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  • Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music
  • Simon Trezise
Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. By Mark Katz. pp. xiii + 276 . CD. (University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 2004, £32.50/£12.95. ISBN 0-520-24196-7/-24380-3.)

Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music comprises seven case studies in the complex relationship of recording and musical life, three of which have been published elsewhere and are republished here with revisions ('Making America More Musical' (1998), 'Aesthetics out of Exigency: Violin Vibrato and the Phonograph' (2000), and 'The Rise and Fall of Grammophonmusik' (2001)); the others are new ('Capturing Jazz', 'The Turntable as Weapon', 'Music in 1s and 0s', 'Listening in Cyberspace'), though a greater part of the chapters on jazz and classical music is taken from Mark Katz's doctoral dissertation, 'The Phonograph Effect: The Influence of Recording on Listener, Performer, Composer, 1900-1940' (University of Michigan, 1999).

For good measure, and in some respects for essential clarification and illustration, a CD is included. Like the book, it ranges widely, beginning with a phonographic letter from the early 1900s, continuing with an acoustic jazz record, five illustrations for the vibrato chapter, an excerpt from Hindemith's 1930 Trickaufnahme from Originalwerk für Schallplatte, Paul Lansky's Notjustmoreidlechatter of 1988, Fatboy Slim's 'Praise You' of 1998 followed by the source of one of the main samples in 'Praise You', Camille Yarbrough's 'Take Yo' Praise', and concluding with Public Enemy's 'Fight the Power'. Given the uncommon hassle that putting such CDs together usually entails, Katz and his publisher deserve high praise for going to the trouble. The track listing, moreover, gives a foretaste of Katz's broad musical tastes: he writes with passion and eloquence about many musical styles from Joachim in Brahms to 'scratching' and Fatboy Slim.

Katz's study has a title reminiscent in part of an earlier book, Michael Chanan's Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and its Effect on Music (London, 1995). The emphasis in both books is on the reciprocal relationship between musical performance and technology as it came to be applied to performance, a relationship that was not confronted in some of the earlier studies of performance on record, such as Robert Philip's influential Early Performance and Musical Style (Cambridge, 1992). In that book, but less so in Philip's later Performing Music in the Age of Recording (New Haven and London, 2004), recording is accepted as a relatively unmediated facsimile of live performance—the obvious drawbacks of sound quality and side length of 78s notwithstanding. Both Chanan and Katz take as their subject 'music' rather than refining the concept to the 'performance of music', so in their writing the activity of music making becomes the music. Beethoven's Fifth and the complex activity that bestows temporary life beyond the conceptual work blend together.

Before discussing aspects of Katz's case studies, it is important to clarify the book's thesis, which is that the 'technology of sound recording . . . has profoundly transformed modern musical life' (p. 1) to produce the 'phonograph effect' (p. 3). What 'he is offering . . . is to expand the discussion [of how recording does more than record] by focusing on how and why recording influences musical life' (Katz's italics, pp. 2-3). He does this through the 'concept of the phonograph effect' (p. 3). An underlying problem in the book is the implication of originality for ideas that have been around for a while. Adorno expressed himself forthrightly on the commodification of music entailed in radio and recording. The reduction of music to 'musical goods' and its consequent standardization and imitation transformed performance so that it came to sound 'like its own phonograph record' ('On the Fetish-Character in Music' in Essays on Music, trans. Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, 2002), 301). Adorno wrote this in the context of a diatribe against Toscanini, but elsewhere in that essay and in 'The Form of the Phonograph Record' we may discern his concern that technology leads to the petrifaction of music. While deploring the regressive listening engendered by technology, he espies hope as well; for the transformative power of recording...