February 18, 2012

With music critics like these...


The job is daunting -- there are hundreds of takes.
Jeremy Denk on the editing of his studio recording of Ives' Concord sonata,
"Flight of the Concord", New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2012, p.28. (italics mine).


 [Jeremy Denk's] recent recording of Charles Ives piano sonatas ... displays a formidable technique and a fine combination of intellectual rigor and emotional depth.
John von Rhein, review of Jeremy Denk's debut with the Chicago Symphony (Beethoven's C-minor piano concerto), Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 2011 (italics mine).
________________________________

Even without Jeremy Denk's charmingly confessional essay, an experienced music lover (let alone a music critic at a major newspaper) should know that studio recordings -- assembled from hundreds of snippets recorded over weeks, months, and sometimes even years -- can display no more "emotional depth" than a well-assembled microwave oven.  And the only "formidable technique" to be found in such assembled soundbites belongs to a skillful recording editor.

I hope the good people of Chicago are proud of their hometown newspaper, which has  generously provided such a retard with 30+ years of well-paid employment in a position of considerable cultural influence.

14 comments:

Gyan said...

Harsh, much?

You can find those sort of descriptions in pretty much any review of a studio recording release.

e.g. 1, 2, 3

And recording session span listed on CD liners is typically 2-4 days, rather than "over weeks, months, ..."

Bob B. said...

Hey Boom,

Do you suppose they edit mistakes out of the recordings of pianists like Marc Hamelin, Steven Osborne, Aimard and Jonathan Powell?

Bob B.

Anonymous said...

Your zeal has clearly crossed over into something resembling a religion: you believe that a studio recording can't contain the essential stuff of performance. But this has nothing do do with listening, which is what a professional critic is paid to do. The simple fact is that you will never know how many takes are involved in a studio performance, and that all you can judge is what you hear. That you can't bring yourself to believe in their possibility means, among other things, that part of your brain has put a filter on your aesthetic judgment. That part of your brain is a bully that can't accept that "reality" is plastic enough that beauty and emotion can be heard in studio recordings if you don't get your panties in a bunch about whether it is real or not.

Your entertainment value, however, requires that you keep up this affliction, so be my guest. I enjoy the read.

Boom said...

Gyan,

First, I am not concerned with so-called "record reviewers", who are nothing but pimps for the recording industry. See my post

http://boomboomsky.blogspot.com/2011/03/honest-lying.html

for a typical example.

Second, read what I say more carefully. I said "sometimes even years" - and there are plenty of examples of that kind of time span. (Barenboim's DG Beethoven sonatas were recorded over years, with individual movements of a single sonata having patches with radically different venue acoustics, microphone placements, etc.)

Finally, even when the recording takes 2-4 days - of endless repetitions of bits and pieces - perhaps you can tell me how exactly you hope to hear "emotional depth" and "formidable technique" in the final product.

Boom said...

Bob B.,

I don't know if Hamelin makes mistakes (so far his live recordings show prodigious technical security), but I am certain that he may splice together different takes not to get correct notes but because some have more "tension" or "passion" or whatever than others.

Bob Falesch said...

Okay, Boom, I'll take up the gauntlet, as I spent most of my life in Chicago. I tend to agree with you about Von Rhein, but I'd point out that Chicago's great weekly paper (some would say "formerly great"), The Reader, employed one Ted Shen, who wrote with depth and allure. Ted was taken from us prematurely and I think the void has not yet been filled. About studio recordings, I'm mostly on the same page with you, and I know the duration of a given take is not your only beef. Many studio recordings that have been conducted in takes that are defined by the duration of entire movements are often still marred by (nay, destroyed by) the life-sucking compression and other tools of the "engineering" trade.

Gyan said...

perhaps you can tell me how exactly you hope to hear "emotional depth" and "formidable technique" in the final product.

By appreciating the published stream of sound as just that, without trying to extramusically tease out violations of some notion of performance sanctity.

Boom said...

Gyan said...

>> perhaps you can tell me how exactly you hope to hear "emotional depth" and "formidable technique" in the final product.<<

By appreciating the published stream of sound as just that, without trying to extramusically tease out violations of some notion of performance sanctity.

*********

Gyan,

That's a perfectly reasonable approach, but what does it have to do with the "emotional depth" and "formidable technique" of the performer? (As claimed in the review I quoted)

Lets not confuse the studio recording's ability to reveal things about music (as realizations of the score, however they are put together) with claims about it being evidence of the performer's technique or emotional involvement with the music.
The former is perfectly reasonable. The latter is sheer nonsense.

Gyan said...

Strictly speaking, as per the review, the recording displays those qualities. Naturally, the referent of the metonymy is taken to be some apparent real-life singular performance and thus the performer, but that's assumed. It could just as easily be imputed to the effect of the published stream, which is a combination of both the talents displayed at the instrument and judgement displayed in Post. When a director of a praised cinematic drama is described as having vision, clearly, no one believes that he organically conjured up the final cut in his brain and transferred it to the tangible medium of film. The creation process doesn't map onto the final product, and we don't actually know how much the director is really involved in any given film. But the praise stands. Now, I don't know if Denk was personally involved in splicing together the final stream, but if he was, then the praise is eligible indeed. But that's a empirical question. It's not a category mistake, as you claim.

Boom said...

Gyan,

There are softwares that will play a score through MIDI (or something like Yamaha Disklavier) without any human intervention whatsoever. By your criteria, it would be legitimate to attribute "formidable technique" and "emotional depth" to a recording of such software-generated sequence of sounds, so long as the recording sounds similiar to what a pianist would produce by splicing together hundreds of separately recorded soundbites. (If the latter does not bother you, neither should the former since by hypothesis you can't reliably distinguish between the two.) Which strikes me as a reductio ad absurdum of your generous perspective on studio recordings - not because I have some apriori beef with computational models of mind, but because the softwares in question are obviously far too primitive for such attributions.

As far as I can tell, you are still confusing recordings as realizations of the score (e.g., physical sound-events of prescribed pitch, duration, loudness, temporal order, etc.) and recordings as documents of (evidence for) the performer's instrumental craft or emotional involvement with the music notated in the score.

To me, studio recordings are like known pathological liars: it is possible for both to be "truthful" on some occasions, but such a possibility, in and of itself, does not make it rational to believe whatever you hear them "say".

Bob B. said...

I long ago discarded Barenboim's Beethoven sonatas. I thought it was just bad playing. But Schnabel's massacre still has place on my shelves.

There are some things that artificial recordings of would find welcome with me. Things like the monstrous amount of Sorabji that no one has touched. But I would prefer real recordings of it that were imperfect to perfect jig saw puzzles of sound bites.

Bob B.

Boom said...

Bob B. said...

There are some things that artificial recordings of would find welcome with me. Things like the monstrous amount of Sorabji that no one has touched.
******

Bob B.,

What do you mean "no one has touched"!
I have superb live recording of Sorabji's Piano Symphony Nr 4 (3.5 hours in a single live performance) by Reiner van Houdt from a 2003 recital in Utrecht.

If you email me, I'll send you the link and you can listen to the "real thing" instead of some manufactured sound assembly :)

Gyan said...

Boom,

I'll wade into the Chinese Room Argument territory here. It's fair to attribute emotional depth to the recording, if you think it has it. You seem to approach a recording as a conveyance, whereas I, as a realization. And how do you know the performer isn't a Chalmers-zombie? :) In which case, even the live performance wouldn't mean anything. All experience is mediated, and we just get to deal with the end result.

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