Switch ContentsWho Makes Electronic Music...

by Hannah Bosma

And indeed, examples of this techno-optimistic dream can be found. Take for example CD's called 'Maria Callas', 'Kathleen Ferrier', 'Enrico Caruso' or likewise. On these CD's, not the composers but the singer is presented as the main figure. And, of course, in pop/rock music some performative aspects like sound and timing are inextricably part of the recorded product and the singer is often considered as the main figure. Significantly, in pop/rock music there is not a standard way of singing - the special sound of a particular voice is a very important, identifying element. Also for singer- composers like Joan La Barbara, Diamanda Galas or Laurie Anderson, sound recording is very important for their work; especially so, because extended vocal techniques, a special timbre or a special way of speaking or singing (timing, intonation) are all features wich cannot be notated adequately and which are essential in their work. In this way, sound recording technology has contributed to the extension and proliferation of the work of the (often female) vocalist. (But of course other influences were also important, for example, the search for new sounds in avant-garde music, performance art and feminism.)

But my dream, although partly come true, is not the only possible effect of the technology of sound recording. Although the art of vocal performance-interpretation or improvisation is now available as a lasting object of analysis (for example for comparing different performances of the same composition, or analysing an improvisation), musicology is still predominantly concerned with scores, i.e. the work of composers. And though one can argue that in pop, rock or avant-garde tape music the work of the composer and the work of the vocalist/instumentalist are essentially intertwined, the distinction between composer and performer still lies at the basis of the laws for musical copyrights. Regarding copyrights, it is the composer who owns most. Moreover, sometimes the work of vocalists seems to dissappear when it is part of a tape piece. A very significant example of this is Thema: Ommagio a Joyce (1958) by Luciano Berio. This composition completely consists of the manipulated voice sounds of Cathy Berberian, whose special timbre is an important feature of the composition. But more often than not, she is not mentioned at all in sleeve notes or musicological studies.(1) But even if the vocalist is mentioned, the composer still 'owns' the composition. Why are Berberian and Berio not considered as co-authors of Visage (1961), a tape-piece made of recordings of Berberian's impro- visations and of which Berio is named as the composer? And it is possible to give many more examples of comparable cases.


(1) E.g., Berio 1959, Dreþen 1982. Griffiths (1979) as well as the sleeve notes of the CD (Boehmer) only implicitly mention Berberian as the voice in Thema, when they discuss Berio's Visage. For a more extensive discussion, see Bosma 1996.