Thursday, February 28, 2008


Brian Morton in the latest Point of Departure on the question of attribution and its role in the listening to music:

"What matters (...) is whether attribution and re-attribution help you listen to music – or appreciate any other art - in a potentially creative new way. In an ideal world, of course, we’d approach all music unlabelled, unattributed, unburdened with critical reputation, as we presumably once did in a more organic and less differentiated society.

(...) Part of our job, of course, as music “critics” is precisely to offer those textual references and contextual information. It makes some difference to how you hear a record if you know the artist’s previous form, and it significantly deepens appreciation at one level. On the other hand, if any work of art is to be considered entire and autotelic, then such knowledge is by definition irrelevant and probably misleading. Jazz, because it is an art form that treads so many philosophical dividing lines – not least that between the personal and impersonal, “works” and work, now and that oppressive thing, history– seems uniquely susceptible to questions of this sort."

As one with interest in the history of music, sure, I agree. As far as its importance in the listening process, while knowledge of who is playing - or even, who has written the song/tune/work in question - without doubt will play a role either on a conscious or subconscious level, in my experience it has played too big a role for some, especially for lesser critics. There have been dubious cases, in my opinion, where artists have been bumped up a grade or two seemingly on the basis of their names or the names of the contributors alone. A recent Solomon Burke record could serve as an example. Where it to my ears, and at least one other guy, sounded dull and uninspired, it was much heralded here, there and everywhere much due to its - undoubtedly impressive -list of contributing songwriters. Little attention was payed to the fact that almost all of the songs where far from the best work of either one of the songwriters in question. Some perspective is needed, though I have no doubt the best critics don't let the question of attribution get in the way of the listening itself.

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