Authenticity within Music?

[Original post below by Kenneth FitzGerald. Migrated from discussion at a private forum.]


As it's been framed so far, the discussion about authenticity and music seems to be about how external factors—biography—affect the reception of the music. I've always felt that the framing of art, the perception that the audience brings to the work, is the primary influence on how that work is regarded. However, most of my thinking so far about authenticity and music for this panel has been about authenticity within music. Can we remove external considerations? Can it not matter who makes the music but how? This immediate seems to move toward that purist/rockist attitude, depending on where you come down on what's more inherently "authentic."

What I've been lazily doing is collating two groups of musics/songs and toying with what—if anything—they say about approaches and attitudes toward authenticity and music.

The first derives from the thought that the voice is the essential instrument in music—everything flows from that. So, if you're the ultimate purist, it's a capella or nothing, from choirs to barbershop quartets to...Bobby McFerrin? That's the jumping-off point for me, thinking about contemporary all-voice productions. The first such is Godley & Creme's 1983 track "My Body The Car," where they perform all the instrumentation vocally. This was extended by Todd Rundgren into the entire 1985 LP A Capella, and—most popularly known—by Björk for 2004's Medúlla.


The other group is gathered around the idea of music as environment, from John Cage's 4′33″, to "natural" recordings of wind, wildlife and surf, to "Marais la Nuit," the 30-minute concluding track on Neko Case's Middle Cyclone. In between are Brian Eno's "Ambient" works—especially 1982's On Land. Connecting the two threads might be Steve Reich'sIt's Gonna Rain.