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Bob Dylan's phonographic imagination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2010

Keith Negus
Department of Music, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, UK E-mail:


In this article I emphasise the deliberate and reflexive way that Bob Dylan has approached studio recording, sketching the features of a phonographic aesthetic, to highlight a neglected aspect of Dylan's creative practice and to counter the view of Dylan as primarily a ‘performing artist’, one who approaches the studio in a casual manner as a place to cut relatively spontaneous drafts of songs that are later developed on stage. Drawing on Evan Eisenberg's discussion of the ‘art of phonography’ and the way recording radically separates a performance from its contexts of ‘origin’ (allowing recordings to be taken into a private space and subjected to intense, repeated listening), I argue that studio practice, a recording aesthetic and the art of phonography are integral to Dylan's songwriting. The process and practice of songwriting is realised through the act of recording and informed by listening to songs and performances from recordings, regardless of how much time is actually spent in the studio. Exploring how Dylan's phonographic imagination has been shaped by folk, blues and pop sonorities, along with film music, I argue that recording should be integrated into discussions of Dylan's art, alongside the attention devoted to lyrics, performance and biography.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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