Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It is time to update the definition of amateur. It used to mean someone who played music for the love of playing. I think it has come to mean someone who imitates recorded music so proficiently that they can pretend to be professional. With that standard surely no one will notice the difference.

Recently I attended a round table on Deep Listening - you can hear it for yourself on the website of the Philoctetes Center. The process of recording a few prominent rock and jazz musicians was described in detail. One could argue with some of the decisions regarding overdubbing, but the goal was to capture the unique artistry of each featured artist.

At the end of the session a stereophile on the panel played his all-time favorite LP: Dame Janet Baker singing Dido's Lament from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. By contrast to the other recordings, this was unrelentingly sterile. The supposedly high class artist had been accorded less sympathetic attention than the pop singers.

The vulnerability that makes all music meaningful is endangered by the technological cool of misguided recording engineers. This cool has become the standard by which many people who really do love music judge their own playing and singing. Alas.