the perfect recording

I went to the orchestral readings at UMKC yesterday. great pieces by everyone, and great playing. something occurred to me though, watching the whole process...

From how they were playing and rehearsing it, i could tell, there won't be a "perfect run." There isn't going to be that perfect live performance recorded. it's more like a recording session...

which made me think about recording sessions. I sat through one classical session as a trombone player, at DPU doing their Symphonic Band cd. The engineer was Bruce Leek. He's a real pro, looking back at how everything was done, the micing, the runs, everything. The final product was quite amazing. Mr. Leek did a great job capturing the pieces

and putting them together...

there is where i have a problem. it's been a growing problem for me; a large philosophical quandary going back to "what is music?"

i've arrived at an answer to "what is music?" with which i am comfortable. I believe music to be a construct of an intelligent being, temporally based, organized sound (and silence), with the intent of the creator to be taken into account. it's a pretty loose definition, but one that i think can, at least, separate it from most other forms of art. Painting, for example, is not temporally based. it's CREATION is temporally based but it's presentation is not; it's static. Dance, which is temporally based, constructed by intelligent beings, and organized, does not necessarily have to have sound. therefore, it is different, as music requires sound (or silence). Theater is the rub, really. Other than pantomime (which, does not necessarily include sound, though can include non-speech style sounds), Theater shares all the above characteristics, with only that last statement giving it any difference. It's the Marcel Duchamp thinking "This is art because i say it is art! It is in an art gallery!" "but, it's a toilet!" "NO! it has a title, 'The Fountain.' Please refer to it as such."

Theater is theater because we say it is. Music is music because we say it is. Opera (and musical theater) is theater and music, because we say it is. But, is a Greek Tragedy, done in the original style with the chorus, considered music? Even though the chorus, does, on occasion, sing? What about theater that includes music, say, a serious drama that has a waltz between the two characters in it (like, say, The Glass Menagerie). Is this theatrical piece now music because it contains music?

And then there is the rub of television and film...which is the same rub i have with completely fixed media pieces (with no live performer) and with "definitive recordings of concerts." all of these share the above characteristics, except...

they are not experience temporally. Or rather, they are experienced in a FIXED temporality. As a painting is meant to be experienced the same way for generations*, music and theater is experienced differently with each production. But what of film? While it unfolds over time, it is FIXED. It does not change over time**. When you watch Pulp Fiction, it is meant to be Pulp Fiction every time. Samuel L. will say "MMM, That's One Tasty Burger!" It won't change to "MMM, that's One Tasty Chicken!" in 50 years. John Travolta will still do the twist, not the mash potato. Just as Morton Subotnick's "Silver Apples of the Moon" or Beatles "Revolution (or 1 or 9)" or Miles Davis classic recording of "So What" are not meant to change over time***. what's the difference between the 3 (or 5) pieces?

"Silver Apples" was composed 100% for the medium. The same could be said for Revolution and Revolution 9****. But what of, most specifically, "So What?" this piece was played live in concert many times in clubs by Miles. He didn't always play the exact same solo either. in fact, i'd bet be probably didn't, as that would really ruin a part of what jazz is.***** So, it becomes a "definitive recording." But is that recording the piece? is it a snapshot of the piece? What about creating a perfect recording from many different takes? The piece wasn't played through all the way, after all. It was, instead, pieced together, section by section, sometimes note for note.

so how do we define a recording then? We know, for instance, that the commercial recording style means getting one or two instruments together (say, drum set and bass) and laying down the track. then the guitars will layer on top. then, finally, the vocal track will be laid down in a totally different booth. they're recorded dry, reverb is added later to give the recording a more "live" sound. Effects are sometimes added later, such as delay and echo to a vocal track, or to the kick drum to give it a little more life. In concert, some of these things can be done. Often times the drums are gated and compressed in a similar fashion to the recording, but not always delayed and overdubbed/doubled/tripled to fatten the sound.****** Is this anything like a concert?

This brings us a bit to intent. with "Silver Apples" it was intended for the medium. so, we have the one issue of it being in a fixed temporality. I'm willing to stretch my definition******* to include "Silver Apples" even with it's fixed temporality because of the intent. Revolution is a fuzzy zone i'm going to pass over. the recording to "So What" i believe deserves to end up in a different category that the composition "So What." One is a snap shot, if you will, of one particular instance of the piece. It is frozen in time, as a reference to the composition, but, it is not itself, the piece of music. So, a recording is a reference to a piece of music, just as, say, a photograph of a painting is a reference to the painting#.

This leads me to recordings...they are references to a work. However one might do it, in a studio with commercial techniques, in a cathedral live style, doesn't matter so much. You can change it, tweak it, put it "in tune" using Melodyne or Autotune, but, in the end, it is not the actual music. It is a reference to music. It is a reference to a particular performance (or multiple performances) of a piece of music.

So "what is music?" The performance? The piece of paper with it written down? I say that music happens in the performance, not on the piece of paper. Something happens there, something i haven't been able to define to put it in my definition. There's that "human element," that bit of interpretation, the act of listening, everything around effecting what is happening. Music, in a sense, is experienced, not read, therefore, the score is not music. I haven't figured out how to word this right, how to put a handle on this part...the organic participation of people, the existence within society as a form of cultural process...it's all at once more and less than those words.

But, i can say, that music is not the recording^. The recordings of, say, Alfred Brendel playing Beethoven's Sonatas are not, in fact, his Sonatas. They are references of his Sonata. There should be no "definitive" recording at any point, as music is left up to the interpretation of the performer.#^ It's one reason i hate recording my works. They aren't my music. the listener is missing the experience of the piece.

Ya know, a lot of what i've spent the last, uh, amount of time going over is kinda "D'UH!" when you think about it. most people would agree that what you get live is so different. And yet, recordings are treated in such a special way. Brendel's recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas are "special" to a lot of people. live performances get compared to them. and yet, their creation, was not the same as a live performance (though very close, from what i've read). But, yeah...what was i saying? OH, yeah, the "putting it together" part, the overdubbing...

That part, to me, as engineer, is a different form of art all together. it's actually like creating music yourself. You're given the tools (the different recordings, your programs, your knowhow) and then you're set to create some sort of reference work of a piece. It's like doing restoration, in a way. While you're not the painter, doing restoration is an art form of its own, a sort of "sub-art" to painting. The same can be true with audio engineering, piano tuning, possibly even instrument making. While these things are not music, they have a direct impact on what becomes of music. What if the engineer decided to put the sections of a piece together in different orders? Or what about if s/he felt like transposing all the tracks, each to a different tuning!?! what about a piano tuner that decides, before a concert, to tune everything to perfect 4ths instead of current intonation practices? wow...that'd be fun!

They influence music, and their practice, their craft, if you will, is an art unto itself. the final outcome is a reference work to a piece. The creation of the reference work is artistic in nature. it is, in fact, a quasi-art, perhaps. There is discerning which recording of the section is best. how much of the ambient mics should be mixed in? how about adding reverb on a particularly dry recording done in a studio? all artistic choices that change the reference copy. does it change the piece of music? Well, it can, at which point it is no longer a reference to the music, but, instead is its own piece, more than likely intended for the specific medium, with some sort of specific "performance" instruction#^#.

So, in conclusion, a recording is NOT music, in its purest sense. it is, instead, a REFERENCE to a single occurrence of the MUSIC on the recording. There are quasi-artistic acts in the creation of a recording, however, these acts are not to create a new piece of art, but, instead, are to restore a reference to a piece of art. G'ah, philosophy SUX!!!!! #^^#**

*often times, though the definition is changing)

**unless it goes through some other processing. which, then, muddies the picture greatly

***though, with different medias, they invariable will, from scratches on the LP, to tape stretch

****though an argument can be made for Revolution either way. However, the specific guitar overdrive distortion could only be done in the studio at the exact time it was recorded...the "classic overdrive distortion pedal" didn't exist yet...since they, after all, popularized it in recording. i won't say invented, as i don't think they did.

*****After all, one of the big stylistic ideas with jazz is improvisation. the piece is meant to be different, they specifically make it that way.

******though, there is a quite a bit of mixing and matching mics now. often times the kick drum, in live contexts, will have 2 or possibly 3 mics, one inside, close to the kick head, another placed in/near the whole in the outer head, and the last being placed a foot or so away from the drum. all three mics are them mixed to create one kick drum sound. this is similar in idea to how recording is done on a kick drum.

*******it doesn't completely break my definition. It still happens in time, over time. it's just that the specific time is fixed, and the piece will be exactly the same every single time. I never say that music cannot be exactly the same every time. and, since it's intent includes it being for this fixed medium, the stretch isn't terrible. while it makes my definition a bit uncomfortable, if enjoyed as intended, at home, on a hi-fi system, then all is well...

#sorry, had to switch styles. after seven "*" i couldnt take it. Anyway, there is something i consider a huge faux-paux in comparison between art forms. People often say a recording is like a painting. However, i disagree. If it was like a painting, then, in fact, it was meant to be a recording, and not performed live. Therefore, "Silver Apples" is like a painting, however, "So What" is not. "So What" references another work, the actual composition and its live performances, and therefore is like a photo of a painting. The photo (or any other reproduction) references an original, but it is NOT the original. Just take a look at the blown up images of Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memories." It's much smaller in person...

^unless, of course, it is meant to be the recording...but we have covered this already right? no reason to rehash old news. Philosophy SUX!!!

#^another part of my definition i am still working on. I said i am comfortable with what i have now. never said it was my ideal definition. it's still lacking parts, and probably always will.

#^#that sticky subject again. If you were to play "Silver Apples" on a concert, in a concert hall, where people paid, i dunno, $10 a head to hear it, i have an issue with it. kinda like when people get uppity when i play Bach Cello Suites. It's not for trombone, after all. I agree, and i explain i do it as an exercise, not as a part of a performance. i wouldn't, personally, ever program a Cello Suite. I have seen it done, but it makes me sad. It is, in fact, against the intended medium. It changes the piece. And, on top of that, it's BORING. :)

#^^#** it bears repeating...PHILOSOPHY SUX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No comments: