Some Practical Issues in the Aesthetic Analysis of Popular Music

Authored by: Christopher Doll

The Routledge Companion to Popular Music Analysis

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138683112
eBook ISBN: 9781315544700
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315544700-1

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Abstract

Granting that aesthetic analysis can cast its light on a variety of musical phenomena—individual performances, recordings, and so on—I take its chief object of concern to be the musical work. Whatever a work exactly is, it surely is something more abstract than a performance or a recording, even in the case of indeterminate scores or purely electronic efforts. 1 Nevertheless, music analysts working in the 21st century must confront the plain fact that music now comes to us predominantly via digital media. While singers still sing, and instrumentalists still hit and pluck and bow and blow, the vast majority of Western music consumed these days, whether popular or classical (or any other type), 2 comes to us encoded as zeros and ones transmitted through earphones or loudspeakers. And yet, there is a significant difference in the way digital media relate to our commonplace (if cloudy) conceptions of popular versus classical works. The typical classical composer today—even the spectralist—still writes scores to be performed (preferably repeatedly, and always with some noticeable variation in sound), while the popular songwriter and producer and performer (indeed, we really need to credit all these roles) concentrate on making recordings. Popular works, by and large, are inseparable from the medium of recording, whereas classical works are more often independent of it. This distinction holds less true for popular music before the advent of multitracking in the mid-1950s, but of course there was far less popular music created before this historical point than has been created since.

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