living sheet music vs the dead kind


Periodicals publish corrections in subsequent issues and some successful books are (expensively) reissued in new, improved editions. But in a better world, the book, magazine or newspaper in your hands would itself be updated when mistakes are discovered by its publisher. Thanks to the advent of electronic reading gadgets, like Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, such magic is getting closer.

This catches my attention because I’ve been thinking about the impact of correctability on written music.

Let say you have a piece of music written out using symbols like clefs, staves, and notes. You’d think the written music was pretty much set in stone, in that the song itself has a permanent nature and the written music can either reflect it accurately or not. But that’s not so. How a piece is written out depends on typesetting and interaction design issues, as well as issues of genuine meaning like whether alterations to chords need to be written down. How you communicate it and your understanding of what it is will keep changing.

So the written stuff needs to become a living document. It’s not about errors, it’s about growth.

One thought on “living sheet music vs the dead kind

  1. This is fine for things or (relatively speaking) small relevance. But for topics like the political arena, history, law, academia… something like this would be a complete and utter disaster. A new editor at a newspaper could rewrite all the archives to reflect his point of view. You would not be able to reference any specific text, because it could be changed in a second. Say I publish a paper criticizing Mr. Newton on gravity and proposing my own theory of relativity, what would stop Mr. Newton to quickly rewrite his own work to match my (better) theory, and make me look like a fool? Say that all laws get digitized and accessed through an e-reader, what would stop unscrupulous people from rewriting laws “on the fly”?

    Digital texts cannot be authoritative in the long term, not even cryptographic signing is safe for more than a few years. Breaking the “scripta manent” proposition breaks a number of assumptions on which societies have been built since before the Roman Empire; it should be avoided whenever possible.

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