‘Unperformable’ music – an ontological approach

Prof-CrayThere are some musical works which are, in some way or another, impossible to perform, viz. they are ‘Unperformable’. But how many varieties of unperformable music are there? Professor Wesley D. Cray of Grand Valley State University, Allendale, US, investigates the subject in a new paper for the British Journal of Aesthetics, finding that there are, at the very least, several types. For example:

Medical Unperformability: “Given biological limitations, no actual organism can generate a genuine performance.” e.g. Ligeti’s Étude No. 14A: Coloana fara sfârşit (Column without End)

Nomic Unperformability: “Given the actual laws of nature, there can be no genuine performances.” e.g. Bull of Heaven’s 2014 work 310: ΩΣPx0(2^18×5^18)p*k*k*k, (with a running time of 3.343 quindecillion years)

• Logical Unperformability: “Given logical constraints, there can be no genuine performances.” e.g. Tribute to I.F. Kilmister: (three musicians each, individually and simultaneously, play a single note [on electric guitar, electric bass, and drum kit, respectively] louder than the other two play their notes.)

The professor’s paper also alerts us to ‘Unperformable Works for Performance’ and ‘Trivial Unperformabilities’, going on to argue that :

“- the very possibility of such works is ontologically significant. In particular, the possibility of these works raises serious problems for type-theoretic accounts of the ontology of music as well as certain mereological or constitution-based accounts.”

see: “Unperformable Works and the Ontology of Music” (2016, British Journal of Aesthetics, 56(1): 67-81). A full copy may be found here.

Question [optional] Do you know of any other musical works which can’t be performed? Alternatively, any which can, but which nevertheless shouldn’t be?