Switch ContentsWho Makes Electronic Music...

by Hannah Bosma

The character of performance is overwhelming presence and evanescent process: impressive at the moment itself, lost afterwards. This contrasts with the work of the composer: he creates a musical score which lasts in time, after the composer's death, and which can be multiplied and distributed around the world. Scores don't vanish the moment they come into existence, but patiently lie on one's desk to be studied again and again. But scores need performers to become sounding music; composers essentially need performers, although they often complain about them. Roughly speaking, composers compose notes and performers create a subtle play with sound, timbre and timing. If one looks into histories of Western music and in musicological curricula, one finds composers and their works, and almost no performers. To a large extent, this is quite understandable: we still have access, more or less, to parts of the work of composers - their scores (directing, organizing and performing were often also part of the work of a composer, and of course we don't have direct access to these past activities). Performances, that is, sounding compositions or improvisations, are lost. For example, the past sound art of past famous singers is lost for ever, but not the scores of their contemporary composers.

Sound recording changes the status of the musical performance. When recorded, the musical work of a singer is repeatable, distributable and long-lasting, after the moment of performance and after the death of the singer. It can be listened to and analysed again and again. Through sound recording, the music of the singer can be perceived beyond the reach of the singer herself. Recorded, the creative work of the performer can get a status comparable to a composition: permanent, reproduceable and authoritative. Moreover, sound recording technology not only makes it possible to record a performance of a score or an improvisation, but also to compose directly with sound (e.g., voice) on tape. With a recording of a performance or an improvisation or with a tape-composition of her vocal sound, a singer becomes a creator of a permanent creative art object. Whether she made it on her own or coproduced it with others, the work of the vocalist is an inextricable and essential part of a musical piece consisting of recorded vocal sounds. In this kind of music, the roles of singer and composer are changed or merged. As a (co-)creator of a permanent recorded object consisting of an interpretation, improvisation or tape-composition, one can assign the vocalist an authoratitive status comparable to that of a composer.