Can One Form of Music Be More Authentic Than Another?

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Can One Form Of Music Be More Authentic Than Another?

There are many different forms of music all of which have individual styles and characteristics. These forms and styles are generally categorized, by the media, music industry and audiences, into musical genres. These genres are more or less determined by such factors as geographical location, for example Nashville and Country & Western; time period, for example 1950’s and Rock’n’Roll; social relevance, for example 1970’s and Punk; and of course the variables of musical form itself including instrumentation, technique and particularly the distinctions made between Art, Pop and Traditional music. The emergence of new genres, or sub-genres, can in truth occur from an almost infinite number of variable distinctions. In his essay ‘Genres, Subgenres, Sub-Subgenres and More’ Kembrew Mcleod argues that in electronic music "the naming of new subgenres can be linked to a variety of influences, such as the rapidly evolving nature of the music, accelerated consumer culture, and the synergy created by record company marketing strategies and music magazine hype. The appropriation of the musics of minorities by straight, middle and upper-middle-class whites in the United States and Great Britain plays a part, and the rapid and ongoing naming process within electronic/dance music subcultures acts as a gate-keeping mechanism, as well." (Shepherd, 2003) This would suggest that the origin, dimension and indeed ‘authenticity’ of a music genre is determined by many variables and these factors contribute to the over lapping and constant fluctuation of musical styles and forms..

In this essay I will be discussing whether or not one form, or indeed genre, of music can be more authentic than another. But what do I mean by ‘authenticity’? The word itself comes from the Latin ‘authenticus,’ meaning ‘from the author’, and the British philosopher, J.L. Austin called this word, along with its near relations, ‘real’, ‘genuine’ and ‘true,’ a ‘dimension word.’ He goes on to explain that this is ‘a term whose meaning remains uncertain until we know what dimension of its referent is being talked about. A forged painting, for example, will not be inauthentic in every respect: a Han van Meegeren forgery of a Vermeer is at one and the same time both a fake Vermeer and an authentic van Meegeren, just as a counterfeit bill may be both a fraudulent token of legal tender but at the same time a genuine piece of paper.’ (J. L. Austin, 2003) It is clear that what J.L.Austin means is that the meaning of the word authenticity can only be interpreted by its context. So how does this relate to music and its many forms? While referring to the classical genre, Dennis Dutton** suggests in his essay ‘Authenticity In Art’ that ‘with a painting there normally exists an original, nominally authen­tic object that can be identified as “the” original; nothing corresponds to this in music. Even a composer’s own performance of an instrumental score — say, Rachmaninoff playing his piano concertos, or Stravinsky conducting The Rite of Spring — cannot fully constrain the interpretive choices of other performers or define for ever “the” authentic performance.’ (Dutton, 2003) It is clear from this that Dutton believes that defining authenticity in music, particularly in the classical art form, is an almost impossible task in the context of performance interpretation. One can normally identify the author of the score, but even the author themselves can never truly represent or define ““the” authentic performance.” This notion of determining ‘the original’ however, is only one context of authenticity ideology upheld within music. According to John Shepherd* in his book ‘The Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World,’ in popular and traditional music, the notion of authenticity has generally been positioned around ideas related to ‘historical continuity, artistic expression and sincerity, autonomy from commercial...
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