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Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Arved Ashby (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN: 9780520264809
June 2010
$34.95, £24.95
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Recordings are now the primary way we hear classical music, especially the more abstract styles of “absolute” instrumental music. In this original, provocative book, Arved Ashby argues that recording technology has transformed our understanding of art music. Contesting the laments of nostalgic critics, Ashby sees recordings as socially progressive and instruments of a musical vernacular, but also finds that recording and absolute music actually involve similar notions of removing sound from context. He takes stock of technology's impact on classical music, addressing the questions at the heart of the issue. This erudite yet concise study reveals how mechanical reproduction has transformed classical musical culture and the very act of listening, breaking down aesthetic and generational barriers and mixing classical music into the soundtrack of everyday life.
Arved Ashby is Professor of Music at the Ohio State University. He is the editor of The Pleasure of Modernist Music, and has published articles on twelve-tone composition, film music, minimalism, and Frank Zappa. He was an American Musicological Society (AMS) 50 Dissertation Fellow, and won the AMS Alfred Einstein Award in 1996.
“In Ashby's refreshing reading, [recordings' displacement of composers' texts] is neither a doomsday moment nor bland techno-utopianism: it's a chance to re-engage with classical music in the vernacular.”—Times Literary Supplement
"Ashby raises crucial and often agonising issues for those who care about the marginalisation of classical music. ...[His] theme is how the two-centuries-old guiding ideal of Western music has been transformed by the processes of mechanical reproduction, a transformation that, he rightly argues, has been neglected by writers in favour of recording's more symbiotic relationship with 20th century popular genres."—The Wire
"For as long as any of us has been collecting recordings there has been no shortage of critics and performers arguing the superiority of the live concert experience - with plenty of justice, of course. However, this formidable work of scholarship demonstrates how lazily we can accept such received wisdom. . . . Ashby’s book has the capacity dramatically to change thinking."—Andrew Green Classical Music Magazine
“Ashby really stakes out the place of instrumental art music in a digital world, never backing away from hard questions that make us examine the very nature of musical performance itself. Musically and philosophically, there is a lot to ponder here, and none of it is going to get easier."—Journal Aesthetics & Art Criticism
“Compelling, insightful, [and] occasionally head-spinning. . . . [Ashby’s] move between philosophy and cultural history is deft. . . . His book as a whole is filled with an ambivalence that effectively—whether intentionally or not—embodies the impossibility of extricating ourselves from media enough to assess them. But the book’s looseness is also the source of much of its pleasure and insightfulness. This vital work will prove immensely useful for scholars attempting to construct sophisticated ways of studying many topics in the history and theory of sound recording."—Gustavus Stadler CRITICISM
"Arved Ashby writes with a keen sense of the historical processes, ironies, and reversals that seem to characterize the ways that musicologists think about, and contemporary listeners experience, works and performance. This book is a major contribution to the burgeoning body of critical musicological literature on recordings; anybody interested in that field, or in the question of the 'artwork' in the contemporary world, needs to read this book—which fortunately, is a great pleasure to do."—Adam Krims, author of Music and Urban Geography

"The relationship between classical music and recording is strangely conflicted: on the one hand recorded music is the perfect realization of aesthetic autonomy, on the other hand it commodifies music and transforms its role within society. Ashby's book offers a penetrating analysis of these cultural conflicts, showing how technological developments from the phonogram to the mp3 have changed our basic sense of what music is as well as the ways in which we consume it. What emerges from this sustained study of the relationship between technology and values is a view of classical musical culture that is both richer and truer to life."—Nicholas Cook, author of A Guide to Musical Analysis

"Lively and persuasive. Ashby has the enviable, rare ability to lead the reader comfortably through highly complex material without oversimplifying. This is a must-read for composers, music theorists, performers, musicologists, critics, and anyone with an interest in classical music beyond the elementary level."—Jonathan Dunsby, author of Performing Music

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