The Ontology of Rock Music: Recordings, Performances and The Synthetic View

  • Hugo Luzio Language, Mind and Cognition Research Group (LanCog), Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon
Keywords: Comparative Ontology, Rock Music, Recordings, Performances, Songs, The Synthetic View


This paper discusses the state-of-the-art dispute over the ontological question of rock music: what is the work of art, or the central work-kind, of rock music, if any? And, is the work of rock music ontologically distinct from the work of classical music, which is the only musical tradition whose ontology is vastly studied? First, I distinguish between two levels of inquiry in musical ontology: the fundamental level and the higher-order level, in which comparative ontology – the project in which someone engages by considering that there is ontological variety among works of distinct musical traditions – falls. After addressing two general questions about rock music, I turn to Theodore Gracyk’s ontological account of rock music, according to which the primary focus of critical attention in rock music are recordings, or recorded tracks. This view has the consequence that ‘recordings’ is a fundamental concept of philosophy of music, necessary for us to understand rock music. Stephen Davies objected that Gracyk’s account fails to assign appropriate value to a valuable practice with which rock audiences are committed, live performance, and argued that the works of rock music are of the ontological kind for studio performance. Finally, Andrew Kania synthetized both views: rock recorded tracks are at the centre of rock as an art form, thus being the rock works. For, different reasons, none of these views is deemed satisfactory.


Bartel, Christopher (2017), “Rock as a Three-Value Tradition”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 75(2): 143–154.
Brown, Lee (2012), “Further Doubts about Higher-Order Ontology: Reply to Andrew Kania”. The British Journal of Aesthetics 52: 103–106.
–. (2011), “Do Higher-Order Music Ontologies Rest on a Mistake?”, The British Journal of Aesthetics 51(2): 169–184.
Bruno, Franklin (2013), “A Case for Song: Against an (Exclusively) Recording-Centered Ontology of Rock”, The Journal of Aesthetic Criticism 71: 65–74.
Burkett, Dan (2015), “One Song, Many Works: A Pluralist Ontology of Rock”, Contemporary Aesthetics, Volume 13.
Davies, Stephen (2003), Themes in the Philosophy of Music, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
–. (2001), Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Dodd, Julian (2007), Musical Works: An Essay in Ontology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Everett, Walter (2009), The Foundations of Rock, New York: Oxford University Press.
Fisher, John (1998), “Rock n’ Recording: The Ontological Complexity of Rock Music”, in Philip Alperson (ed.), Musical Worlds: New Directions in the Philosophy of Music, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 109–123.
Gracyk, Theodore (1996), Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock, Duke University Press.
Kania, Andrew (2012), “In Defense of Higher-Order Musical Ontology: A Reply to Lee B. Brown”, The British Journal of Aesthetics 52(1): 97–102.
–. (2008), “New Waves in Musical Ontology”, in Kathleen Stock and Katherine Thomson Jones (eds.), New Waves in Aesthetics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 20–41.
–. (2006), “Making Tracks: The Ontology of Rock Music”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64: 401–414.
Moore, Allan (2011), “Rock”, in Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music, New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, pp. 416–426.
Peterson, Richard (1990), “Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music”, Popular Music 9: 97–116.
Ravasio, Matteo (2018), “Analytic Perspectives in the Philosophy of Music”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Ray, Robert (1991), “Tracking”, South Atlantic Quarterly 90(4): 771–784.