Compositions Performances Recordings 

Day 054 Week 08 Q1 Saturday, February 24, 2024

What is the definition of a song or a piece of music? Well, songs usually have words, and pieces of music generally do not. Of course, there are exceptions, but for most of the world, songs are vocal-centric, and pieces are instrumentally-centric. This is a rather large difference because vocal-centric music usually has lyrics, although very occasionally, there are wordless vocals. Additionally, instrumental music is a reusable abstraction taking on vastly different meanings depending upon the listener, whereas songs with lyrics are a bit more literal, linear, and documentary.

These differences pale in comparison when considering the contrast between compositions, performances and recordings. Consider4ing these three creative manifestations independently of genre for now, the greatest difference between the three is how they are rendered, both initially and eventually.

Compositions can be initially rendered as scores or as recordings, and even these vary extremely widely. A score can be hand scribbled on a scrap of paper or painstakingly transcribed for multiple instruments of musical staffs, conventional, newly invented, or hybrids. Recordings can be as simple as a recording of a solo voice or as complex as multichannel multi-tracks, and these can be captured in real time or painstakingly assembled with 50 or more synchronized and overlaid tracks.

One thing to consider is that what can be assembled in either a complex score or a studio may be impossible or unaffordable to perform because of the large number of independent sounds, sources, and processes. In some genres, the composition, performance, and recording are the same, and in others, vastly different, and there is everything imaginable in between.

Given the enormous number of degrees of freedom in these processes it can be very difficult or even impossible to define what a given work is as what is captured is often a point of departure. For example one can write, score or record a 32 measure melody with or without harmonic underpinning expressed explicitly or symbolically as in chord changes and depending on who you hand it to it will be manifested in very different ways. If you wee to hand this to a jazz pianist you might get within the a five minute rendering multiple different ways.  If you were to hand it a monophonic solo classical non-improvising artist you might get back a one minute rendering could be nearly identically repeated. If you handed it to a singer songwriter with a guitar, they might make up some lyrics and change the chords if you provided them at all.

A composition can a point of departure and a recording can be like arriving at a destination. Multiple recordings of the same composition will usually end up with a range of destinations which is a function of how many different people and styles are available.

What’s a composer to do? Record yourself playing the piece yourself for a baseline rendition to depart from.