Emily Payne writes:
While I am sympathetic to the aims of Challenging Performance, I think we are concerned with different things. The point of the ‘performer as craftsperson’ argument was to challenge the too-easy assumption made about the creative affordances of improvisation (= novel, spontaneous, therefore ‘creative’) vs. performing with a score (= reproductive, bound to the composer’s intentions), and thus to reframe the role of notation within the creative process. This binary is focused on outcomes rather than processes, and is founded on a reliance on the score as some sort of model for what the outcome should be (i.e., the ‘ocularcentrism’ that Nick Cook (2004) talks about). To reiterate my arguments in those articles, working intimately with one’s materials might well give rise to radically innovative outcomes in performance, or it might shape performances in less explicit, more nuanced ways, but this is somewhat beside the point. Based on Sennett (2008) and Ingold’s (2011) readings of craft, it’s not just about finding solutions, but of seeking out problems, anticipating ambiguities, exploring resistances, developing relationships with one’s materials, etc. Performance is therefore itinerative (i.e., involved in a journey) rather than iterative, (simply repetitious), whatever the outcome might be. My intention was to challenge the status quo and open up opportunities for exploring the creative dimensions of performance that might otherwise be overlooked, and certainly to dispute the idea that performers are enslaved ‘worshippers’ of composers.
Nevertheless, I do think that there are limitations to the ‘craft’ and ‘craftsmanship’ metaphors, primarily that at face value they convey a (gendered) Romanticism, and a sense of working towards refining an objective norm (especially Sennett’s definition: ‘the skill of making things well’), so I can see why my arguments could be read in such a way. There has been some really interesting work done recently that counters this view by cultural geographers such as Merle Patchett (2015) and David Bissell (2013) on the fragility of skilled practice, showing that rather than a universal and static attribute that is sustained indefinitely, expertise is a dynamic, relational, and sometimes precarious phenomenon. In any case, I think most conceptions of craft these days would resist a view of it as being all about producing ‘beautifully turned objects’ (Howard Risatti (2007) and Glenn Adamson (2007) have written convincingly on this, in my view).
More recently I’ve also been thinking that there is a limitation in the inherent ahistoricism of the ‘music as performance’ argument, in that to elide the composition and performance of ‘notated’ music and improvisation in this way risks overlooking the historically significant aesthetic, ideological, and practical differences between them. E.g., Georgina Born (2015) talks about the need to address issues of genre and of the historical genealogy of these practices (and perhaps this chimes with some of the objectives of Challenging Performance). What’s more, in discussions of ‘art vs. craft’ there are wider and perhaps more urgent issues at play here relating to race and social status, and about who can afford to have the privilege of ‘artistry’. We can see this in the afrological/eurological argument put forward by George Lewis (1996) and more recently, in scholarship on figures such as Julius Eastman (e.g., Ryan Dohoney (2015)), or in the work of Matthew Morrison (2012) about the appropriation of ‘craft’ practices in music. However, these limitations and wider conversations notwithstanding, I would hope that anyone reading my work wouldn’t (mis)interpret it as preserving the subjugation of performers. You are very welcome to engage with it in that way, but I’m not sure that our two arguments are as diametrically opposed as this chapter suggests: we’re both interested in moving beyond an understanding of creativity understood solely in terms of ‘faithfulness’ to the score and/or the composer, which I hope should ultimately facilitate greater opportunities for creative liberty and innovation.
Return to 6.16 ‘Composers are gods’
Adamson, G. (2007). Thinking through craft. Oxford; New York, NY: Berg.
Bissell, D. (2013). Habit displaced: The disruption of skillful performance. Geographical Research, 51(2), 120–129.
Born, G. (2015). Making time: Temporality, history, and the cultural object. New Literary History, 46(3), 361–386.
Cook, N. (2004). Making music together, or improvisation and its others. The Source: Challenging Jazz Criticism, 1(1), 5–25.
Dohoney, R. (2015). A flexible musical identity: Julius Eastman in New York City, 1976–90. In R. Levine-Packer & M. J. Leach (Eds.), Gay guerrilla: Julius Eastman and his music (pp. 116–130). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Ingold, T. (2011) Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description. London: Routledge.
Lewis, G. E. (1996). Improvised music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological perspectives. Black Music Research Journal, 16(1), 91–122.
Morrison, M. (2012). Race and the boundaries of musicology. Journal of the American Musicological Society, 65(3), 851–861.
Patchett, M. (2015). The taxidermist’s apprentice: Stitching together the past and present of a craft practice. cultural geographies, 23(3), 401–419.
Risatti, H. (2007) A theory of craft: Function and aesthetic expression. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Sennett, R. (2008). The craftsman. London: Allen Lane.