Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

Home

www.google.co.uk


Recent Comments


Monthly Archives


Most recent entries


Search


Advanced Search


Other Blogs I write for

Brian Micklethwait's Education Blog

CNE Competition
CNE Intellectual Property
Samizdata
Transport Blog


Blogroll

2 Blowhards
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adloyada
Adventures in Capitalism
Alan Little
Albion's Seedling
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Alex Singleton
AngloAustria
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Biased BBC
Bishop Hill
BLDG BLOG
Bloggers Blog
Blognor Regis
Blowing Smoke
Boatang & Demetriou
Boing Boing
Boris Johnson
Brazen Careerist
Bryan Appleyard
Burning Our Money
Cafe Hayek
Cato@Liberty
Charlie's Diary
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
Chicago Boyz
China Law Blog
Cicero's Songs
City Comforts
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Clay Shirky
Climate Resistance
Climate Skeptic
Coffee & Complexity
Coffee House
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Contra Niche
Contrary Brin
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Скрипучая беседка
CrozierVision
Dave Barry
Davids Medienkritik
David Thompson
Deleted by tomorrow
deputydog
diamond geezer
Dilbert.Blog
Dizzy Thinks
Dodgeblogium
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
dropsafe
Dr Robert Lefever
Dr. Weevil
ecomyths
engadget
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
English Cut
English Russia
EU Referendum
Ezra Levant
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Flickr blog
Freeborn John
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
ft.com/maverecon
Fugitive Ink
Future Perfect
FuturePundit
Gaping Void
Garnerblog
Gates of Vienna
Gizmodo
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
HE&OS
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Ideas
Idiot Toys
IMAO
Indexed
India Uncut
Instapundit
Intermezzo
Jackie Danicki
James Delingpole
James Fallows
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Jihad Watch
Joanne Jacobs
Johan Norberg
John Redwood
Jonathan's Photoblog
Kristine Lowe
Laissez Faire Books
Languagehat
Last of the Few
Lessig Blog
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Alone
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
listen missy
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Londonist
Mad Housewife
Mangan's Miscellany
Marginal Revolution
Mark Wadsworth
Media Influencer
Melanie Phillips
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael Jennings
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
Mick Hartley
More Than Mind Games
mr eugenides
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Natalie Solent
Nation of Shopkeepers
Neatorama
neo-neocon
Never Trust a Hippy
NO2ID NewsBlog
Non Diet Weight Loss
Normblog
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
Oddity Central
Oliver Kamm
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
phosita
Picking Losers
Pigeon Blog
Police Inspector Blog
PooterGeek
Power Line
Private Sector Development blog
Public Interest.co.uk
Publius Pundit
Quotulatiousness
Rachel Lucas
RealClimate
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Rob's Blog
Sandow
Scrappleface
Setting The World To Rights
Shane Greer
Shanghaiist
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sinclair's Musings
Slipped Disc
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stephen Fry
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Style Bubble
Sunset Gun
Survival Arts
Susan Hill
Teblog
Techdirt
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Agitator
The AntRant
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Croydonian
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Filter^
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Futurist
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Sharpener
The Speculist
The Surfer
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
things magazine
TigerHawk
Tim Blair
Tim Harford
Tim Worstall
tomgpalmer.com
tompeters!
Transterrestrial Musings
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Unqualified Offerings
Violins and Starships
Virginia Postrel
Vodkapundit
WebUrbanist
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours


Websites


Mainstream Media

BBC
Guardian
Economist
Independent
MSNBC
Telegraph
The Sun
This is London
Times


Syndicate

RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0
Atom
Feedburner
Podcasts


Categories

Advertising
Africa
Anglosphere
Architecture
Art
Asia
Atheism
Australasia
Billion Monkeys
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Books
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Brians
Bridges
Business
Career counselling
Cartoons
Cats and kittens
China
Civil liberties
Classical music
Comedy
Comments
Computer graphics
Cranes
Crime
Current events
Democracy
Design
Digital photographers
Drones
Economics
Education
Emmanuel Todd
Environment
Europe
Expression Engine
Family
Food and drink
France
Friends
Getting old
Globalisation
Healthcare
History
How the mind works
India
Intellectual property
Japan
Kevin Dowd
Language
Latin America
Law
Libertarianism
Links
Literature
London
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
Movies
Music
My blog ruins
My photographs
Open Source
Opera
Other creatures
Painting
Photography
Podcasting
Poetry
Politics
Pop music
Propaganda
Quote unquote
Radio
Religion
Roof clutter
Russia
Scaffolding
Science
Science fiction
Sculpture
Signs and notices
Social Media
Society
Software
South America
Space
Sport
Technology
Television
The internet
The Micklethwait Clock
Theatre
This and that
This blog
Transport
Travel
USA
Video
War


Wednesday January 04 2006

Last night I popped round to see Martin Anderson.  Martin Anderson lives a walk away from me, and he also runs Toccata Press and now Toccata Classics, i.e. he puts out books and now CDs.  Quite a guy.  How he does all this without starving to death, I do not know.  I was collecting a CD which I hope to be blogging about soon, and also, as it turned out, a book.

Martin said something rather surprising to me while I was there, which was: why don’t I do record reviews myself?  (He does lots.) I dismissed the idea out of hand, for the reasons I will now write about.  I think I am probably right, but see if you agree.

My reasoning is based on the fact that, almost by definition, classical music is music that starts its life by being written down.  It is a manner of music making which predates recording.  It is written, and then it is interpreted.  Nowadays music is “writerpreted”, or whatever you might call it, i.e. the composition process and the finalising-as-an-object process are one and the same thing.

If sound recording had existed in 1600, maybe the whole complicated rigmarole of musical notation as we now know it would never have been bothered with.  All those complicated lines and dots and key signatures!  We would merely have listened to composers interpreting their own stuff.  There would have been subsequent recorded versions, as recording got better, by other and maybe more expert musicians – “cover versions” as we call them with recorded music – but this basic separation between what the composer “composed” and what was later played would not have existed.

Consider the authentic movement, which consists of a great throng of people all trying to guess what the first performances of things actually sounded like, or what they were meant to sound like.  And think how marvellous it would be to have authentic tapes of Mozart or Beethoven improvising at the piano!  (Or Shakespeare reading a sonnet!) This would, as I am sure I have blogged several times before, now mean far more to us than mere photographs.  Photos would be of the face of these great ones.  Recordings would be of the things themselves.

Anyway, sorry about the digressing, but this two-stage process in the making of classical music recordings is what disqualifies me, I believe, as a serious judge of the quality of such recordings.  Simply, I am not good enough at understanding the written bit.  I remember reading – reading words, which I can do with great ease - about how Daniel Barenboim said that when he performs a piece he wants to communicate the “shock of reading the score for the first time”.  This is the ultimate in score reading.  Barenboim looks at all those squiggles and literally hears them!  I just see squiggles, and only hear it if I work out what it is, that is, connect the squiggles to sounds that I am already familiar with.

It gets worse.  What exactly do they mean by things like “moderato”?  Well, something like “moderately”, but moderately compared to what?  No, I just don’t know the language of musical composition well enough.  And, not knowing it well enough, I am in no position to say how accurately the interpreter is interpreting it.  That, it seems to me, should be one of the core skills of the recording reviewer.  If I become the global celebrity I would still quite like to be, I could surely contribute worthwhile “what I like and how it sounds to me” type pieces to something like the BBC Music magazine or Gramophone.  But being on their regular team of reviewers would be way, way beyond me.  There are some territories where I can just about bluff along well enough, but classical music CD reviewing is definitely not one of them.  That world is already stuffed with people who have been trained to the eyeballs in score reading and for that matter in interpretation, but just can’t quite make a go of interpreting as a career (given that only a tiny fraction of such people ever can), but who can review CDs in a way and with a depth of knowledge that I never could.

Martin rather airily brushed my doubts aside.  Most of the time, he said, I don’t have the score.  Where would I find it? – he said.  He has a point.  There is more to reviewing recordings than bothering only about fidelity to the written score.  There is the matter of whether the music is beautifully or exciting played.  And even I can usually tell when it’s not in tune.  In general, I can tell you whether a particular performance excites me, the way that the Christian Thielemann Bruckner 5 that I wrote about yesterday did excite me.  But maybe Thielemann got to me by doing things differently to the way that Bruckner himself would have wanted.  Now, maybe I and Thielemann are right about how to play Bruckner 5, and Bruckner himself was wrong.  This is a perfectly valid opinion.  Composers are by no means always their own best interpreters.  But if I am to say that in a review, I need at least to know about what Bruckner himself had in mind, and I cannot begin to read Bruckner’s mind if I cannot even read his score.

This is one of the fundamental reasons why pop music is, unlike classical music, “pop”.  All of us can review it equally well. All of us have in front of us the information we need to say whether it is good or bad, by which I of course merely mean whether we like it or don’t like it.  If it is a cover version, then provided we have the original to hand, we can describe with a hundred percent confidence what the differences are between, say, how Damaged Fruit Higginbottom did the original and how the Rolling Stones did their faster, less emotive but more raucous and drum-dependent suburban white boy version.  Everything we need to know, we know.  The pop music printed version industry is strictly an add-on afterthought to the central pop music productive process.  Many (deservedly) major pop stars can’t even “read” music.  They just play it, and their mates record it, perhaps by helping out with supplying written parts, e.g., to backing singers or instrumentalists.  But printed scores are the classical music productive process.  You can’t not know about that bit of the process and expect to be a capable reviewer of classical music recordings.

I would go further, and say that the composer-score-performance-recording progression is damn near to the defnition of classical music.  Persisting in writing classical music, on paper, which other people then “interpret”, and maybe also record, is now to persist with an obsolete artistic technology.  The way to make music now is to make it and record it.  Far simpler, far cheaper, and in a whole host of ways far, far better.  That is the future of “classical” music making, the inverted commas being there because it won’t any longer be “classical” music, just music.  The instrumental skills of classical musicians now need to be taken straight into the recording studios, a process which has actually been going on for some time.  And yes, a written score may very much help that process.  But it is there to help.  It is no longer the process itself.

Obsolete artistic technologies often have life in them, sometimes centuries of life, and life of tremendous vigour.  Look at organ music.  Look at painting, for goodness sake.  Photography was invented over a hundred and fifty years ago, yet still picture makers persist with their brushes and their canvasses and their vari-coloured tubes of glop, occasionally to great effect.  I daresay that every so often, someone somewhere still makes a magnificent stained glass window.  You can’t dismiss a work of art merely by pointing out that it is done with obsolete and unnecessarily cumbersome and expensive methods that most people no longer bother with, the way you can dismiss a piece of “science” (i.e. not-science) if it is being done within the confines of an obsolete and superceded theoretical paradigm, like flat earth theory or creationism.  There is zero scientific validity in refining the epicycle theory of the solar system or in theorising ever more minutely about exactly how God made eyes.  Zero.  Whereas a stained glass window might be genuinely magnificent and just what you want.

Nevertheless, a capable artist is at least aware of what the latest techniques consist of, and has thought seriously about why painting is still, for him, a better bet than photography, or organ music composition on paper is for him better than taking a computerised piano accordion on legs, such as the Japanese now thrash out by the thousand, into a recording studio, or maybe just rejigging his personal computer until that is, for all practical purposes, also an organ.  Or any other instrument he might fancy.

Learning this electronic and computerised stuff should now be the core curriculum of musical education.  If the God-that-doesn’t-exist-but-you-know-what-I-mean played a bastard trick on me and made me a music teacher, I would start by bringing a tape recorder (or whatever these things are now - MP3 recorders? - into the classroom.  That would be my core instrument.  Forget bloody recorders, as in those idiot tubes with holes in them that you blow down.  The idea would be to get the kids, not to perform the way I like, but to record the way they like, and to distribute it all around the world on the internet, however the hell you do that.  I don’t know how you do it, but they probably would, between them, or have sisters who did, or something.  The point is, those are now the questions.  And as with scientific paradigm shifts, all the previous musical styles and ways of doing things – classical, jazz, carol-singing, rap, girl-group close harmony (a style I much admire by the way), even recorder playing if anyone still wanted to do that, etc. – would take their place in this new musical dispensation.

And if God-bastard made me a drama teacher, I’d start with making movies.  If a “school play” emerged, fine.  But that would not be the objective.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.