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Live performance vs. VSL performance of piano quartet
Last post Tue, Jul 16 2019 by agitato, 27 replies.
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Posted on Sat, Jul 13 2019 17:04
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 96

What an interesting discussion!

I think jasensmith's analogy of actors and playwrights is spot-on.  I used to be a playwright (and actor) myself; I was always delighted to see what a good performer could do with even the most carefully and specifically worded dialogue and stage direction.  I was also subsequently disappointed and embarassed when a bad performer crushed my words into mundane, emotionless drivel.  I suppose it all boils down to who is performing your works.  If they're good, they'll elevate your ideas to a new level you never thought possible.  If they're bad, well...don't hire bad performers :)

I think it's also worth noting that the more room for improvisation, the farther a good performer will go towards elevating a piece of music.  In my opinion, great soloists in classical music tend to serve as virtuosic vehicles for the realization of precisely defined musical ideas, whereas in realms like jazz a great soloist is part of the compositional process itself since the musical ideas are so skeletal by design.  This is probably why samples go so far in the classical realm but often fall quite short when attempting to mock-up jazz.


It used to be an inevitable fact that composers had to put their works into the hands of others for them to even be heard (poor Rachmaninov...).  Now, samples give us every increasing fidelity and flexibility in bypassing that limitation.  So what's the point of live performance in the era of recording and digital audio?

I think William hit the nail on the head:

Originally Posted by: William Go to Quoted Post

Those are some good points - what it boils down to is the interest or perspective of the audience.  Are they interested in seeing their favorite  performers do their thing, or are they interested in the musical ideas of the composer?  Obviously both, but sometimes I think it is almost entirely  focused on the performers.  The person who wants to watch Yo yo ma play scales is involved in hero-worship, not music.

I don't believe for a fraction of a second that most people who go to a live performance do so just because they want to hear the music when it's so much cheaper (and often more sonically pleasing) to listen to a recording.  They want to see the music performed, to bask in the glory of the performer(s), to share an experience with friends/family, to get drunk and dance (at a non-classical show), to take selfies and post them on instagram, etc.   

Now, lest I be mistaken for a misanthrope, I don't think any of the above are bad things.  I just think it's the reality of live music; the music is only a fraction of the whole experience.  It's why I personally don't enjoy going to most live performances.  I want to hear the music, not watch the performer, and I can almost always do this more effectively on a good stereo system listening to a well-mixed and edited recording.  I also find watching performers - especially singers and pianists - incredibly distracting, but that's probably just a quirk of mine...

This is where I think the analogy to theater/film breaks down.  If we see a movie, we're obviously going to see it so we can watch a story unfold.  If we go to see music, are we going to listen to the music of the composer?  To dance to it?  To study how a particular soloist performs a passage we're working on?  To enjoy room acoustics that can't be enjoyed any other way?  To flaunt our wealth and social status by posting our 7th row seats on facebook?

So what's the point of live performance? 

I think the answer is this: can live performance do something for the music and the experience of listening to said music that digital audio reproduction cannot?  If the answer is yes, then live performance is worth chasing down.  If the answer is no, then we are incredibly, incredibly lucky to live in a time where we have affordable access to technology that can realize our musical ideas to increasingly accurate degrees.

Jus' my 2 cents

- Sam

Posted on Sat, Jul 13 2019 22:57
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5337

That's almost exactly how I look at it.  I think with a performance you go to see "performing" whereas with a recording you are listening to "composition."  If you go to a good enough performance ou can hear those ideas it is true, but even then  it is more "performing" you are attending to.  For example, instead of thinking "what a great contrapuntal accompaniment in the cellos" you are thinking "wow, those cellists are so good."  

Probably the best live performance I've heard was the San Francisco symphony playing the Planets under Seiji Ozawa.  It was wonderful and beautiful, and fascinating to hear the complex sound being created right there on the stage.  But I have to admit I wasn't thinking as much about Holst's orchestration or listening to how good the composition was, as much as just enjoying what the players were demonstrating.  

Another example is how I have listened to Mahler's symphonies.  If you went to a concert it would be an ordeal - your butt would be hurting probably, you would be distracted by the audience many times, there woud almost inevitably be errors in even a great orchestra because the music is so hard to play.  Whereas, compare that to listeniing to Georg Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony in Mahler's 8th - the famous recording that has been called the greatest recorded performance of all time - on headphones in a dark bedroom.  No one else around.  Only you and Mahler's music.  That experience is like going on a musical journey, or even a musical dream.  And it comes totally from it being a recording.  

To think that a composer can do something similar with VSL is very exciting and inspiring. 

Posted on Sun, Jul 14 2019 10:28
by jasensmith
Joined on Tue, Jan 15 2008, Arizona, Posts 1481

Originally Posted by: William Go to Quoted Post

And what you said about it being impossible for samples to surprise one - no, it has happened to me repeatedly.  In fact, what is hilarious is I had written off a number of pieces in my mind because I heard them played live and not very well.  I had concluded, well that piece isn't so great...  But when I later did a sample performance of it, I was not only surprised but SHOCKED - it was actually not bad at all!  and I heard the ideas I had imagined coming back at me instead of getting lost in the bad live version.  So that does happen with samples at least to me.  

Since you put it that way William you have a good point and my comment that you're reffering to was a bit premature in retrospect.  Damn it! I hate it when I do that  In fact, now that you mentioned it, at times I have been immensely impressed to the point of shock and awe (...er, um, surprised?) of just how much life samples can breathe into my compositions.

In addition, you and Seventh Sam brought up some other excellent points that I hadn't considered.  I really like your "head phones in a dark bedroom" idea because that's pretty much me except most of the time it's in my car driving.  

Considering that the vast majority of Classical music was composed before the miracle of digital recording it was written with a live performance in mind.  A live performance in front of an audience.  Things like, EQ, sound engineering, mastering, balance levels, and reverb never entered Mozart's or Bach's mind.  They weren't worried about putting some compression on the fortissimo part to prevent clipping they just wrote the music and left it to the players for interpretation.  So personally, if I go to a concert, I go to see a live orchestra playing Classical music but I enjoy a professional recording of the music too. 

Even though I come from a Pop background, I stopped going to Pop concerts a long time ago for the reasons that Seventh Sam mentioned.  Not only that, but with Pop music you're missing out on the artistic contributions of the sound engineer and the producer if you just go to the concerts and not bother listening to the recorded material.  With Classical music the recorded version would sound pretty much the same as the live assuming the same orchestra performed and recorded it.

Anyway, I think I'm beginning to ramble so I better quit.  Great discussion! Haven't had one of these on the forum in a while.  Thank you everybody for contributing. 

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it."
- W.C. Fields
Posted on Sun, Jul 14 2019 13:48
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5337

Jasen you're not rambling!  That's interesting - what you said about pop concerts is true and why the Beatles stopped performing them and went to only recording.  Sergeant Pepper's performed live?  That doesn't even make sense.   (Also, no one could hear the music over the screaming...)  But that album and all their other later ones were crafted as complete works of art, not just performances of the day.   

Now why did Glenn Gould go to only recordings? - that is a different story.  (Probably so his insane humming would be audible.)

Posted on Sun, Jul 14 2019 14:45
by Acclarion
Joined on Sat, Aug 15 2015, Canada, Eh!, Posts 443

Wow, this thread is alive, with the sound of musings :) 

First, Jason, thank you for waking up my baby half an hour early this morning, with your comment about the page turner in my video I shared.  I read it to Becky and she burst in to laughter so loud that the Queen of the Night has nothing on her...and that laughter woke my little girl preventing me from enjoying my morning coffee.  Seriously, that was the funniest thing I've read in a long time!  By the way, that page turner is available for hire, just contact me for details and rates.

To add to the discussion, I think what it comes down to is composers and performers both want their music/ideas to be understood and appreciated by an audience.  As was alluded to by Seventh Sam, people go to watch performers and often, the main way in which an audience interprets the music, is actually through the visual cues on stage, such as grand, sweeping gestures, facial expressions, audience reaction and more.  The general audience member will instinctively react to the music and determine whether or not it sounds good to them, but won't be able to delve deeper in to the actual substance of what they are hearing, especially upon a first listen of the work, which is typical for most classical/new music atendees.  

The composer, on the other hand, works in isolation, creating music that will largely be experienced on a very superficial level by most listeners, whether they consume a virtual recording, or attend a live performance.  I think this becomes the issue that alienates composers from their audience.  Music is a language of communication, and when the message is not fully received by the listener, through no fault of their own, the composer ends up internalizing the meaning of their work, and over time becomes more and more resistant to sharing outwardly with others.  After all, what's the point?  A live performance will potentially resonate with some audience members, but most will be, as has been mentioned, there to be seen.  Most will take away trivial meaning from the performance, talking over drinks afterward about what the pianist was wearing, or the hillarious scowl faces the conductor made as he stared a hole through the orchestra.  

Beyond this, the composer's relationship with the musicians is also volatile.  The composer knowing that the musicians are the conduit between their ideas and the communication of those ideas to an audience, rely on the musicians to essentially "speak on the composer's behalf."  Since musicians themselves often see a performance as "just another job" (especially work for hire musicians, or orchestras in which individual musicians have no ownership over what they must play), the passion that was poured in to the composition, is often lacking in the musicians, who of course, want to devote as little energy/time to learning a piece as possible (this goes back to Paul's well-founded argument that the music should be easy enough to motivate performers). 

As William said with Glenn Gould, one-of-a-kind performers suffer the same isolation over time.  As the recognition and fame develops, audiences want to come out and see the genius in action.  Despite the fact that the house may be full, someone like Gould is all too aware of how few in attendance actually give a damn about the music.  They're not married to it.  They're not obsessed with every intricate detail.  They don't listen to partitas with headphones in a dark room (love that, William!)  And so, someone like Gould, eventually sick of hearing another candy unwrapped, another whisper, another cough, and another meaningless standing ovation from an audience filled with only a handful of actually appreciative/knowledgeable listeners, decides it's not worth putting himself out there for the lemmings that fill the concert hall because it's the in thing to do.  Of course, with Gould, there's also the desire to explore recording technology and create the perfect technical masterpiece...even with his prodigious technique, he was known for exploring multi-tracking and other techniques to bring out exactly what he wanted in a given performance.  Again, though, the vast majority of listeners wouldn't identify the genius, and so his work belongs to the few that have the ability to interact deeply with it.

Bottom line, from my perspective, the composer/performer that wants to be understood by his/her audience, will have to communicate to them on a level that resonates with that audience.  If one decides to explore music in a way that challenges one's own abilities and helps them grow musically, they likely will suffer the apathy/indifference of the vast majority of people.  There's a reason that a youtube video in which a person fills a hotel room with balloons gets 4 million views, and a performance of Mahler gets 100 views.  The best musicians can do, is find a small, like-minded community and share their work amongst each other, knowing that the feedback of one person that actually was interested in/"got" the music, means more than a concert hall filled with people looking to be seen by others.


www.dearvillainmusic.com - music for live performance by David Carovillano

www.acclarion.ca - concert accordion & clarinet duo
Posted on Mon, Jul 15 2019 00:43
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 96

Originally Posted by: Acclarion Go to Quoted Post

Bottom line, from my perspective, the composer/performer that wants to be understood by his/her audience, will have to communicate to them on a level that resonates with that audience.  If one decides to explore music in a way that challenges one's own abilities and helps them grow musically, they likely will suffer the apathy/indifference of the vast majority of people.  There's a reason that a youtube video in which a person fills a hotel room with balloons gets 4 million views, and a performance of Mahler gets 100 views. 

Ironically, I think it's the internet (esp. youtube!) that is contributing to less apathy/indifference and more connection to art and artists.  Sure, the balloon videos get millions of views, but I bet you anything 90 of those 100 Mahler views a) wouldn't be able to afford a ticket to a Mahler concert, b) don't live anywhere where a Mahler concert is available, c) have never even heard of Mahler before browsing random classical music playlists on Youtube.  What's more, I find the comment threads on those types of videos to be very positive and uplifting; nine times out of ten it's someone sharing what the music means to them, how much they like the part at a certain timestamp, how the music got them through a hard time in life, etc.  It fills me with no small amount of joy to see how music, even through such a seemingly vapid medium like youtube, brings all sorts of people together :)  Of course there are trolls and the like, but they seem to be an oddly small minority in those kinds of videos...

Originally Posted by: Acclarion Go to Quoted Post

The best musicians can do, is find a small, like-minded community and share their work amongst each other, knowing that the feedback of one person that actually was interested in/"got" the music, means more than a concert hall filled with people looking to be seen by others.


Agreed!  Good thing this forum exists...

One of the greatest gifts an artist could ever receive, I think, is to have another artist analyze and understand their work.  It's nice to have people say things like, "It's so lovely!" or "I really liked it!", but it's pretty neat when someone says something like, "Yo, that tritone you snuck in on bar 52 that works despite being an unresolved dissonance because it's hinting at the parallel Lydian mode?  That sh*t was fire, bro!".

That said, I think the best art (and music) is such that can be enjoyed by anyone of any denominator.  Like Bach.  Catchy and sing-able melodies for the lemmings, super-computer level harmonic and contrapuntal content for the Glenn Goulds!  

- Sam

Posted on Tue, Jul 16 2019 04:46
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 333


Ive been away for a while. This thread is quite interesting. I am yet to read all the comments but on the topic of live performance, I thought of sharing a section from "Music in the western world"...even Mozart was not immune to bad performances!

Hope you enjoy:




Anand Kumar
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