By Arved Ashby
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From a certain perspective, at least, modern technology often looks like madness, or like nonhuman gigantism, to use Heidegger’s concept. 50 Such a concept of ﬂuctuating reproductive-technological madness proves particularly useful in discussing the recording’s relationship with the musical work and performance. Recording has made this set of connections— complex from the beginning—all the more irrational, complicated, and ahistorical. Recording can be counted “mad” in that it ultimately resulted in devaluation of the very notions of work and performance that it was originally designed to preserve.
Absolute music remains very much alive as an aesthetic model and cultural force, but as an exclusive aural paradigm it is dead and gone. Should we mourn musical works—as opposed to music in a less controlled and determinate sense—and the sorts of listening agendas that such works demanded 60 or 140 years ago? Lawrence Kramer, waxing lyrical in his recent book Why Classical Music Still Matters, answers with a resounding yes. ” Presuming such a division, or indeed hostility, between music and media, Kramer can really only believe “classical music” to be in sharp decline.
Now I know I can’t play well enough to want to remain forever on the same level. The coupling of the unceasingly changeable man with the permanently insensitive machine is wrong. ”51 So utilized, recording technology came to undercut itself: according to Michael Chanan, it has caused “the eventual loss of the tradition that governed the score’s interpretation. ”52 In Simon Frith’s estimation, preserving performances through recording has not resulted in referential or pivotal renditions but instead led to a state of obsolescence and interpretive relativism: Everyone can [now] hear that the readings of scores change, that the “ideal” performance is variable (old recordings are odd or incomplete or just plain “wrong” in the same way as old readings of literature or art).