Ontmusic1. What is a musical work?
- 1 Discussion
- 2 Candidates for musical works
- 3 Can there exist a mono-instantiated musical work, which is a musical work that can be performed or played only once?
- 4 Why the existence of mono-instantiation types is relevant to musical works
- 5 Reasons why each jazz improvisation is a musical work type
- 6 References on Musical Ontology
- 7 NOTES
Candidates for musical works
- A musical work is a stable compositional type. Often a musical work is identical to a song. Philosopher Tobyn C. DeMarco defines a work of art as an action-type. “The term “work of art” (WOA) or just “work” indicates the thing or object, abstract or otherwise, that is produced through artistic action-types, through art making and doing.
➢ What makes a compositional type be stable?
One stability is offered by a copyrighted musical score that is a physical object containing the musical instructions specifying rhythm, notes, chords, and arrangements (amongst other things) for how to perform the song. In Australian law only musical scores count as musical works from the legal perspective and specification of a performer's rights. (See the Arts Law Centre of Australia's "Information Sheets: Performer's rights."
In fact, in Australian law, anything copyrightable must be a physical object as stated as a fact at Arts Law Centre of Australia "Information sheets: Copyright":
“Copyright provides a way for artists to protect and monetise their creativity. Knowing how to license copyright and earn a royalty gives artists a way to make money from their work. This information sheet will introduce you to some of the copyright basics.
Copyright is an important asset of creators that gives them legal rights and opportunities to generate income irrespective of the ownership of their physical creation, and irrespective even whether that creation still exists. This information sheet provides basic information on copyright, including dealing with copyright.
What is copyright? Copyright is a bundle of economic rights which give their owner the exclusive right to do certain things in relation to the object it protects. Copyright protection is automatic upon creation of the work. There is no need to register a work in some official register. The symbol © is used for notification purposes, to put people on notice that the work is protected by copyright, but is not required for the protection to exist.
What does copyright protect? Copyright only protects specific things or "subject-matters" mentioned in the Copyright Act 1968. Copyright protects "works," being: literary works, dramatic works, musical works and artistic works including works of artistic craftsmanship. Copyright also protects "subject-matter other than works," being: films, sound recordings, broadcasts, and published editions.
The Copyright Act defines only some of the above categories, for example "artistic works", "dramatic works" and "broadcast". If a creation of the mind does not fall into any category of works or subject-matters other than works, copyright does not apply.
Requirement for protection: In order to attract copyright protection, a subject-matter must satisfy the following conditions:
The subject-matter must be expressed in a material form: Copyright does not protect information, ideas, concepts, styles and methods. It only protects the expression of ideas in any of the categories mentioned above. As a result, copyright arises when an idea, concept or information is written down, expressed visually, filmed, recorded or stored on the hard drive (eg. computer, USB stick, etc). What is important is that the information or idea has been put down in some kind of data. Therefore, a creator cannot rely on copyright law if someone stole his/her idea if it had not yet been expressed in a material form.
The work must be original: The work does not have to be innovative or artistic to be original but must be attributable to the author’s skill and labour, and not copied. This requirement does not apply for subject matters other than works.
The general principle of the ownership of copyright: the author of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work owns copyright in the work. Generally, the maker of a film, a sound recording, or a television or sound broadcast owns the copyright. (bold and bold italic not in original)
For quite a bit of discussion in addressing questions about songs see Ontmusic3. What is a song?.
Generalized candidates for a musical work seem either to be abstract objects (abstracta) or physical objects (concreta). If the abstract or concrete distinction is exhaustive, then musical works must either be abstract or concrete. There are significant difficulties encountered regardless of which side of the division one tries to defend. The table below considers proposals for such candidates in either camp with the associated difficulties or objections stated.
- “Work on the ontology of jazz has centered around the nature of improvisation, particularly the relation between improvisation and composition (Alperson 1984, 1998; Valone 1985; Brown 1996, 2000; Hagberg 1998; Gould & Keaton 2000; Sterritt 2000; and Young & Matheson 2000; Bresnahan 2015; Love 2016; Magnus 2016). This has been a useful reminder that not all music is the performance of pre-composed works (Wolterstorff 1987: 115–29). However, it must be noted that improvisation can occur within the context of such a work, as in the performance of an improvised cadenza in a classical concerto. Some have argued that there is not as significant a distinction between improvisation and composition as is usually thought (Alperson 1984). Others have argued that all performance requires improvisation (Gould & Keaton 2000). Yet others restrict the possibility of improvisation to certain kinds of musical properties, such as “structural” rather than “expressive” ones (Young & Matheson 2000). However, the arguments are not compelling. Usually they turn on equivocal use of terms such as “composition” and “performance”, or beg the question by defining improvisation in terms of deviation from a score or variation of a limited set of “expressive” properties.
- Though jazz is not necessarily improvisational, and very few jazz performances lack any sort of prior compositional process, the centrality of improvisation to jazz presents a challenge to the musical ontologist. One might argue that jazz works are ontologically like classical works—composed for multiple, different performances—but that they tend to be thinner, leaving more room for improvisation (Gould & Keaton 2000; Young & Matheson 2000). The difficulty is to specify the work without conflating one work with another, since tokening the melody is not required, and many works share the same harmonic structure. As a result, some argue that the performance is itself the work (Alperson 1984; Hagberg 2002; S. Davies 2001: 16–19). One problem here is parity with classical music. If jazz performances are musical works in their own right, it is difficult to deny that status to classical performances of works. This seems to multiply works beyond what we usually think is necessary. A third possibility is that in jazz there are no works, only performances (Brown 1996, 2000: 115; Kania 2011b). This is counterintuitive if “work” is an evaluative term, but it is not obvious that this is the case.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Andrew Kania suggests in his third possibility that no musical works exist in jazz, rather just performances.
But performances of nothing? Let's investigate these ideas.
“musicians and other live performers may have performers’ rights in their performances. The Copyright Act 1968 (Copyright Act) establishes the copyright in works and other material (such as sound recordings and cinematographic film) and also describes three categories of rights or protections that may be available to any person who qualifies as a ‘performer.’ The rights or protections that flow from status as a performer are:
- a share of the copyright in sound recording of a live performance that is granted to performers by virtue of s22 and s97 of the Copyright Act;
- the moral rights of a performer described in Part IX of the Copyright Act; and
the performer’s protections in Part XIA of the Copyright Act related to authorising the recording, reproduction and communication of a performance.
These performer’s rights are important as they create an interest in the copyright (under s22). They provide a right of action for the breach of the performer’s moral rights or for when there is an unauthorised exploitation of the sound recording or film/video recording of a performance.
Which performances involve performers’ rights?
Whether in the presence of an audience or otherwise, performers' rights apply to the following live performances:
- a musical work or part of a musical work;
If you are staging a live performance in Australia within the above categories, or recording or filming such a live performance, performers’ rights should be considered.
If the performance in question does not fall into any of these categories, the performers have no performers' rights in that performance.
Performers’ copyright is only conferred on performers who contribute to the sounds of the live performance; although where the performance is of a musical work, the conductor of the orchestra, choir or other performers is considered a performer as well as the musicians and singers. In other words dancers or mime artists or actors with non-speaking roles do not enjoy these rights.
The performers’ moral rights described in Part IX of the Copyright Act also only apply to each performer who contributed to the sounds of the live performance. The performer’s protections in Part XIA of the Copyright Act apply to all performers participating in live performances whether or not they contribute to the sounds.
When a performer is a co-owner of copyright in a sound recording, the performer now has an equal share in exclusive rights:
- to make a copy of the sound recording;
- to cause the recording to be heard in public;
- to communicate the recording to the public; and
- to enter into a commercial rental arrangement in respect of the recording.
- To ensure that they receive equitable remuneration for the broadcasts and public performances of the sound recording.
Performers do not own any copyright in audio-visual recordings of their performances. (bold not in original)
Table of Possible Candidates for Musical Works with Objections to Each
|Musical Work Ontology Type||Characterization||Properties||Objection(s)|
|Abstract object||abstract objects exist independently of space-time||eternal existence; not created||Musical works are created so cannot be abstract objects.|
|The musical score as an abstract type of which this piece of paper is an instance||abstract objects exist independently of space-time||eternal existence; not created||Musical works are created so cannot be abstract objects.|
|Concreta because sum of all actual performances||sums are sets and therefore are abstract objects||abstract objects are not concreta||(1) Proposal is self-contradictory. (2) Additionally, musical works can have multiple performances, but they are each performances of a work, they are not the work itself.|
|The musical score||physical object||pieces of paper and ink||(1) Musical scores just being made of paper and ink are not heard, but musical works are heard. (2) The existence of a score is independent of and accidental to the existence of a musical work.|
|The composer’s thoughts about how the work is to be performed||mental existence||false beliefs about one's own musical work are possible||(1) False beliefs about a musical work are not part of a musical work so composer's thoughts cannot be identical to the musical work. (2) Additionally, thoughts cannot be heard, but musical works are, at least sometimes, heard. Thoughts, not being sounds, cannot be heard so cannot be identical to a musical work.|
If a musical work is a concrete object, which concrete object type could they possibly be?
The standard candidates are: the musical score sheet, the composer's intentions as thoughts, or the (mereological) sum of all performances. Because there are significant objections to each of these candidates for a musical work it would seem to point against identifying a musical work with a concrete object. Hence, if there are musical works, they would seem to number amongst the abstracta.
What is the objection to musical works being some kind of abstract object?
The primary objection concerns intuitions that composers create the musical work. If they are not creating it, then what are they doing such that credit for the production of that musical work can get both credited to that composer(s) as well as applying various degrees of commendation to the composer(s) for having produced that particular work?
Jerrold Levinson has made the case for the intuition had by many that a (musical) artwork has been created when he defends that creativity claim.
[The creativity claim] is one of the most firmly entrenched of our beliefs concerning art. There is probably no idea more central to thought about art than that it is an activity in which participants create things—these things being artworks. . . . The notion that artists truly add to the world . . . is surely a deep rooted idea that merits preservation if at all possible.
Is Levinson right about this? Are all artworks created by an artist(s)?
It turns out that there are reasons to doubt this creativity claim depending upon how one characterizes what category constitutes creation.
Readymades are artworks that have already been created and made by someone other than the artist and have only been chosen, or picked out, by the artist. So, if create means that an artwork has to have been physically manipulated and constructed by the artist responsible for the production or existence of the artwork in question, then readymades, whose existence and physical properties were not made or caused by the artist would appear to be counter-examples to Levinson's creativity claim.
Furthermore, Julian Dodd disputes the characterization being assumed for what creativity requires for creativity to have occurred. What Dodd has in mind is a different way to characterize an artist's creativity when art objects themselves are eternally existing abstract object types. Here's how Stecker and Wilson explain Dodd's point of view when they review and summarize his position in their article, "Dodd On Music & Ontology."
“Dodd disagrees, because all abstract structures exist at all times. (The position that types and universals exist at all times is often called Platonism.) [From a Platonism point of view] Creativity does not involve creating types. It involves selecting a type from among the always-existing abstract structures. Selection is a kind of creativity, so Platonism does not deny creativity to composers, poets, etc. A scientist’s discovery can be creative, as when Albert Einstein discovered special relativity, yet no one thinks that Einstein created the laws of physics. . . . The central question of the debate is whether musical composition involves creation, or merely creativity. . . . For Dodd, our talk of creating and initiating types is merely a recognition that a particular person was the first to generate tokens of the type. . . . . Dodd argues that humans cannot create abstract types: we cannot, because their parts must be abstract parts, and we have no power over abstract things that could involve joining them together into new patterns. (We cannot cause things to happen to abstract things.)
Can there exist a mono-instantiated musical work, which is a musical work that can be performed or played only once? 
One can be of two minds in answer to the question whether mono-instantiated musical works can exist. Those two minds answer with opposing Yes's and No's.
Reasons Why There Cannot Be Mono-instantiated Musical Works
By definition there cannot be any mono-instantiated musical works because any entity that counts as a musical work will always be a musical work type and any type can theoretically have multiple instances or exemplifications of that particular type. Hence anything that could possibly be a musical work must always be a musical work type and any type can always in principle have more than one instancing. The exception to the multiple instances of any type is the supreme being called God. Either God cannot be a type of thing because there can only be one of them or if God is a type, then one can have mono-instantiated types.
Reasons Why There Can Be Mono-instantiated Musical Works
Apriori linguistic arguments that rule out possible entities on the basis of conceptual impossibilities are fraught with failure when confronting real life phenomena such as the nature of quantum mechanics or of infinity, for example. The paradoxes of set theory are a surprise to common sense that there cannot be a set of all sets.
In response to the argument that all musical works are musical work types so it is always possible to have multiple instantiations of that type thereby ruling out any possibility of mono-instantiated musical works one may reply that some types are only singularly instantiable.
Are there mono-instantiable types?
Mono-instantiable types are types that can only ever have one exemplification or instantiation. One can prove that mono-instantiable types are possible if one can provide any examples of such a type that holds up to scrutiny and criticism.
Examples of Mono-Instantiable Types that Can Have Only One Exemplification 
- GOD. Take God, the supreme or perfect being, and consider whether or not there is a type of thing which is a Supreme Being type. If you accept that God has a type then because of the properties of the logic of a supreme being as the greatest possible being, it deductively follows that there can only ever be one instantiation or exemplification of this kind of type. Hence, mono-instantiation types can exist.
- The number 3 has only one referent in its extension. If three can be a type then this is an example of a mono-instantiated type.
- The empty set is the set that contains no members or elements. It is said that there is only one empty set. If anyone ever found a set with no members, then they have found the one and only empty set.
- Longest Possible Musical Performance. To prove that it is possible to have a mono-instantiated musical work all one needs to do is produce a conceptual situation wherein a musical work can only be performed once. Here is one such situation that is imaginatively possible. This work occurs at the start of a universe when life and music can first possibly occur. This musical performance then continues uninterruptedly from the beginning to the end of this universe into a Big Crunch singularity. This musical performance that stretches from the beginning to the end of time in this universe can only be performed once in this universe. Therefore, it can only ever have one exemplification in its own universe.
- In fact, the performance only has to last longer than half of the total time of the existence of this universe because after it finishes there is not enough time left to play it again, Sam.
Why the existence of mono-instantiation types is relevant to musical works
Having now proven in the previous section that mono-instantiation types are actual and therefore possible, we turn to look at the relevance of this for the possibility of a free jazz improvisation counting as a musical work type.
Many philosophers and jazz theorists believe on practical as well as theoretical grounds that a (free) jazz improvisation can only ever have one instantiation. Practically speaking, no improviser, unless the musical passage is rather short, can ever sonically reproduce what he or she just played while improvising, whether free jazz improvisations or otherwise. The reasons for this are that the improviser cannot remember absolutely everything that was played in any lengthy past improvisation. Furthermore, even if one could remember every note of a previous improvised solo, one could never theoretically use it as or in an improvisation because repeating a previously established group of notes as one's entire improvisation is not improvising so it wouldn't count as an improvisation even if one could achieve this.
Now assuming the reasoning just used is sound it establishes that, at the very minimum, most substantial jazz improvisations are in fact mono-instantiable musical entities. They are only played one time and have only one instantiation or exemplification throughout the entire history of a universe. The question now remains as to whether each substantial jazz improvisation is its own type or kind.
Reasons why each jazz improvisation is a musical work type
A first thing to consider regarding whether each substantial jazz improvisation is its own type is to ask why not believe it? Are there any objections to claiming that every substantial jazz improvisation, even if mono-instantiable, is its own type or kind?
For certain, everyone agrees that a substantial jazz improvisation is a musical event. Music has been successfully produced. Since all concerned, theorists, critics, musicians, and listeners desire to be capable of re-identifying an individually improvised jazz solo it is appropriate to give the relevant music passage a name. For the purposes of discussion, assume that David has produced a musically satisfying improvisation. Let us refer to this with the phrase 'David's improvisation during the playing of Monk's "'Round Midnight." The question can now be asked, "Is the reference of 'David's improvisation' a kind or type?
Why David's improvisation is a type of music
What purpose or function do types serve? Why bother to classifying anything into a type or kind? What are kinds anyway?
According to Simple Wikipedia, a kind is a “group of things or people that have the same features or category.” Of course, the person who originally wrote this definition was not attempting to resolve all possible philosophical questions about kinds, so let us explore these issues further.
Wikipedia on natural kinds states that one can conceptualize a kind as “something that a set of things (objects, events, beings) has in common which distinguishes it from other things.”
W. V. O. Quine (1908-2000), Harvard philosophy professor, understood kinds to consist of sets of things. It is even thought that Quine believed that kinds were conceptually related to similarity classes.
“Quine regards the notions of kind and similarity as “substantially one notion”  but denies that it is straightforward to give a definition of one in terms of the other.” (bold not in original)
Because everything is similar to itself and one member sets are possible, it follows from this that if a kind is a set of things with something in common then every unit set with only one member forms a kind. It is a kind of thing that has the features of itself.
We know that sets can exist with only one member. The set with Fred's one favorite thing only contains one object. Suppose that Fred's favorite thing is the number three. There is only one number three so the set contains only one object. Is the set containing only the number three a type of thing? There is no reason to think otherwise, is there?
Because substantial improvised solos almost universally have only one exemplification throughout the history of a universe, this now does not rule them out from being a type or kind of musical event. One can find things in an improvised solo that were like other things in a different solo. One might say Coltrane's solo has some similar features here to Ayler's solo. This could show that two different types can still share comparable features just like we can say wolves and bears both have padded paws, even though bears and wolves are themselves different types of animals.
In medieval philosophy wasn't each angel its own species or kind type?
Aren't tropes by definition mono-instantiable types?
Can a person or thing be its own kind? We have already seen that this is possible.
References on Musical Ontology
- Brown, Lee B. (1996) "Musical Works, Improvisation, and the Principle of Continuity." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 54, No. 4 (Autumn 1996), 353–369.
- Cray, Wesley D. "Unperformable Works and the Ontology of Music." British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 56, Issue 1, (2000), 67–81.
ABSTRACT: “Some artworks—works of music, theatre, dance, and the like—are works for performance. Some works for performance are, I contend, unperformable. Some such works are unperformable by beings like us; others are unperformable given our laws of nature; still others are unperformable given considerations of basic logic. I offer examples of works for performance—focusing, in particular, on works of music—that would fit into each of these categories, and go on to defend the claim (perhaps counterintuitive to some) that such ‘works’ really are (i) genuine works, (ii) musical works and (iii) works for performance. I then argue that the very possibility of such works is ontologically significant. In particular, the possibility of these works raises serious problems for type-theoretic accounts of the ontology of music as well as certain mereological or constitution-based accounts.”
- Dodd, Julian. "Musical Works As Eternal Types." British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 40, Issue 4, (2000), 424–440.
- Fischer, John Andrew. "Jazz and Musical Works: Hypnotized by the Wrong Model." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 76 (2):151–162 (2018).
ABSTRACT: “It is difficult to place jazz within a philosophy of music dominated by the concepts and practices of classical music. One key puzzle concerns the nature and role, if any, of musical works in jazz. I briefly describe the debate between those who deny that there are musical works in jazz (Kania) and those who affirm that there are such (Dodd and others). I argue that musical works are performed in jazz but that jazz performance of works is very different from performance of classical music works. The first step toward resolving the puzzle is to embrace the descriptive concept of a musical work and reject inappropriate normative concepts of a musical work. In particular, I argue against the accounts of musical works by Kania and Goehr, each of which implies a no-works thesis for jazz performance. I contrast the norms governing work performance in classical music with the practices governing performances of works in jazz, which I call realization or staging. Finally, I propose a model of jazz appreciation that incorporates a role for jazz works and that differs from the appreciation of classical music.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
- Kania, Andrew. (2008) "Works, recordings, performances: Classical, rock, jazz. In M. Dogantan-Dack (Ed.), Recorded Music: Philosophical and Critical Areflections, 3–21. Middlesex University Press.
- Kania, Andrew. (2011) "All Play and No Work: An Ontology of Jazz," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Volume 69, Issue 4, (November 1, 2011), 391–403, http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6245.2011.01483.x.
- Levinson, Jerrold. (1980). "What a Musical Work Is." The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 77, No. 1, (January 1980), 5–28.
- Tobyn C. DeMarco, "The Metaphysics of Improvisation," 142.
- "Information sheets: Copyright."
- Andrew Kania, "The Philosophy of Music," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, (Fall 2017 Edition).
- Arts Law Centre of Australia, "Information Sheets: Performer's rights."
- Jerrold Levinson, "What A Musical Work Is," Music, Art, and Metaphysics, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, 66.
- Wikipedia: Readymades of Marcel Duchamp," Definition of readymades attributed to André Breton: “The first definition of "readymade" appeared in André Breton and Paul Éluard's Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme: "an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist."
- Lecture notes by Theodore Gracyk.
- See the discussions and explanations for why there can only be one empty set at Philosophy Stack Exchange.
“In ZFC [Zermelo Fraenkel set theory with the Axiom of Choice] we have two axioms that settle that question:
- Empty Set: There is a set that contains nothing.
- Extensionality: If sets A and B have exactly the same members, then A = B.
The Empty Set Axiom allows us to conclude that there is an empty set. Suppose there are two empty sets A and B. Vacuously, every member of A is a member of B (since A has no members), and vice versa. Therefore by the Axiom of Extensionality it follows that A and B are the same set. These axioms (existence and extensionality) thereby guarantee that there is exactly one empty set (usually denoted by '∅').
The empty set is unique in its particularity as it contains nothing to distinguish itself. Since ZFC distinguishes sets by their contents, any two empty sets will be indistinguishable because neither can contain anything that the other doesn't. In the baskets analogy, since the two empty baskets have different locations we want to say that they are two distinct empty baskets. But since for ZFC sets are not located in space-time, the two baskets are identical because it cannot, in the language of ZFC, be said something true about one that's false about the other. Extensionality, in ZFC, trims the universe by identifying any two things that have the same members, allowing us to unambiguously name such things as the empty set ∅, the intersection of two sets A ∩ B, the ordered pair of two sets (A,B), and so on. In a universe with many empty sets, the definition of '∅' would get more complicated because we would have to identify it with the class of all empty sets, and that complication would crawl all the way up the definitional hierarchy. ("How many empty sets are there?," Philosophy Stack Exchange.) (bold not in original)
- Empty Set: There is a set that contains nothing.
- Wikipedia on Natural Kinds.
- W. V. O. Quine, Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 119.
- "Natural Kinds," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.