africa, Asia, and Europe."(79)

[29] For the musicologist such work may be simultaneously stimulating, because of the virtuosity with which cultural meaning is read in the multifarious dimensions of the performance event, and frustrating, because of its lack of engagement with the specifics of music. How might we put the music back into performance analysis? One model is provided by Monson's analyses of jazz improvisation, in which extended transcriptions are aligned with prose commentary and counterpointed by quotations from and discussions of performers' discourse. (The main limitation in Monson's presentation is the distance between sound and transcription: a musicology of performance really demands the integration of sound, word, and image achievable through current hypermedia technology, though inhibited by copyright and implementation costs, distribution, and the criteria of academic accreditation.) Again, the kind of communicative interaction between performers that Chris Smith has analyzed in relation to Miles Davis(80) is equally evident within the dynamics of, to repeat my previous example, a string quartet playing Mozart: here there is an opportunity to combine ethnographic and traditional music-theoretical approaches, as well as the computer-based measurement of timing to which I have already referred, in an analysis of the relationship between notated "script" and social interaction. (If this kind of work is harder with the WAM repertory than with jazz improvisation, because of the danger of relapsing into the performance "of" paradigm, then a useful halfway house is offered by analysis of the longitudinal processes by which WAM interpretations come into being, that is, of rehearsal; this is a topic already attracting interest from music theorists, psychologists, and sociologists, though still primarily at the level of grant applications and work-in-progress presentations.)

[30] But analyzing music as performance does not necessarily mean analyzing specific performances or recordings at all. John Potter offers an analysis of a passage from Antoine Brumel's Missa Victimae Paschali which focuses on the intimate negotiations and conjunctions between the performers and the manner in which these inflect the performance: "Throughout," he writes, "the voices are setting up patterns of tension and relaxation, acutely conscious of each other, both seeking to accommodate each others' desires and to satisfy themselves."(81) At the end of the first bar, a particular dissonance "is only a passing moment but it creates a moment of acute pleasure that they may wish to prolong," thereby subverting the tempo;(82) the third voice (with successive eighth notes on the first beat of the following bar) has to re-establish the tempo, but by the suspension at the end of the bar it is the superius who controls the negotiations of tempo between the performers. "I have not chosen an actual performance," Potter writes, "since the potential degree of realization of the points I wish to make will vary from performance to performance."(83) But the points themselves are scripted in Brumel's music: that is, they can be recovered from the score provided the analyst has the requisite knowledge of performance practice (Potter is a professional singer whose experience ranges from medieval music to "Tommy"), and provided that the dissonances in question are understood not just as textual features, as attributes of the musical object, but as prompts to the enaction of social relationships in the real time of performance.

[31] And the analysis of social interaction between performers offered by writers like Potter and Monson prompts a final thought on the potential of performance analysis for a culturally-oriented musicology. The underlying objective of such a musicology--to understand music as both reflection and generator of social meaning--is most ambitiously expressed in Adorno's claim that music "presents social problems through its own material and according to its own formal laws--problems which music contains within itself in the innermost cells of its technique."(84) Music, in other words, becomes a resource for understanding society. Adorno's own analyses of music have proved a constant source of frustration, however, while even his apologist Rose Subotnik has described his concept of the interface between music and society as "indirect, complex, unconscious, undocumented, and mysterious."(85) But the problem disappears if instead of seeing musical works as texts within which social structures are encoded we see them as scripts in response to which social relationships are enacted: the object of analysis is now present and self-evident in the interactions between performers, and in the acoustic trace that they leave. To call music a performing art, then, is not just to say that we perform it; it is to say that music performs meaning.

Nicholas Cook
University of Southampton
Department of Music
Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK

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