I have just returned from the Royal College of Music, in Sweden, where I delivered a paper on digitisation – abstract pasted below. An extended journal issue will be published in late 2017/early 2018 with the same title.
Expanding the Sphere of Irrelevance: musical works, recordings and their digitisations
Dr. Adam Stanović
The type-token theory enables philosophers of music to explain how musical performances, and more recently recordings, can remain faithful to a given work despite their inevitable differences. According to this theory, popularised by Richard Wollheim, works are types (abstract formations laden with properties) and their performances and recordings are tokens (concrete manifestations which, providing their properties correspond with those of the type, are deemed to be equally and ideally permissible as instances of the work in question) (Wollheim 1980). In most cases, tokens have substantially more properties than their corresponding types, and this serves to explain the notion of performance interpretation, and variability among recordings; the properties of types (works) are conditional and non-negotiable, but their tokens (performances and recordings) add additional properties to produce substantial variability. This observation is certainly not new; Roman Ingarden, for example, suggested that there is a “sphere of irrelevance” built in to each musical work which accounts for variability (Ingarden 1986, p.23; original 1931). More recent contributors have described musical works as thin types (Davies, 2004) that underdetermine the many details of their fully-formed tokens (Godlovich 1998; Scruton 1997).
The digitisation of performances and recordings requires an extension of this theory; the choice of microphone(s), hardware, software, the room and available acoustic, the choice of format or media, the digitisition format and distribution medium are but some of the many factors that potentiate variability. Vastly different digitisations may be drawn from the same performance or recording, depending how these variables are negotiated. With this in mind, it may seem sensible to refer to digitisations as tokens of tokens; digitisations are instances of performances or recordings which are, in turn, instances of works. A more sophisticated theory, however, considers performances and recordings as second-order types, for which digitisations are their tokens in their own right. Such a theory, elaborated in this paper, would serve to explain how the many variables involved in the production of digitisations substantially extends those associated with first-order types (works) and their performances and recordings. This observation does not merely account for the relations that hold between works, performances, recordings and their digitisations; it also suggests that the sphere of irrelevance must be extended, albeit in conceptual terms, to account for the ever-increasing variability that the age of digitisation has produced.