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How music works, or doesn't work, is determined not just by what it is in One asks how technology has affected the way music sounds and the way we pdf. Outsider: John Rockwell on the Arts, –, , Limelight Editions, p. . caite.info numbers,” using music theory to create their works. . Rhythm describes how music is organized in time. HOW MUSIC WORKS BY DAVID BYRNE. Chapter 7 of this book entitled “ Business and Finances (distribution and survival options for music artists)” is.
But the show was a success; the transparency and conceptual nature of its structure took away nothing from the emotional impact. Not too many other kinds of performance allow that. These were, compared to Western theater, highly stylized; presentational is the word that is sometimes used, as opposed to the pseudo-naturalistic theater we in the West are more used to. Like this presentation? You would never go to a movie longing to spend half the evening watching familiar scenes featuring the actors replayed, with only a few new ones interspersed. WorldCat is the world's largest library catalog, helping you find library materials online. The instrumentation of jazz was also modified so that the music could be heard over the sound of the dancers and the bar racket.
The services in a gospel church are funky and energetic, but they are prescribed and happen in almost identical sequences over and over. In the world of the ecstatic church, religion bleeds into performance, and there are obvious musical parallels with what we were doing.
Toni had worked with untrained dancers before, so she knew how to get me to make my improvised moves, edit them, select the best ones, refine them further, and begin to order them into a sequence. It took weeks to get the moves tight. It was all going to be filmed in one master shot, so I had to be able to perform the whole thing from top to bottom without stopping on multiple takes. It was a song-and- dance routine, as she described it, though nothing like what one normally thinks of when one hears that phrase.
We added little film snippets during the editing that revealed the source material for some of the moves: In thinking of what kind of performance and tour would follow, I decided to apply my insights from Japan, Bali, and the gospel church.
This show would be mapped out from beginning to end. In retrospect, the earlier tour with a big band had been a work in progress. My movements during rehearsals gradually became more formal as I realized which improvisations worked in which sections of which songs. I storyboarded the whole thing, sometimes not knowing which song would go with which staging idea.
The songs got assigned to the staging and lighting ideas later, as did details of the movements. I had realized that people on stage can either stick out if they wear white or sparkly outfits or disappear if they wear dark colors. With music shows, there is inevitably so much gear on stage—guitars, drums, keyboards, amps— that sometimes the gear ends up being lit as much as the performers.
We hid the guitar amps under the riders that the backing band played on, so those were invisible too. Wearing gray suits seemed to be the best of both worlds, and by planning it in advance, we knew there would at least be consistent lighting from night to night. We avoided that problem. But I felt it was time to break away from that a little bit.
I still confined the lighting to white, though now white in all its possibilities, permutations, and combinations. There were no colored gels as such, but we did use fluorescent bulbs, movie lights, shadows, handheld lights, work lights, household lamps, and floor lights—each of which had a particular quality of its own, but were still what we might consider white.
I showed her the storyboards and explained the concept, and she knew exactly how to achieve the desired effects, which lighting instruments to use, and how to rig them. I had become excited by the downtown New York theater scene.
Robert Wilson, Mabou Mines, and the Wooster Group in particular were all experimenting with new ways of putting things on stage and presenting them, experiments that to my eyes were close to the Asian theater forms and rituals that had recently inspired me. I invited JoAnne Akalaitis, one of the directors involved with Mabou Mines, to look at our early rehearsals and give me some notes.
There was no staging or lighting yet, but I was curious whether a more theatrical eye might see something I was missing, or suggest a better way to do something.
Robert Wilson performance by Stephanie Berger To further complicate matters, I decided to make the show completely transparent. I would show how everything was done and how it had been put together. The audience would see each piece of stage gear being put into place and then see, as soon as possible afterward, what that instrument or type of lighting did. Following this concept to its natural conclusion meant starting with a bare stage. A single work light would be hanging from the fly space, as it typically does during rehearsals or when a crew is moving stuff in and out.
This was done by having their gear on rolling platforms that were hidden in the wings. The platforms would be pushed out by stagehands, and then the musician would jump into position and remain part of the group until the end of the show. Stage and lighting elements would also be carried out by the stagehands: Well, that was the idea. There is another way in which pop-music shows resemble both Western and Eastern classical theater: Well, same with pop concerts.
They want to see something familiar from a new angle. As a performing artist, this can be frustrating. This situation seems unfair.
You would never go to a movie longing to spend half the evening watching familiar scenes featuring the actors replayed, with only a few new ones interspersed. But sometimes that is indeed exactly what people want. In art museums a mixture of the known, familiar, and new is expected, as it is in classical concerts.
The next day we met for lunch after the show. Courtesy of Hiro William was forthright, blunt maybe; he had no fear that his outsider perspective might not be relevant. Surprisingly, to me anyway, his observations were like the adages one might have heard from a Vaudevillian, a burlesque dancer, or a stand-up comedian: Being caught by surprise is, it seems, not good.
One can see the application of this rule in film and almost everywhere else. Stand-up comedians probably have lots of similar rules about getting an audience ready for the punch line. The directors and editors of horror movies have taught us many such rules, like the sacrificial victim and the ominous music which sometimes leads to nothing the first time, increasing the shock when something actually happens later.
And then while we sit there in the theater anticipating what will happen, the director can play with those expectations, acknowledging that he or she knows that we know.
There are two conversations going on at the same time: The same thing can happen on stage. The dancing that had emerged organically in the previous tour began to get increasingly codified.
It still emerged out of movement that was improvised in rehearsals, but now I was more confident that if a singer, player, or performer did something spontaneously that worked perfectly for us, it could be repeated without any risk of losing its power and soul.
I had confidence that this bottom- up approach to making a show would work. Every performer does this. If something new works one night, well, leave it in.
Not everyone liked this new approach. But where does the music fit into all this? Paired with another lighting effect the song might have seemed equally suited, but maybe more ominous or even threatening though that might have worked, too. We sometimes think we discern cause and effect simply because things are taking place at the same moment in time, and this extends beyond the stage.
We read into things, find emotional links between what we see and hear, and to me, these connections are no less true and honest for not being conceived and developed ahead of time.
Although the idea was simple, the fact that every piece of gear had to come on stage for tech check in the afternoon and then be removed again before the show was a lot of work for the crew. But the show was a success; the transparency and conceptual nature of its structure took away nothing from the emotional impact.
It was tremendously gratifying. It was hard to top that experience. In I made a record, Rei Momo, with a lot of Latin musicians. The joy of following the record with a tour accompanied by a large Latin band, playing salsa, samba, merengue, cumbias, and other grooves, was too much to resist.
We used the same material for the stage set of my film True Stories. The band wore all white this time, and the fact that there were so many of them meant that their outfits would allow them to pop out from the background. M I had referenced religious trance and ritual in earlier performances and recordings, and I never lost interest in that facet of music.
I made a documentary Ile Aiye: The House of Life in Salvador, Bahia Brazil partly to indulge my continued interest in these religious traditions. Photo by Clayton Call As with gospel music, religion seems to be at the root of much Brazilian pop music and creativity, and as with the Asian ritual and theatrical forms, costumes and trance and dance are completely formalized but incredibly moving.
There are evening ceremonies, to be sure, but their influence is deeply felt in everyday life, and that affected my thinking as I prepared for the next round of performances. I may well be idealizing some of what I saw and witnessed, taking aspects of what I perceived and adapting them to solve and deal with my own issues and creative bottlenecks. Somehow I have a feeling that might be okay. Rather than having a discreet opening act, I brought Margareth Menezes on board: She stole the show on some nights.
Live and learn. I bucked the tide on that tour. We did mostly new material rather than interspersing it with a lot of popular favorites, and I think I paid the price.
At one point we got booked at a European outdoor music festival, and my Latin band was sandwiched between Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. I followed this with a tour that mixed a band made up of funk musicians like George Porter Jr.
I intended to make explicit the link between Latin grooves and New Orleans funk, or so I hoped. I had begun to do some short acoustic sets with a drum machine. After that I decided to strip things down again. I recorded and toured with a four-piece band that emphasized grooves. There was a drummer, Todd Turkisher, a bass player, Paul Socolow, and a percussionist, Mauro Refosco—but no keyboard or second guitar such as one would see or hear in a typical rock band.
I had written more personal songs, which were better suited to a smaller ensemble. There was little dancing, and I seem to recall I wore black again. We played small, out-of-the-way clubs and some not so out-of-the-way to break in the material. The idea was to hone the band into a tight live unit and then essentially record live in the studio.
It worked, but only sort of. I could hear discrepancies and musical problems in the studio that I had missed in the heat and passion of live performance, so some further tweaking was still required. Beauty was a revelation, and these songs were unashamed to be beautiful, which was a difficult thing to accept in the world of downtown musicians and artists. Anything that sounds or looks beautiful would seem to that crowd to be merely pretty, shallow, and therefore deeply suspect—morally suspect even, I found out.
Noise, for them, is deep; beauty shallow. Sure, bossa novas had become a staple of every bad piano bar, but the songs themselves are innovative and radical in their way. I let the orchestrations strings and occasional winds do the harmonic work that guitars and keyboards often do, and once again there were drums and plenty of percussion, so the grooves were strong and thus avoided the tendencies one might associate with a nice melody and traditional balladry.
Since both guitars and keyboards are close to the same range as the human voice, limiting their use meant the singing had a clearing in which to live, and I was increasingly enjoying singing in there. In the early days, I might have gotten on stage and begun to sing as a desperate attempt to communicate, but I now found that singing was both a physical and emotional joy.
Music can do that; you can enjoy singing about something sad. Audiences, likewise, can dance to a tragic story. It happens all the time. My body, and the physical and emotional enjoyment I was getting from singing, was in effect telling me what to write.
I gathered a group that helped me express this: We toured, and it worked. To some extent, I let the tour finances dictate what that performance would be. I wanted us to wear outfits that would unify us on stage, have us appear like a slightly less ragtag bunch, but the budget was limited.
First I had jumpsuits made for everyone, modeled on one that I had purchased in a store. A fashion mutiny understandably began building steam. We switched to Dickies—workwear with matching tops and bottoms, brown or blue or gray. Those looked somewhat like the originally envisioned jumpsuits, but now there was an everyday workwear angle. I often looked like a UPS man, but I thought that in its own way it was quite elegant.
N The audiences sat and listened quietly at times, but they were usually up and dancing by the end. Best of both worlds. Often—and this never failed to surprise us—audiences at these shows would stop the show in the middle and engage in a lengthy round of applause. Standing ovations, many times. They realized that they were happy, that they were really, really enjoying what they were seeing and hearing, and they wanted to let us know.
Some of them might also have been a little bit nostalgic, applauding our joint legacies as performers and audience. There was a healthy percentage of younger folks as well, which was great to see. Maybe keeping the ticket prices affordable helped.
Once again, I had to think about what sort of a show this could be given the financial means available to me. I saw a Super Furry Animals show during which the video was totally in synch with the songs throughout the whole night. Very impressive. They hired teams of creative types to make the videos. It costs a fortune, and their results were probably better or at least as good as anything I could pull together.
O It was charming and effective, moving even, something obviously low-tech that almost anyone could do. Why not? I worked with my manager on a budget. I had learned over the years that we could predict, based on the size of proposed performance venues, how much we might make on a tour, so we could predict if singers, dancers, choreographers, and the cost of carting all of them around along with the band was feasible.
In this case, it was. The dance vocabulary of those shows is emphatic, energetic, and exciting, but everyone has seen that stuff before, so why bother? Likewise, I suggested that each choreographer initially pick just two songs to work on. They ended up doing quite a bit more than just six songs. I provided a proposed set list, and left the choice of what to work on to them.
I see dance as something anyone can do, though I knew that inevitably the dancers would have some special skills, as we all do. I wanted them to blend in with the rest of us. In that piece they wore matching primary-colored off-the-rack outfits and did mostly pedestrian moves in unison. Sometimes they rolled down a gully and sometimes they clambered on rocks.
It was often funny and beautiful. Mark De Gli Antoni joined on keyboards. The singers were easy: To find appropriate dancers, the choreographers sent out word to dancers and performers they knew personally. Even so, at the beginning of the dance audition there were fifty dancers in the room.
We had two days to whittle them down to three. Cruel, but, well, fun too. We decided that the dancers would be asked to do three types of things: It consisted of four simple rules: Improvise moving to the music and come up with an eight-count phrase. In dance, a phrase is a short series of moves that can be repeated. When you find a phrase you like, loop repeat it.
When you see someone else with a stronger phrase, copy it. When everyone is doing the same phrase the exercise is over. It was like watching evolution on fast-forward, or an emergent lifeform coming into being. At first the room was chaos, writhing bodies everywhere. Then one could see that folks had chosen their phrases, and almost immediately one could see a pocket of dancers who had all adopted the same phrase.
The copying had begun already, albeit just in one area. This pocket of copying began to expand, to go viral, while yet another one now emerged on the other side of the room. One clump grew faster than the other, and within four minutes the whole room was filled with dancers moving in perfect unison.
After this vigorous athletic experiment, the dancers rested while we compared notes. I noticed a weird and quite loud wind like sound, rushing and pulsing. I realized it was the sound of fifty people catching their breath, breathing in and out, in an enclosed room. It then gradually faded away. For me that was part of the piece, too.
Having learned from the Rei Momo tour, I decided to go back to the white outfits. But as with the big Latin tour, I sensed that there was a spiritual aspect to the new songs we were playing, as well as many of the older ones, so white also hinted at associations with gospel, temples, and mosques.
P We rehearsed for a month. For the first three weeks the band and singers learned the music in one room, while the dancers and choreographers worked in another room two floors below. In the fourth week we brought the dancers and musicians together. We then did what is called an out-of-town run: Our first show was in Easton, Pennsylvania, in a lovely old restored theater in a little once-industrial town. There were some rough patches, but the big surprise was that the audience—hardly a contemporary-dance crowd—loved it.
It was going to be okay. And it got better. I realized that the dancers, and the singers who sometimes joined them, raised the energy level of the whole show. I joined them when I could, and to do so felt ecstatic, but my interaction was limited by my singing and guitar-playing duties. Even so, they all became part of the whole, not a separate part tacked on. Over the course of the tour we took this idea further: A little bit of an ideal world in microcosm.
The out-of-town tryout part was kind of a bust. That aspect of putting a performance together has been forever altered by cell-phone cameras and YouTube. Barely minutes after our shows were over, someone would announce that some of the numbers were appearing online.
In the past, performers would at least try to limit amateur photographers and especially video cameras, but now that idea seemed simply ridiculous—hopeless. We realized there was a silver lining: The thing we were supposed to be fighting against was actually something we should be encouraging. I began to announce at the beginning of the shows that photography was welcome, but I suggested to please only post shots and videos where we look good.
I talked with the dancers and choreographers as the show began to gel, and we all agreed that contemporary dance, a rarified world where the audiences are usually very small, was indeed, as this show proved, accessible to some part of the general public.
The exact same choreography in a dance venue, without a live pop band? This audience in Easton, Pennsylvania would never go see it in a million years. But here, in this context, they seemed to like it. The way one sees things, and the expectations one brings to a performance, or any art form, really, is completely determined by the venue.
I also realized that there were lots of unacknowledged theater forms going on all around. Our lives are filled with performances that have been so woven into our daily routine that the artificial and performative aspect has slipped into invisibility.
PowerPoint presentations are a kind of theater, a kind of augmented stand-up. Failing to acknowledge that these are performances is to assume that anyone could and should be able to do it. Performers try harder. Bush II had a team that did nothing but sort out the backgrounds behind the places where he would appear, the mission accomplished banner being their most well-known bit of stagecraft.
Same goes for public announcements of all kinds: Performance is ephemeral. Some of my own shows have been filmed or have appeared on TV and as a result they have found audiences that never saw the original performances, which is great, but most of the time you simply have to be there. In a hundred years it will be a faint memory, if that. Often the very fact of a massive assembly of fans defines the experience as much as whatever it is they have come to see.
Many musicians make music influenced by this social aspect of performance; what we write is, in part, based on what the live experience of it might be.
Like them, I have that pleasurable experience, and I seek out opportunities for it. I want to relive it, as one can on stage, over and over. For an actor this would be anathema, it would destroy the illusion, but with singing one can have it both ways.
As a singer, you can be transparent and reveal yourself on stage, in that moment, and at the same time be the person whose story is being told in the song. Not too many other kinds of performance allow that. Analog The first sound recording was made in Since then, music has been amplified, broadcast, broken down into bits, miked and recorded, and the technologies behind those innovations have changed the nature of what gets created.
Just as photography changed the way we see, recording technology changed the way we hear. Before recorded music became ubiquitous, music was, for most people, something we did. Many people had pianos in their homes, sang at religious services, or experienced music as part of a live audience. Your recollection could very well have been faulty, or it could have been influenced by extra-musical factors.
A friend could have told you the orchestra or ensemble sucked, and under social pressure you might have been tempted to revise your memory of the experience.
A host of factors contribute to making the experience of live music a far from objective phenomenon. They claim that we listen more closely when we know we only have one chance, one fleeting opportunity to grasp something, and as a result our enjoyment is deepened. Imagine, as composer Milton Babbitt did, that you could only experience a book by going to a reading, or by reading the text off a screen that displayed it only briefly before disappearing. I suspect that if that were the way we received literature, then writers and readers would work harder to hold our attention.
They would avoid getting too complicated, and they would strive mightily to create a memorable experience. Music did not get more compositionally sophisticated when it started being recorded, but I would argue that it did get texturally more complex. Perhaps written literature changed, too, as it became widespread—maybe it too evolved to be more textural more about mood, technical virtuosity, and intellectual complexity than merely about telling a story. Recording is far from an objective acoustic mirror, but it pretends to be like magic—a perfectly faithful and unbiased representation of the sonic act that occurred out there in the world.
A recording is also repeatable. So, to its promoters, it is a mirror that shows you how you looked at a particular moment, over and over, again and again. However, such claims are not only based on faulty assumptions, they are also untrue.
Edison never suggested that they be used to record music. The New York Times predicted that we might collect speeches: These machines were entirely mechanical. To impress sound onto the wax, the voice or instrument being recorded would get as close as possible to the wide end of the horn—a large cone that funneled the sound toward the diaphragm and then to the inscribing needle. The sound waves would be concentrated and the vibrating diaphragm would move the needle, which incised a groove into a rotating wax cylinder.
Playback simply reversed the process. For all we know, someone at that time actually may have invented something similar and then abandoned it. Odd how technology and inventions come into being and fail to flourish for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with the skill, materials, or technology available at the time. Technological progress, if one can call it that, is full of dead ends and cul-de-sacs—roads not taken which could have led to who knows what alternate history.
There needed to be a new performance for every batch of recordings. Not exactly a promising business model. Edison set this apparatus aside for over a decade, but he eventually went back to tinkering with it, possibly due to pressure from the Victor Talking Machine Company, which had come out with recordings on discs.
In , when Edison demonstrated his new version of an apparatus that recorded onto discs, he was convinced that now, finally, playback was a completely accurate reproduction of the speaker or singer being captured. The recording angel, the acoustic mirror, had arrived. Well, hearing those recordings, we might now think that he was somewhat deluded about how good his gizmo was, but he certainly seemed to believe in it, and he managed to convince others too.
Edison was a brilliant inventor, a great engineer, but also a huckster and sometimes a ruthless businessman. And he usually managed to market and promote the hell out of his products, which certainly counts for something. A He also held Mood Change Parties! The Tone Tests themselves were public demonstrations in which a famous singer would appear on stage along with a Diamond Disc player playing a recording of that same singer singing the same song.
The stage would be dark. What the audience heard would alternate between the sound of the disc and the live singer, and the audience had to guess which they were hearing. It worked— the public could not tell the difference. The Tone Tests toured the country, like a traveling show or an early infomercial, and audiences were amazed and captivated.
We might wonder how this could be possible. Well, for starters, there was apparently a little stage trickery involved. The singers were instructed to try to sound like the recordings, to sing in a slightly pinched manner and with a limited range of volume. It took some practice before they could master it. You have to wonder how audiences fell for this. Sociologist H.
He implies that this development might have led us to listen to music more closely. In a famous experiment conducted by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, participants were asked to count the number of passes made by a group of basketball players in a film. Halfway through the film, a guy in a full gorilla suit runs through the middle of the action, thumping his chest.
Things might impinge on our senses but still fail to register in the brain. Our internal filters are far more powerful than we might like to think. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was convinced that what are to us obviously faked photos of fairies were in fact real fairies captured on film.
He believed that the photo shown below was real until the end of his life. What one person hears and sees is not necessarily what another perceives. Our own sensory organs, and thus even our interpretation of data and our reading of measurements on instruments, are wildly subjective. Is there a difference? Edison thought there was. Edison insisted that his recordings, in which the sound did not go through wires, were uncolored, and therefore truer.
Illustration from The Case of the Cottingley Fairies by Joe Cooper The trickery involved in the Tone Test performances was, it seems to me, an early example of the soon-to-be-common phenomenon of live music trying to imitate the sound of recordings. Here, then, is the philosophical parting of the ways in a nutshell. Should a recording endeavor to render reality as faithfully as possible, with no additions, coloration, or interference?
Or are the inherent sonic biases and innate qualities of recording an art unto itself? This debate has not confined itself to sound recording.
The idea that somewhere out there exists one absolute truth implies a suspension of belief, which is an ideal for some, while for others admitting artificiality is more honest. Flashing back to the previous chapter, this reminds me of the difference between Eastern theater more artificial and presentational and Western with its effort to be naturalistic. We no longer expect that contemporary records are meant to capture a specific live performance —even a performance that may have happened in the artificial atmosphere of a recording studio.
Low electronic thuds imitate the effect of an acoustic kick drum, though now they appear to be coming from a virtual drum that sounds larger and tighter than anything physically possible, and synthesizers often play lines that oddly mimic, in range and texture, what a horn player might have done.
They are not mimicking real instruments, but rather what real instruments do. A sonic scaffolding has been maintained, despite the fact that the materials it is made of have been radically changed. For starters, there was one mic or horn available to record the whole band and singer, so rather than the band being arranged as they might have been on a bandstand or stage, they were arranged around the horn, positioned according to who most needed to be heard and who was loudest. The singer, for example, might be right in front of the recording horn, and then when a sax solo came up someone would yank the singer away from the horn and a hired shover would push the sax player into position.
This jerky choreography would be reversed when the sax solo was over. A recording session might involve a whole little dance devised so that all the key parts were heard at the right times.
Louis Armstrong, for example, had a loud and piercing trumpet tone, so he was sometimes positioned farther away from the recording horn than anyone else, by about fifteen feet. The main guy in the band was stuck in the back! Drums and upright basses posed a big problem for these recording devices. The intermittent low frequencies that they produce made wider or deeper grooves in the case of the Edison machines , which make the needles jump and skip during playback.
So those instruments were also shoved to the rear, and in most cases were intentionally rendered almost inaudible. Blankets were thrown over drums, especially the kick and snares.
The double bass was often swapped with a tuba because its low end was less punchy. So early recording technology was limiting not only in terms of what frequencies one heard, but also in terms of which instruments were actually recorded. The music was already being edited and shaped to fit the new medium.
It would be more accurate to say that early jazz recordings were versions of that music. How could they know differently? Edison, meanwhile, continued to maintain that his recorders were capturing unadorned reality. In fact, he was quoted as saying that the recorders know more than you do, implying accurately that our ears and brains skew sound in various ways.
He maintained, of course, that his recordings presented sound as it truly is. The aspect of our voices that gets recorded is only a part of what we hear. But then there is also the inherent bias and sonic coloration added by microphones and the electronics that are involved in capturing our voices.
But, as mentioned above, our brains tend to make these disparate versions converge. He implied that it was like looking in a mirror. But now I begin to wonder, do mirrors even really reflect us, or are they skewed and biased? C Binaural recording, it was called. You had to listen to the recordings through headphones to get the effect. Phonographs also known as gramophones became increasingly popular in the early twentieth century.
The early versions after the ones that were only good enough to record talking allowed owners to record their own musical performances.
Some companies added interactive features to these machines. Here is an ad from a issue of Vanity Fair for something called the Graduola: How did I find this out?
Jones had a new purchase—a phonograph. But this phonograph was different. With the first notes I sat upright in my chair.
It was beautiful. I went to see what the slender tube terminating in a handle [the Graduola] could be. It looked interesting. At first I hardly dared to move the little device in my hands. Presently, however, I gained confidence. As the notes swelled forth and softly died away in answer to my will, I became bolder. I began to feel the music. It was wonderful! The fact that I was—must be—a natural musician dawned upon me. And with it came a glimpse of the glorious possibilities opened to me by this great new phonograph.
The record player as orgasmatron! Soon there was a flurry of recordings of school and parlor performers, sung greetings, holiday wishes, and all sorts of amateur performances. The early phonographs were like YouTube— everyone was swapping homemade audio recordings. Composers were even recording their playing and then playing along with themselves.
Soon enough that function was taken away. He saw the new music machines as a substitute for human beings. Despite his Luddite ravings, I tend to agree that any tendency to turn the public into passive consumers rather than potentially active creators is to be viewed with suspicion.
However, the public tends to surprise us by finding ways to create using whatever means are available to them. Some creative urges seem truly innate and will find a means of expression, a way out, no matter if traditional means are denied to us. Sousa and many others also deplored that music was becoming less public. It was moving off the bandstand where Sousa was king and into the living room. Experiencing music used to always be something you did with a group of other people, but now you could experience it or a re-creation of it, as Edison would have it alone.
Shades of the Walkman and the iPod! To some, this was horrific. It was like drinking alone, they said; it was antisocial and psychologically dangerous. It was described as self-stimulation!
In his book Capturing Sound: One might think that these same worrywarts might also disdain recordings on the basis that they sacrifice the visual elements inherent to performance—the costumes and sets of grand opera, the hubbub and smells of a music hall, or the stately atmosphere at the symphony—but that was not always the case.
The twentieth-century philosopher Theodor Adorno, who wrote great quantities of music criticism and tended to dislike popular music , thought that removing music from the accompanying visual spectacle was sometimes a good thing. You could, in his view, appreciate the music more objectively, without the often tacky trappings of performance. Jascha Heifetz, the classical violinist, was a notoriously unexpressive presence on stage; he was described as being stiff, immobile, cold.
With the ascendance of radio in the twenties, people had another way to experience music. With radio, one definitely needed a microphone to capture the music, and the sound went through a whole lot of other electrical transmutations before the listener heard it. That said, mostly people really liked what they heard on the radio; the music was louder than on the Edison players, for starters, and there was more low end.
What was originally a simulation of a performance—the recording—has supplanted performances, and performances are now considered the simulation. It seemed to some that the animating principle of music was being replaced by a more perfect, but slightly less soulful, machine. Katz details how recording technology changed music over the century of its existence.
He cites examples of how instrument-playing and singing changed as recordings and radio broadcasts became more ubiquitous. Katz contends that before the advent of recording, vibrato added to a note was considered kitschy, tacky, and was universally frowned upon, unless one absolutely had to use it when playing in the uppermost registers.
The perceptibly imprecise pitch of a string instrument with no frets could be compensated for with this little wobble. The mind fills in the blanks, as it does with the visual gaps between movie and video frames, in which a series of stills create the impression of seamless movement. Soon enough, conventional wisdom reversed itself, and now people find listening to classical string-playing without vibrato to be painful and weird.
I suspect that the exact same thing happened with opera singers. I have some recordings made at the very beginning of the recording era, and their use of vibrato is much, much less frequent than what is common nowadays.
Their singing is somewhat closer to what we might call pop singing today. Other changes in classical music were not quite as noticeable. Tempos became somewhat more precise with recording technology. Well, they tried to, anyway. This is an issue with pop and rock bands, too.
My former bandmate Jerry Harrison has produced a number of first albums by rock bands, and he has observed more than once that the biggest and often primary hurdle is getting the band to play in time. This makes it sound like emerging bands are sloppy amateurs, which is not exactly true.
They may sound perfectly fine in a club, or even in a concert hall, where all the other elements—the visuals, the audience, the beer—conspire to help one ignore the lurching and shaking.
According to Jerry, the inaccuracies become all too obvious in the studio and make for a slightly seasick listening experience. One wonders if the visual element of performing in the pre-recording era inevitably allowed for more error, and if it made listeners more forgiving. Our brains make it more pleasing, more like what we believe it should be—like the pitch of a violin played with vibrato.
Well, we do this up to a point; the sound in some rooms is beyond saving. Hearing a recording of a live performance one has witnessed and enjoyed can prove disappointing. An experience that was auditory, visual, and social has now been reduced to something coming out of stereo speakers or headphones. Various people have attempted to bridge these irreconcilable differences, and some odd hybrids, as well as wonderful developments, have resulted. In his book Perfecting Sound Forever, Greg Milner argues that the conductor Leopold Stokowski was a visionary who changed the way orchestral music sounded over the radio and on recordings.
He loved the idea of amplifying classical music; he felt it made it bigger. Rather than having pushers and shovers, as the early recording studios had, Stokowski conscripted studio technicians to move the mics around during the recordings of orchestras. In a live situation, the ear can psychoacoustically zoom in on a sound or isolate a section of players and pick out a phrase or melody—the way we can pick out a conversation at a noisy dinner table if we can see the person talking.
Stokowski recognized this phenomenon and made adjustments to help bridge that perceptual gap. All of his innovations aimed to get the experience on disc, and possibly even surpass it by, for example, exaggerating dynamics and shifting perspectives. Sometimes he went the other way: At one point he proposed that a big problem inherent in opera performances could now be solved.
He had great actresses and actors playing the parts, lip-synching to great singers. I thought it worked, but this approach never caught on. Later, amateur guitarists would use recordings to break down Hendrix and Clapton solos in the same way. Tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman found that listening to other players in clubs was too distracting—he preferred records.
With a recording you could stop time by stopping the record, or you could make time repeat by playing part of a song over and over again. The ineffable was coming under human control. But learning from records has its limitations. Ignacio Varchausky from the Buenos Aires tango orchestra El Arranque says in the documentary Si Sos Brujo that he and others tried learning from records how the older orchestras did what they did, but it was difficult, almost impossible.
Eventually, El Arranque had to find the surviving players from those ensembles and ask them how it was done. The older players had to physically show the younger players how to replicate the effects they got, and which notes and beats should be emphasized.
So, to some extent, music is still an oral and physical tradition, handed down from one person to another.
In that same documentary, Wynton Marsalis says that the learning, the baton passing, happens on the bandstand —one has to play with others, to learn by watching and imitating. For Varchausky, when those older players are gone, the traditions and techniques will be lost if their knowledge is not passed on directly.
They allow far-flung artists and foreign genres to be heard in other parts of the world, and these artists sometimes find a wider audience than they ever imagined they could have. John Lomax and his son Alan traveled thousands of miles to record the music of the American South. Initially they used a large and bulky disc recorder.
This would be like having a mastering lab in the back of your station wagon, but it was as portable as one could get at the time, if you could call something the size of a small refrigerator portable. Milner tells the story like this: A murmur went through the crowd and soon became a unanimous chorus. What you scared of? That horn too little for you to fall into it—too little for you to sing at with your big mouth!
He certainly deserves the name, Alan thought as Blue walked toward him. Blue began to sing: When he was done, Blue received a standing ovation. He motioned to Alan to keep the machine running, looked straight at the horn, and delivered a spoken coda. The disenfranchised and invisible could be heard with this new machine. Alan Lomax liked the idea that the recorder could be a means by which these invisible people could be given a voice. The Lomaxes endeavored to facilitate the spread of this music, though whether they really were helping in the way they thought they were might seem debatable now.
Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, was a singer and guitar player the Lomaxes met in a Southern prison. Lomax forbade him to play the pop stuff when he took him up to New York to perform for the sophisticated big-city folks.
He even had Leadbelly dress in overalls when he performed, as if he had no other clothes to wear. Huddie actually preferred suits. On the Lomax recordings this roughness was a stamp of authenticity. In later years, Alan Lomax in particular was dismayed as the recording world came to be dominated by a few large companies. He saw people being robbed of their voices, and the musical landscape flattened. He was right. Inevitably, recorded music was a branch of proto-globalization—a process that could uncover hidden gems while at the same time flattening them out.
Katz asserts that the limited running time of 78s and later of 45s changed writing styles. A threeto four-minute song seems a natural length to me—it often seems almost inevitable.
I can hardly conceive a time when it might have been otherwise. But maybe, as some suggest, we have all internalized this arbitrary aspect of recorded music and now find the exceptions strange and unusual.
Then I realize that some ballads were much, much longer. Epic verse, whether European, Asian, or African, was often delivered in a kind of chant, and a single piece could go on for hours. Perhaps this is a case where the technology and the circumstances of its wide acceptance conveniently happened to fit a pre-existing form like a glove, and that would explain why the technology became so popular.
Everyone instinctively knew exactly what to do with it and how to make it part of their lives. Adorno suggests that our musical attention spans became shorter as a response to the limited length of recordings. A kind of ADD form of listening was ushered in, and we have come to expect everything musical to be broken down—atomized—into threeto four-minute chunks.
Even longer pieces now had to advance in bite-sized steps, Adorno claims, because a piece that develops slowly risked losing our interest. While performing, jazzers would stretch out a tune or theme as long as they or their audience felt like, or, more practically, as long as the dancers were encouraging them. Soloing for thirty-two choruses was not unheard of basically, jamming on a song thirty-two times in a row , but that would be way too long on a record, so they edited themselves.
Sections that used to sound different every time now always sounded pretty much the same. In recording, the dynamic differences between loud and soft sections also needed to be minimized. Such restrictions had the side effect of once again splitting musical creation in two; what worked best for a live performance and what worked best for recordings was not always the same thing.
Though classical pieces still tended to be longer than what recordings could accommodate at the time, even those composers began to adjust to the new technology: Decrescendos a sort of fade out were incorporated into the music that would occur at the end of one side, and then a crescendo would ramp up on the flip side, so that there would be a smooth transition after you turned the record over.
Some composers were criticized for writing graceless transitions, when actually they were merely guilty of not compromising their creativity to better fit the new medium. Jazz teacher and author of Remembering Bix, Ralph Berton, describes how jazz cornetist and composer Bix Beiderbecke hated making records: Not only could recordings bring distant musical cultures in touch with one another, they also had the effect of disseminating the work and performances of singers, orchestras, and performers within a culture.
This music not only sounded different, it was socially different. It implied that there was a whole world of people out there who lived different lives and had different values than the people I knew in Arbutus, Maryland. Music embodies the way those people think and feel: This process of unexpected inspiration flows in multiple directions—out from a musical source to a composer, and then sometimes back to that source again.
Early British rockers were all inspired by recordings of mostly black American musicians and singers. Many of those American singers would never have been able to perform in Liverpool or Manchester though a few did tour the UK , but their recordings went where they could not.
To some extent, those British musicians did initially mimic their American idols; some of them tried to sing like black men from the South or from Chicago. Another loop of influence and inspiration occurred when African musicians imitated the imported Cuban recordings they heard—which were themselves a mutation of African music.
When I heard some of those African bands, I had no idea that Cuban music had been their inspiration. What they were doing sounded completely original to me, and I was naturally inspired, just as they had been. The process never stops. Contemporary European DJs were blown away when they heard Detroit techno. Recorded music can be ripped free from its context, for better and worse. It becomes its own context. The jazz soloing that had evolved in response to those dancers in juke joints could now be heard rattling the teacups in distant living rooms and parlors.
It was as if, as the result of watching television, we eventually came to expect ordinary conversation to be as witty and snappy as sitcom banter. As if that reality supplanted our lived reality. Had recordings done the same thing to music? All the studios wanted sound now. Thompson says that the technicians and engineers of ERPI saw their goal as more than just a technical accomplishment; they attached an ideological, cultural, and even moral aspect to their mission.
I can picture a group of uniformed men, heads slightly forward, brows furrowed, listening intently, communicating with each other through hand signals in perfect silence. The skills they were developing were, in my version, almost mystical, in that they might have been training themselves to be able to hear things the rest of us would miss or to become aware of sounds that we would hear only subconsciously.
While the listening training may have been important, in truth much of what they were assigned to do was pretty prosaic: Thompson writes about an ERPI team in Canton, Ohio, who heard a roaring sound coming from somewhere near the screen, and of course they had to track it down, find its source, and eliminate the offending noise.
ERPI was more than a little evangelical. Much like our present-day techno-utopians, they believed that there would be all kinds of profound repercussions and knock-on effects many of them completely unrelated to sound around the world as theaters were converted to sound.
In the early days of cinema, America was the primary source of films, so it was imagined that along with movies, American values—democracy, capitalism, free speech, and all the rest—would go along for the ride. The Erpigram published a poem expressing their hopes and aspirations: Quite soon among the Eskimos The fetish will be known While mid-equator cannibals Leave their cooking pots and Anabelles To hear the white sheet groan! Why ERPI—is the answer! The French, unsurprisingly, took offense at English blasting out of their cinemas, and they destroyed a theater.
Aspiring Indian filmmakers quickly learned how to use sound technology, and began making their own movies. Before long, India was the largest movie-producing country in the world. Movie studios equipped for sound also opened in Germany and Brazil, where a factory producing lightweight musicals churned out films for decades.
As with most missionary initiatives, the final result was not exactly what had been intended.
Instead of global hegemony and standardization, sound in films allowed hundreds of cultures to find their own cinematic voices. And that common language eventually enabled the unity that led to the ouster of the British Empire. The sequence of events that led to the adoption of tape is so accidental and convoluted that its invention and adoption were far from inevitable.
Just before WWII, Jack Mullin, an engineer from California, tried recording onto various mediums other than discs, but with limited fidelity or success. When he was stationed overseas during the war, he sometimes heard broadcasts of radio programs featuring German symphonies.
But none of them is as good as David Byrne s book He weaves his account of the evolution of music from animals to humans and the history of changes in the way music studios work into the most accessible and unpretentious narrative of such a story that I have yet come across.
David Rothenberg, "The Globe and Mail" A decidedly generous book welcoming, informal, digressive, full of ideas and intelligence and one has the pleasant sense that Byrne is speaking directly to the reader, sharing a few confidences he has picked up over the years.
Tim Page, "The Washington Post" An accomplished celebration of an ever-evolving art form that can alter how we look at ourselves and the world The chapter on the economics of music should be required reading for all year-olds tinkering with their GarageBand software and dreaming of dollar signs, while the section on How to Make A Scene is nothing less than a manual for urban regeneration through pop culture A serious, straightforward account of an art form that also manages to be inspiring.
You could do a lot worse than use it as a thinking-outside-the-box management manual or a college primer. Art and Society Stop Making Sense. It is as accessible as pop yet able to posit deep and startlingly original thoughts and discoveries in almost every paragraph This book will make you hear music in a different way.
Oliver Keens, "The Telegraph" Smart and impeccably researched A text to read and pick through time and again It s a must-read for anyone who has ever felt moved by a catchy tune and wanted more. James Ramsay, "BlackBook" " Read more You may have already requested this item. Please select Ok if you would like to proceed with this request anyway. WorldCat is the world's largest library catalog, helping you find library materials online.
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Would you also like to submit a review for this item? You already recently rated this item. Your rating has been recorded. Write a review Rate this item: Preview this item Preview this item. How music works Author: David Byrne Publisher: San Francisco [Calif. English View all editions and formats Summary: The Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductee and co-founder of Talking Heads presents a celebration of music that offers insight into the roles of time, place and recording technology, discussing how evolutionary patterns of adaptations and responses to cultural and physical contexts have influenced music expression throughout history and culminated in the 20th century's transformative practices.
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