WMV Music Web Log

Musical musings by Carl and guests

Friday, April 30, 2004

From Mike Strand:

Dear Carl,
I am convinced more than ever that live musicians are essential to music! Hearing Bach on viola and piano was a joy for me. My wife especially liked the Mozart (viola and sax singing together - sounded terrific in your little warehouse!), and my daughter Jennifer was laughing so much through Satie, I was glad of your tolerance and the informal "among friends" spirit of the concert. Even Jennifer's boyfriend, who is in federal law enforcement and likes to joke about people who are "artsy-fartsy", enjoyed the informal atmosphere, and he and I (and I bet most everyone else) loved hearing from Mr. Hauck about space and the spirits of Columbus, Magellan, Mozart, Bach, and Satie. My eldest daughter regrets not having been there, but she had a good excuse - her baby has been keeping her awake for several nights running. Alison, my youngest, says it was "cool".

I wish Andrew Stiller could have been there - I want to tell him that I wish I had written his piece - I hope I'll have that opportunity some day.

Your interpretation of "To Native Americans" pleased me and gave me the impression I had only heard it a few times, long ago. (Maybe while it was in my thoughts and feelings, yet to be put down on paper). Your performance was proof of the superiority of the human spirit, touch, and mood of the moment over computer precision! I had feared a tendency of the music (especially the computer rendition) towards tom-tom monotony, but you made it sing and brought variety to it. And maybe the most satisfying for me - my wife Linda closed her eyes to listen to it, and she (ever honest) told me she liked it! So thank you again for your interest, and for making a dream come true.

Best of luck and have fun with the May 8 concert, and I hope to send you more music to your liking in future. The tango duets, I now think, would sound better with sax and piano that with flute/violin and piano! And "Jaque Mate" - would a pairing of sax and violin as the two "chess players" be a good thing?

Mike Strand

Thursday, April 29, 2004

EVOLUTIONS III is doing what it is supposed to do - that is, making us all very uncomfortable. We have a jazz guitar player as soloist in a concerto for theremin, oboe, and strings. And we have a piano trio embedded in a jazz ensemble. "Embedded" sounds like the journalists and the military, a funny metaphor. I am learning a lot about music, so it is already a success as far as I am concerned. The Milhaud tribute to American jazz, "La Creation du Monde", is the most conservative part of the program. Jazz players have a different language and a different understanding of the elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm. They literally play by different rules. All of which can be terribly enlightening when reflecting back on classical tradition, as in the arbitrariness of those rules. It really is a game, a wonderful game full of meaning and feeling and intimacy and ritual.

I think if we approach the concert as this wonderful experiment, where if something goes wrong we stop and fix it, everybody will be OK with that. It will be worth it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

More thoughts on recording:
There is a temptation to become intoxicated with the beauty of sound per se, as opposed to its meaning. Just as there is the temptation to become intoxicated with the power of the technology. Sometimes the impeccable surface obscures the meaning of the music - I often deliberately listen to music in noisy places or on a poor audio system to listen for what is beneath the surface. Sometimes it cannot be heard at all and I conclude that there is nothing there.

Like most musicians, I rarely listen to recordings for pleasure. I play along, or listen repeatedly to a new work to get a sense of what it is about.

I am thinking about recording as a kind of hybrid collaboration between human performance and mechanical and synthetic capabilities. The producer and engineer are as much a part of the final product as the musician. It is more like a painting than a performance - it can be endlessly altered and adjusted to "be" whatever is desired. It is attractive to produce such an artifact that can be handled repeatedly, tested in different circumstances and states of mind, created and pronounced "good".

Performance has a different significance for me - it is more social, more ritual, and place and time delimited. "You had to be there", of course. Then there is recording as the documentation of performance. This I find more interesting than studio recording - more photography than painting, I guess. It can't replace the performance any more than a picture replaces a person, but it might have some value that I would like to explore further. It might retain a taste of the event, communion at a distance, or encourage a solitary meditation. I am also convinced that whatever is really there can be heard through the imperfections attendant on "live" recording - if something really happened, a trace should be left on the audio tape. I am sure I have heard this - but it is a paradoxical fact that genuine communication is incompatible with impeccable performance - there is always a stutter, a lapse, an error, a fall - and so maybe all the best recorded performances get thrown away.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

From Mike Strand:

Dear Carl,
I greatly enjoyed your Apr 12 blog. Your comments could easily apply to the computer files I have sent you of my music. You could say they are "perfect", in a sense - but that means (and sounds to me) perfectly mechanical or robotic. Even ludicrous, in places - in which case, I blame the computer sound, not the composer.
A fair analogy might be typewriting or email versus a face-to-face meeting or a phone call.
The computer gives some composers a handy way to produce a legible score. I like to work first at the piano, trying sounds, experimenting, and writing down notation by hand. Then I go to the computer to produce a legible score. In some cases, where the composer is only an average player (like me) or does not have access to live musicians, the corresponding computer sound file gives the composer and other musicians a basic idea of how the music will sound.
Music does have it's technical, dry aspect, a fact that brings headaches to the composer. But live players are needed to bring it to life (assuming the music itself has what it takes to be brought to life!). The touches that sensitive, skillful, and discerning human performers would be likely to add, such as accent on the first note of each group of bass notes, pedal effects, melodic phrasing, subtle delays or slides in attacking a note (as in tango), or making one voice stand out from the others with feeling, are impossible to reproduce in many music software packages (at least by me, with my software!). Even a slow crescendo (I think of the one played by Horowitz in one of Chopin's less-well known Polonaises that sounds like an approaching, then overpowering cavalry) are beyond my computer music skills. And if you've heard much tango, played with fire and imagination by a live group, you can appreciate the limitations of my computer version of "Jaque Mate". I can hardly wait to hear it played by people!
Thank God for players of musical instruments! May we never have to be satisfied with computer renditions. And some of the greatest sounds, I'm convinced, have been discovered by hitting the "wrong" notes and improvising on them. Maybe visual art (painting) is like that, too.
Best wishes to you and Marilyn,
Mike Strand

Monday, April 12, 2004

You know, I really like computer realizations - I mean, every note is there in exactly the right rhythm, and at any speed. The synthetic instruments are very very good if the composer is skillful. Some composers prefer that their scores be performed by the computer - after all, it is more accurate to the composer's intentions. I like them because I can practise along with them, and there is no confusion about who is right or wrong - it's always me who is wrong!

I also like them because it clarifies what I am actually supposed to do - which is decidedly not to compete with the computer! I am supposed to be the human in the equation, the one who is changeable, fallible, emotional, imperfect, dreaming, musing, meditating, communicating... It frees me to be more of all that, and less worried about impeccability. I played something for Marilyn the other day and she said it was boring; what was it really all about? - well, I was doing everything the composer asked - he had provided quite detailed directions including metronome markings, pedalings, etc. I went back to the score and asked myself, what is it really about? I decided that I had to free myself at least from the metronome markings (I almost always have to - even Brahms is said to have regretted every metronome marking he published).

Also, dynamics usually are "descriptive" rather than "directive." That is, when a composer marks "forte", he or she means that it sounds loud - it might sound loud because there are a lot of instruments playing, or the piano is playing a lot of notes together, or because the pedal is down, or notes on the instrument in that register sound loud, or just because that is the illusion created by the juxtaposition of those particular harmonies, in that particular acoustic space. It does not usually mean, please bang hard on the piano keys here! There is really very little excuse for a pedantic approach - after all, the computer is the ultimate pedant, and I just can't compete!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

An old friend sent me a gift last week - a set of the new SONY remastered Dylan CDs, in the high resolution super-CD format that SONY is pioneering. It is hard to imagine a more potent object entering the house - 16 CDs that have shaped my life continuously since the mid 1960's, sounding the way a fly's eye looks under a microscope. So, that song actually had a piano line hidden under the guitar track. Or an early electric blues in which the guitar cuts like a knife. I am no audiophile, but I covet every bit of musical detail that I can extract from these songs. The box sits like a small treasure box in my living room, challenging me to do bigger things, perhaps uncomfortable things, in the years to come. This new gift from the universe, through Bob Dylan, through my old friend David, through this new project which he has shepherded at SONY, is now my responsibility and my delight.

I've had an odd sensation lately like vertigo when I think about the upcoming concerts - like a climber looking down. How can things get so out of hand when everything I do is self-generated? Well, things are no longer entirely self-generated. After more than six years there is a community of musicians, composers, listeners, supporters, poets, artists, and venues who are all expressing enthusiasms, preferences, excitement, wishes, impatience, etc. That is great, it is wonderful, it's what I always wanted - and it is also unfamiliar and insecure. All too often, people look at me with I suppose admiration and exclaim, "How can you do all that?!" - and I wonder, how CAN I do all that, and maybe I CAN'T! Or maybe I am cheating and I will be found out; or maybe I should explain that I don't really play all the notes, or that I have discovered some tricks, or it's all an illusion, smoke and mirrors. Smoke and mirrors, that's what John Morris says about his administrative skills, which no one who knows him would ever doubt. Sometimes I feel like shouting defensively, "Don't you dare try to stop me!" Other times I want to admit, of course it's an illusion - the only realities are love and obsession.


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