- Taking it to the Bridge: Music as Performance Edited by Nicholas Cook and Richard Pettengill
Nicholas Cook and Richard Pettengill’s edited volume brings performance studies in concert with musicology, and serves as a site of transition between the two disciplines, bringing them to an intellectual bridge. The coeditors represent both sides of the bridge: Cook is a musicologist, while Pettengill is a performance studies scholar; they are well-positioned, then, to offer this collection that challenges notions of what performance in music can sound, look, and feel like. They note “that there is a gulf—it would not be going too far to call it an ontological standoff—between the approach of performance studies and that around which musicology originally came into being” (3). Offering brief intellectual histories of musicology and performance studies, Cook and Pettengill challenge the former to reconsider the role of performance in music. Musicology still tends to favor the musical text, but as the editors contend, “[t]ake away the act, take away the performance, and you take away the music” (1). The goal of this syncretic volume is not to debunk musicology, but to introduce methodologies that can open readings of musical events beyond the score. They seek to apply performance studies sensibilities to musicology to emphasize that “meaning is created in the act of performance” (2).
With fifteen essays on topics ranging from Rossini to U2, the volume looks like a playlist on shuffle. This polyvocal approach successfully recognizes the complex process of performance as representation to “take us deep into issues of cultural meaning and the politics of identity” (8). Including a wide range of voices and topics also allows Cook and Pettengill to deconstruct the assumed binaries of music: composer and performer(s), performer(s) and audience, and scripted and improvisational performance. To push their problematizing project, the volume organizes the essays into three areas: theory and methodology; meaning “generated by performance”; and performance and technology (13). No formal markers delineate these sections; the reader must decide where theory ends and practice begins.
The first grouping of essays investigates specific performances or kinds of performance to establish how music as performance can operate. Based on her experiences seeing U2 live and on film, Susan Fast’s essay “U2 3D” notably challenges Auslander’s concept of liveness and points to the value of auto-ethnographic research, concluding that the recorded or mediated event (a 2008 film of a U2 concert) is phenomenologically different than the live event and should be analyzed as such. Yet, both Cook’s and Pettengill’s essays employ video as texts for case studies of performance, and together are the clearest examples of what music as performance scholarship can be, or at least are the most overt mixing of methodology. Pettengill’s essay looks at fifteen seconds of a 1972 performance of the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star.” His close reading of chord progressions, or the tonal structure of the music, in conjunction with band members’ personae (again drawing on Auslander), reveals the richness of music as performance, as he notes: “This fifteen seconds demonstrates the extraordinary non-verbal and aural communication … that the Grateful Dead at their best manifested in the thick of performance” (47). Cook’s essay “Bridging the Unbridgeable?” productively disrupts musicology’s approach where “[p]ractice is subordinated to theory, from text to act, from page to stage” (71). Although the essay curiously conflates performance studies with theatre studies, it also draws on Auslander’s discussion of persona.
The second grouping ranges in topic, from historical reconstructions of nineteenth-century performance as enactments of social revolution in Dana Gooley’s “Enacting the Revolution” to Ingrid Monson’s “Tchekisse” on Mali bala performer Neba Solo’s efficacy as a cross-cultural performer in a sectarian environment. These are highlights of a group of essays focusing on identity politics and how both the music and performance of artists operates in and against discursive forces. Auslander again reverberates in many essays as both tuning fork and dissonant point...