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On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2005


This article develops a theoretical analysis of music and mediation, building on the work of Theodor Adorno, Tia DeNora and Antoine Hennion. It begins by suggesting that Lydia Goehr’s account of the work concept requires such a perspective. Drawing on Alfred Gell’s anthropology of art, the article outlines an approach to mediation that incorporates understandings of music’s social, technological and temporal dimensions. It suggests that music’s mediations have taken a number of historical forms, which cohere into assemblages, and that we should be alert to shifts in the dominant forms of musical assemblage. In the latter part of the article, these tools are used to conceptualize changing forms of musical creativity that emerged over the twentieth century. A comparison is made between the work concept and jazz and improvised electronic musics. Three contemporary digital music experiments are discussed in detail, demonstrating the concepts of the provisional work and of social, distributed and relayed creativity. Throughout, key motifs are mediation, creativity, and the negotiation of difference.

© 2005 Cambridge University Press

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I am grateful to Simeran Gell for supporting my request to use material from Alfred Gell’s work. Gell’s figures are reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press; other images are reproduced by permission of the rights holders, as noted in the captions. I would like to thank Dhiraj Murthy and Mariam Fraser for sharing their work with me at an early stage, and Neil Robertson for useful conversations and websites. I also thank these colleagues for ideas and feedback on various drafts: Robert Adlington, Nikolaus Bacht, Andrew Barry, John Bowers, John Butt, Judith Green, Björn Heile, Eric Lewis, Charles Wiffin; and my co-members of the research group ‘Improvisation in the Performing Arts’ based at the University of California Humanities Research Institute in 2002, particularly George Lewis, Susan Foster, Simon Penny and Jason Stanyek.