Song – Arrangement – Track: Where is the ontological presence of a song?

This week in my Musicology session we have been discussing the various ontological aspects of a record. Alban Zac describes the following three factors:-

1)      The song: Made up of factors such as melody, chords and basic form

2)      Arrangement: Specific ways that a song has been arranged. This can range from aspects of style, texture, timbre, production techniques etc.

3)      Track: This is a combination of the above.

The big idea is that points 1 and 2 have  ontological independence – so we can analyze them differently.

I am interested in any observations anyone may have about this (not just my students) – so a couple of questions to get you started

a)      Examples of how the compositional process has changed over the years when working with these factors. For example at one time the songwriter and artist were independent – as was the arranger and composer. How have these factors become merged –  in particular with more affordable technology?

b)      Where does The Song exist? Is is via the definitive recorded version of the Song (we all know what they are) – or does it exist virtually – making it the sum of its collective recordings and performances?

Interested in any comments.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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3 Responses to Song – Arrangement – Track: Where is the ontological presence of a song?

  1. I think the intended medium of delivery for both recorded music and performance has affected the changes in process and how the elements you mentioned above relate, or not relate to each other in context with the creative and economic goal. How we listen to music has an impact on how we make it. Furthermore, it could be said the roles of writer, arranger etc were constructs of recorded music being industrialised and commercialised on a global scale and therefore more relevant to a period of time when the economics of music and it’s artists were driving the industry. With accessible and affordable technology for both creation and distribution, the music is increasingly becoming the loss leader in an industry and cultural shift that is focused on the technology to find and access the vast amount of it that is available. Therefore the incentive to invest in the content and creative process is secondary to the technology to consume it. The knock on affect of this is artists and musicians adapt their practices to suite their creative and financial aims. This may mean learning the skills to combine several roles, or defining new processes and methodologies exploiting technologies to achieve what they need.

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  2. Laura Connor says:

    b) Where does The Song exist? Is is via the definitive recorded version of the Song (we all know what they are) – or does it exist virtually – making it the sum of its collective recordings and performances?

    The issue with this is that music is alway personal and perceptive. The song truly can only exist in the head of the originator, as anything from then on is simply a perception which requires an analysis of the reciever, from social raising, to education, cultural effects and even medical aspects, as we all hear things differently physically as well as psychologically.

    You could say that the recording is the difinitive physical version of the song, but then, as we all suffer from psychoacoustics, and personalities(!) what we are all percieving is yet another thing to be debated.

    It’s a rather lofty question which the answer is, to my mind, briefly put, there is only ever one real version of the song, and that is the first time the originator created it in thought – anything after that is a translation of that original, including in the authors mind, as any further thought is simply a memory of the original.

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  3. James Biss says:

    I think from a compositional point of view, songwriters compose with parts of the arrangement in mind already, it may seem to them as if they are just writing a song, but in fact they are aiming for a specific style or writing the chords to be on a specific instrument.
    In this way I think many songwriters don’t write a ‘song’ on its own, it’s hard to write down lyrics and chords without having already thought of the style, instruments and an overall outcome etc.

    Modern software allows composers easily to input the chords into a notation program such as Notion or Sibelius, and immediately hear them played back on an instrument of their choice. This means you can continue to arrange the song while writing it down. It is only after the song (and a very basic arrangement) has been finalised, when a composer would start work on a full arrangement, moving on to textures and production techniques. I feel the arrangement ground work is first done mentally, along with the song.

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