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The critical editing of computer music

Laura Zattra

Postdoctoral researcher
University of Padua - Department of Visual Arts and Music


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Preservation, restoration and critical editing of music start becoming aspects which concern even the youngest musical genre made with digital techniques. It can already happen that a CD is illegible, a program language is obsolete, computer data used to produce a piece twenty or thirty years ago are no more available. Some disciplines such as the philology of music should therefore start considering a music which, on the contrary, has seldom taken into account the problem of preservation against the obsolescence of the digital technology.

Although in different forms compared to traditional western music, computer music stays anchored to the writing techniques and tools: texts, (digital) scores, supports, and notation. In these terms, it benefits from a tool, the computer, which is one of the main actual tools for stocking and composing music. Software and hardware components are, at the same time, supports for registration (preservation), manipulation, computation, reproduction, actual musical writing.

Philology normally aims to reconstitute the authentic editing of the text itself, in a form which could be as near as possible to the author’s intention and its idea of perfection. I will portray the necessity of philology of computer music and what critical editing means if applied to this music.

The first difficulty is genuinely terminological. We must think about the typical vocabulary of those musicological tools, for borrowing or modifying it in the study of computer music. I will describe concepts such as source, texts, sketch, variants, with strict reference to computer music. The methodology of this type of studies needs accuracy and a precise formal order: identifying witnesses, accurate description, precise apparatus, and presentation of criteria and problems of edition, since editing consists of series of educated, critically informed choices; in short, the act of interpretation.