Thursday, February 18, 2010

It is fascinating to observe how an imitation can so affect our notion of the real thing that the real thing vanishes even as we behold it. This morning I read in the New York Times a review of a ballet performance featuring a live pianist. The reviewer said the piano playing was "too blurred by half."

I wasn't there. I didn't hear it. But it makes me curious to go just to hear what I would hear. I suspect that the reviewer expects the piano to sound like the imitation piano sounds to which we are increasingly exposed in drugstores, on telephone "hold," even in Broadway shows.

An electronically imitated piano does not have strings. It cannot reproduce or even evoke the complexities of sympathetic vibration that are the piano sound. We are producing a whole new generation of pianists who strive to emulate the homogenized and pasteurized sound of the electronically imitated piano. Piano teachers seem dedicated to this sterilized notion of sound, perhaps to enable their students to practice on electronic keyboards without too much trauma. Are these proper manifestations of the power of the marketplace?

I suspect this reviewer had such a cleaned up model in mind when he pronounced the playing blurry.