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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000445.txt from 2005/05

From: David Niethamer <>
Subj: [kl] The New Yorker on recording
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005 22:21:00 -0400

The link above leads to the complete article, but below are some
paragraphs that relate to past discussions here. The entire article,
IMO, is wporth the time it takes to read it. No registration necessary
to read the article on line.

> Robert Philip, in "Performing Music in the Age of Recording," points
> out
> that the vaunted transparency of classical recording is often a
> micromanaged illusion, and then goes further; he suggests that
> technology fundamentally altered the tradition that it was intended to
> preserve. Violin vibrato, as discussed in Mark Katz's book, is but one
> example of a phonograph effect in classical performance. Philip shows
> how every instrument in the orchestra acquired a standard profile.
> Listening to records became a kind of mirror stage through which
> musicians confronted their "true" selves. "Musicians who first heard
> their own recordings in the early years of the twentieth century were
> often taken aback by what they heard, suddenly being made aware of
> inaccuracies and mannerisms they had not suspected," Philip writes. As
> they adjusted their playing, they entered into a complex process that
> Katz calls a "feedback loop." Feedback is what happens when an
> electric-guitar player gets too close to an amp and the amp starts
> squealing. Feedback in classical performance is the sound of musicians
> desperately trying to embody the superior self they glimpsed in the
> mirror and, potentially, turning themselves into robots in the process.
> Philip begins his book with a riveting description of concerts at the
> turn of the last century. "Freedom from disaster was the standard for a
> good concert," he writes. Rehearsals were brief, mishaps routine.
> Precision was not a universal value. Pianists rolled chords instead of
> playing them at one stroke. String players slid expressively from one
> note to the next-portamento, the style was called-in imitation of the
> slide of the voice. And the instruments themselves sounded different,
> depending on the nationality of the player. French bassoons had a
> reedy,
> pungent tone, quite unlike the rounded timbre of German bassoons.
> French
> flutists, by contrast, used more vibrato than their German and English
> counterparts, creating a warmer, mellower aura. American orchestral
> culture, which brought together immigrant musicians from all countries,
> began to erode the differences, and recordings canonized the emergent
> standard practice. Whatever style sounded cleanest on the medium-in
> these cases, German bassoons and French flutes-became the gold standard
> that players in conservatories copied. Young virtuosos today may have
> recognizable idiosyncrasies, but their playing seldom indicates that
> they came from any particular place or emerged from any particular
> tradition.
David B. Niethamer

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