April 14 Readings

Virtuality in Music and Musicians

The readings for this week involve issues of virtuality in both musicians and in music itself. With the trend of increased digital and online presence from artists, it can become difficult to unpack the implications of this “virtual” trend on the authenticity or “realness” of the music.

The definition of “virtual” can spark debate in itself. Echard referenced the philosophy of Gilles Delouze, who saw virtuality as “that which is real, but not actual” (Echard, 8). The key in virtuality is the process of becoming, much like sound from an instrument becomes music. This distinction, that of identifying the virtual vs. the actual, allows us to see the transition from virtual to actual as a process (of becoming).

Echard claims that virtuality is seen in many ways.
1) Through multiplicity in representation (different performances of a single work)
2) Through affect - the capacity of an entity to affect and be affected.

Some bold claims made by Echard that are noteworthy include:

“…musical texts and objects themselves are virtual in nature.” (10)

and that

“ …involvement in music often affords performers and listeners a heightened
sensitivity to virtuality.” (11)

The Case of The Beatles

According to Auslander and Inglis, the Beatles were one of the groups with a major virtual presence, and that they laid a path for virtual artists of the latter half of the 20th century and today. In other words, they were the first group to substitute a virtual presence for a physical one. Through their presence in an animated series, TV shows, movies, and studio recordings, they were able to alleviate the stresses of demand for public performance. The extent of this even led to their virtual presence playing a major role in public perception of their “characters” and music.

By participating in these virtual endeavors fans could experience the same types of connection with the group. When discussing their 1970 film documentary Let It Be, the authors write that:

“The film’s intended objectives were to reduce on screen the distance between musicians and audiences in a way that would have been impossible in the physical world, and to provide audiences with insights into the recording and performing process not accessible through conventional record consumption or concert attendance.”


In the age of virtual musicians, a trend of disdain occurs in regards to authenticity. Jackson and Dines offer the example of the Vocalic software developed by Yamaha at the turn of the 21st century. The authors argue that Western culture is more accepting of the natural human voice, and views the vocalic software as inauthentic. The most identifiably contrasting region where this software/technique is widely used and accepted is Japan. In a sense, the authors challenge the readers to view the use of this music just as any other creative music making:

“By perceiving the vocaloid software as a creative process in itself and as a natural progression of this theatrical tradition of illusion (rather than a more ominous prediction of the future), we may see a platform for expression instead of a threat to creative freedom.”

The authors also incorporate the history and popularity of Bunraku, the centuries-old practice of puppetry in Japan. This creative process involves the audiences suspension of disbelief. The audience is both aware of the lack of “realness,” but accepting of the plot, characters, and music as a creative process.

“…just as Bunraku puppets explored the self through the relationship between illusion, reality, and puppetry, vocaloids are exploring the enigma of technology within the modern, with both incorporating the controllers as being real or recognized as part of the illusion on stage.”

1) What does "virtual" mean? How do the authors differ in their definition and/or focus?
2) What platforms or types of media constitute "virtuality?"
3) Does software such as the Vocaloid example affect the authenticity of music? Why or why not?
4) What does Echard mean when he states that "a musical instrument is a means to actualize music as sound?"
5) In relation to The Beatles, in what ways do modern artists substitute virtual presence for a physical one? Specific examples?

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