Pieces of Music: The Ontology of Classical, Rock, and Jazz Music

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2005-06-21

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I investigate the nature of, and relationships between, works, performances, and recordings in the Western musical traditions of classical, rock, and jazz music. I begin in chapter one by defending the study of musical ontology against a recent attack by Aaron Ridley. This leads into a discussion of the appropriate methodology for investigating the ontology of art, and the reasons for doing musical ontology, particularly in a comparative way.

In chapter two I review and reject several theories of what a classical musical work is. I defend the view that such a work is an abstract object - a type of performance - against several objections, most notably that abstract objects cannot be created, while musical works are. In chapter three I argue that classical recordings, as they are typically made, are correctly conceived of as giving access to performances of the works they purport to be of, despite the fact that they are not records of any single performance event in the studio.

Before tackling rock and jazz, in chapter four I investigate the concept of a work of art in general, arguing that there are two necessary conditions an art object must meet to be a work: (1) it must be of a kind that is a primary focus of critical attention in a given art form or tradition, and (2) it must be a persisting object. I argue further that (i) there is no need to subsume all art under the work concept, and that (ii) drawing a distinction between works and other art objects need not lead to valuing the former over the latter.

In chapter five, I argue that the work of art in rock music is a track for playback, constructed in the studio. Tracks usually manifest songs, which can be performed live. A cover version is a track (successfully) intended to manifest the same song as some other track. In chapter six, I discuss various proposals for the ontology of jazz. I argue that in jazz there are no works, only performances.

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