chapter  9
19 Pages

Between music and noise

The discussion of portamento and its socio-aesthetic implications during the long nineteenth century
WithCamilla Bork

This chapter examines the portamento diachronically as a performance gesture, which helps to shape the performer’s self and which challenges the fine line between music and extra-musical sounds. By using portamento the musician risks being perceived as offering a non-artistic and imperfect performance. In light of this, the use of portamento is often considered an indicator of the musician’s social status; it marks the border between ‘high’ and ‘low’. Inspired by performance studies and ethnomusicology, the approaches often concentrate on specific situations of music-making, reconstructed by way of audio-visual material and ethnographical observations. By assuming that the use of portamento on the violin enables the violin to sing like a human being, Spohr, Baillot and de Beriot associate its use with musicality. Using the elusive analogy to the human voice as a criterion to distinguish between expressive playing and noise, it becomes clear how contingent the lines between music and noise, between artistic and non-artistic playing, are in this discourse.