The Three (Confusing) Modes of Existence of Music: Composition, Performance, Phonography

Serge Lacasse

music faculty, Laval university, Canada


In today’s world, we may access music in many ways, including scores, concerts and recordings. Musical traditions will favor one of these musical forms of expression according to various criteria: Western classical music, for example, will consider the score as the main work, while electroacoustic music will find the work in the recording. Similarly, many folk music traditions will access music mainly through live performances. Even though most traditions will combine all three forms of expression in various proportions, it appears that a lot of confusion still exist among music practitioners and researchers.

This paper proposes a model for characterizing music’s “modes of existence”. The model constitutes both a critique and a prolongation of Gérard Genette’s perspective on the “Immanence and Transcendence” of The Work of Art (1994/1997) relying on the work of other writers such as Theodor Gracyk (1996). The model aims to establish a dialog between theoretical and pragmatical visions of music. Namely, it proposes a tripartite model of music (composition, performance, phonography) that coincide not only with how we experience music in the everyday but also how it is defined in legal terms, notably in the context of copyright law. Following Genette, the model also aims to reconcile (as much as possible) idealist and nominalist conceptions of music. It is hoped that this approach may help us better understand how different people and communities might related to music, and hence offer us an alternative way to understand each other.

Keywords: Music, Ontology, Philosophy


Serge Lacasse is Professor of Musicology, specializing in popular music, at the Faculty of Music, Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada. He leads the Laboratoire audionumérique de recherche et de création ( Favouring an interdisciplinary approach, his research and research-creation projects mostly deal with the study and practice of recorded popular music and the singing voice. In addition to multiple chapters, articles and conference papers, he co-authored (with Sophie Stévance) Research-Creation in Music and the Arts: Towards a Collaborative Interdiscipline (Routledge, 2018) and Les enjeux de la recherche-création en musique (PUL, 2013); he also co-edited Quand la musique prend corps (PUM, 2014) with Monique Desroches and Sophie Stévance, as well as Rewriting the Rules of Record Production (Routledge, forthcoming) with Simon Zagorski-Thomas, Katia Isakoff and Sophie Stévance. He is also active as a record producer, musician and songwriter. His Prof. Lacasse project has cumulated close to 1,000,000 streams since 2019.