Monthly Archives: January 2013

Musical Villain Series: Recordings

This Musical Villain Series is not an outlet to castigate performers or composers.  My assertions are not so narrow in scope; indeed an equally culpable perpetrator is the collective unit known as “recording technology”.  The fact that I like recordings and that I use recordings almost every day does not take away from the idea that it is ultimately the advent of recording technology that in part led to the downfall of artistry in music during the later half of the 20th century.

During the 1950s, major strides were made in terms of the quality of sound that could be replicated. Recordings sounded clearer, captured more of the tone produced by musical instruments, carried more accurate pitch, and ran for longer times. It also started to become cheaper to produce multiple takes for a recording, as well as to edit what had already been recorded. Audio engineers, whose line of work had flourished since the 1930s or even earlier, could now tweak recordings to a further extent than ever before. The perfectionist mindset that arose naturally from this new and improved technology led in turn to a kind of obsession among performers with their own perfection. Any passage that contained a mistake could now be re-recorded and spliced together with the rest of the performance, producing a seamless, flawless recording.  By now, this has been routine for decades. But it would be natural to wish to go even further and actually be able to play a piece of music flawlessly every time. Practically any performer with a recording contract would be expected to have immaculate accuracy, and anyone hoping to gain any kind of prominence would need to aspire to it. Therefore, because of the sharp increase in recording quality in the mid-20th century, the uppermost level of the classical performance culture shifted its emphasis to technique over all else.