[Music] exists as and for appearance. There is no actuality underlying it… Musical coherence is abstracted from actuality, not based upon it… [Music’s] appearance and its actuality are one and the same.
Geoffrey Payzant, Glenn Gould: Music and Mind
ghost song.jpgClearly, it’s possible to create believable, effective, amazing recorded works independent of the quality of the music on which the recording is based. Even when a recording’s musical content is lackluster or unremarkable, vibrant elements (a great vocal performance, a hook, or clever stylistic choices, etc) can work to make the recording itself into a potent creation, such that the so-called “deeper” content doesn’t matter.
This seems obvious enough. Is anyone really going to be troubled by the suggestion that the sounds within a recording are of comparable importance to the so-called content (i.e.,the musical ideas, words, melody) that we ordinarily perceive to underlie it? I doubt it.
Now, some critics might say that this sort of music makes silk purses from sows’ ears, and common sense would probably agree. Anyone who has ever noticed a vapid lyric or a tired chord progression underpinning a beloved popular song has had that view, if only for a minute. Silk purses from sows’ ears.
But when we look more closely at a recording, we get into some trouble, because (to state the obvious) the true contents of a recording consist only of the actual recorded sounds themselves, and nothing more. The recorded sounds are not just of comparable importance, they are all there is.

Music is, as Payzant says, “entirely phenomenal… [it] actually appears, and its appearance is the kind of actuality is has.” In other words, that “coherence” that we recognize as a song is something that we abstract from the actual music.
This is both obviously true, and also more than a little unsettling, since most of what I hear when I listen to music, and most of what I am seeking when I listen, has to do with the sense of a song that is behind the one I can hear. I am hearing content that is implied by the recordings contents; or, to use Payzant’s terminology, I am interested in what I can abstract from the sounds I am hearing.
It is usually the excellence of those perceived deeper implications, and the quality of the communication transmitted through the music from another human soul who somehow found and adapted their experience into art, that matters to me, much more, apparently, than what I am actually hearing.


  1. manuel
    February 25, 2008 at 3:26am
    well,well the music is amasing expression from heart and soul.Pandora is the way the singer and people like me listening just in my computer.Thanks PANDORA for share the music.
  2. Paul T.
    February 25, 2008 at 10:57am
    When copyrighting a song, there are two forms available from the Library of Congress. One is the Form PA, for the performing arts, which covers the song itself, or the actual essence of the song: the melody and chords underlying it. The other is Form SR, which covers the sound recording, or the form into which the "song" was recorded. The song itself is a silent and invisible enitity until it is commited to sound waves which involve structure, arrangement, instruments, etc. I think what the original author was referring to was what Form PA covers: the original, silent, formless song. I once wrote a song, when a member of a songwriting team, and we did a demo, but all agreed the song sounded too boring. It was in 4/4 time, like a ballad, and a rather slow tempo. So we redid the song, this time as a reggae song, with a faster tempo, and reggae rhythm. It sounded much better like this. So, the song was the same, but the music completely different in the two versions, at least to an untrained ear. The chords and melody remained the same. But in one version we liked it, in the other we didn't. So, to get to my point, I think the musical sound and the song itself are inseparable, at least to the degree of how much you like a song. Even though you may feel or sense the underlying song, regardless of the musical presentation of it, I think the musical presentation of it is part of the whole perception, and if it was presented a different way, you may not like the song as much as you first thought you did.
  3. Ted
    March 01, 2008 at 5:41am
    When I read, "Music is...", I cringe. Music is very subjective. Probably no two people perceive it exactly the same. We can describe many experiences in life which can be combined and result in pleasure to the soul. But for me, music is a direct path to the soul. It doesn't need any other mechanism to get there. In fact, music creates paths to other pleasurable experiences, such as relationships and visual input. It can direct us to past or present love affairs and friendships. It can bring back memories of experiences in nature. It can make us more aware of life. It can be life, in a real sort of way.
  4. Scott Bringe
    March 04, 2008 at 9:53am
    I just noticed that there is a comment on this blog that has my name on it and it's not my comment. As a computer systems analyst this bothers me because there is obviously a bug or glitch in your system because this should not have been possible. To be quite honest I have to admit that the subject of this blog is way too complicated, I tried to explain my thoughts on this subject but I wound up writing a book and still didn't reach a definite conclusion. I can't believe that Glenn Gould would make a statement like the one we are discussing because it is clearly incorrect. I think we are discussing content as opposed to execution and I know that sometimes lack of content can be excused because of brilliant execution or at least decent, look at most pop music. I think that the opposite has a lower success rate, it is more difficult to enjoy a good work if the execution is bad, sometimes impossible.
  5. Michael Zapruder
    March 04, 2008 at 10:09am
    hey scott - the poster's name is added below the post and below a horizontal line, which sometimes makes people think that the next post has been attributed to them - as for your points and comments, I think that not reaching a conclusion is probably a good state of affairs, since categories and concepts like these are best when they are still mutable and in motion. hopefully they stimulate some new ways to listen and hear the music.
  6. Rob Hoexter
    March 04, 2008 at 4:25pm
    Fascinating discussion. What I haven't seen mentioned is that music has been around a lot longer than our ability to make recordings of it! That said, recorded music is really just a way to bring the performance to listeners who couldn't be there in person. And all an artist does when adjusting, editing and enhancing a recording is try to make the listener's experience of the performance as close to the original, or to the artist's ideal conception of it. The point is that the quality of the recording is either good enough to ignore, and allow focus just on the music, or is in some way diminishing the experience. This should, I hope, put the quality of the reproduction in perspective - it is a vehicle only. Then, one can pay attention to and evaluate the real content: Composition, arrangement, and originality on the part of the composer, and quality of performance, emotion, character, technical ability etc. from the performers. (I should mention: I am a classical musician and play professionally - bit I listen to almost every kind of music - and Pandora is terrific! I'm waiting for the classical stations...)
  7. juanita
    March 16, 2008 at 7:14pm
    i joined pandora in feburary 2007. i love everything about it. i have even created three radio stations .my soul is so blessed ,i just love god so much. and i thank the creaters, of the station. what a great why to bring people to god.THROUGH HIS WORD BY MUSIC. [ STAY BLESSED ] JEANELLE, A CHILD OF GOD.

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