By Arved Ashby
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Additional info for Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction
But a speciﬁcally textual question arises when the discussion turns to mechanical reproduction: What impact do reproduction and mediation have on the shared meanings, the conveyed “messages,” Introduction / 23 that traditional aesthetics would place at the center of the musical experience? Three of my thinkers help answer this with their own instrumentalist and highly practical perspectives on communication and communicated signiﬁcance: James, Barthes, and Rorty all helped in their own ways to end the structuralist insistence on shared meaning, and moved instead toward an interpretative practice of difference and local utility.
Getting textual” is usually not the public’s wont outside of organized religion, since texts are really a private matter, an issue of reading and personal explanation. “Deﬁnitive” and “referential” are terms that music-lovers reserve for a vital recording, not necessarily the version they love and want to spend time with, but one that has proved inﬂuential, lasting, and worthy of respect. It is a version that has stood the test of time and promises to shape future tastes and judgments. Self-enclosed and in a sense tautological, it suggests centrality and endurance and seeks to establish the very interpretive criteria by which it is to be validated.
All the more surprising, then, that Kramer thinks no listening transformations are inevitable, even as human sensibilities themselves become more and more fragmented: he entertains strong but selective subjectivities. Listening is for him an arcadian pursuit, one that stands to be “refreshed” in our own time. We should conform to it as a moral example, not the other way around: “The energies of this music are still vital; its value is still inestimable. ”64 Kramer allows no middle ground: we can either connect with the old music on its own old conditions, or suffer its loss and confront the full and utter corruption of modern life; the possibility of Bach, Chopin, or Ravel meaning something to us here, now, and on fresh terms never seems to have occurred to him.