What is happening when we abandon rockist channels of authority and circuits of creating-meaning (writing/producing), which say broadly that those responsible for writing are responsible for meaning and value?
Let us look to some examples that might help in developing a position. Clearly the rockist framework is displaced and intensified in the situation of singers such as Tony Bennet or Ella Fitzgerald – or, to take a random example, Roberto Alagna – who are engaged in the interpretation of standards, where both the original writer/s, and the new one, are being celebrated. But when we are faced with artists such as Britney/Kylie/Girls Aloud/Elvis, who all make consistently strong work but rarely ‘write’ it (in the limited sense of either composing formally or composition-in-performance), an abandonment similar to the one suggested in the opening is required of us.
This abandonment raises some questions. How is there consistency to the above mentioned artists’ music, and how have they consistently made things of value? Does the consistency simply result from the constancy of the voice and the ‘author function’ (the biographical-psychological retinue that the audience brings to the music) in the work? Or is it also, or rather, in the constancy of writers/producers, or, more interstingly, is it in a certain strange effacing of any sense of authorship in congress with the acsession of the voice?
Some level of consistency is obvious in the case of Girls Aloud, due to their team being relatively constant – though here I’m reverting to the old model of critique that sees consistency and integrity in a closed circle of collaborators and authority in only the most obvious form of authorship – but the others work or worked with a wide range of producers/writers.
Might we say, in seeking this consistency, that these artists, in addition to having access to a wider range of resources than others in their position have, simply exercise great discretion, and that they thus produce stronger output, and/or might we draw attention to the importance of the auto-cursive nature of singing, of its affective superposition in music?
My feeling is that both of these observations are important: of course a greater range of resources will lead to stronger work, and it is also obvious that the voice in pop music is the most important element and thus will produce at least a surface level of consistency in an artist’s work. But we are working with a deeper level of consistency here than that, in support of which we could adduce these artists’ consistently high standards.
Something else is needed, then. Could we displace models of creativity to include performance and/or personality, or another some such object petit a? Could we, in addition or alternatively, insist on an incomplete methodology: a disorder that ends in a sort of order, or at least a discourse? This would give us access to a more complex notion of authorship, one anchored in personality, performance, ‘writing’, and, above all, in the strange synthesis that squares the circle of performer, writer, and listener.
If we don’t leave room for this type of remainder then we are ought to make silly conclusions that do things like doubt artists’ contribution to their own music. This is nearly always the most reactionary and least interesting of positions. We could always, in seeking to understand these artists’ consistency, follow an evidence-based chain by comparing the outputs of their writers/producers in those writers/producers work with other artists, and determine whether a significant quality is present in the relevant artist but not in the other/s with which we have built our comparison. We might reasonably then conclude that it is in this ‘significant quality’ that the artist’s own contribution lies.
But that is to subscribe, after a fashion – in looking for a direct causality that I suspect would be incongruous considering the amorphous nature of musical creation -, to the same model of meaning as is being employed by the rockists mentioned above (and the rockists are only foot soldiers in an army that traces back through the centuries).
I would prefer to cleave to a methodology of incompleteness, and think instead of this music as being a part of a sort of a system, a system in which the named artist is likely the most important element, give or take. This system would simply seek to recognise the aporic space of authorship that persists in (pop) music, without ignoring the writerly contributions of relevant parties. I do not know precisely how this system would play out in practice, but it seems a valuable starting point nonetheless. This aporic space might give, depending on the circumstance, a sort of intelligibility at a remove from meaning that could help us organise better our relationship to music.