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« Defects and Prizes (Sujatha) | Main | Fleeing the health care bill »

March 09, 2010


Funny, Sujatha. I had asked Prasad to post on the Cope-Emily phenomenon a while ago. He initially agreed and then declined later because he thought he'd had enough of the debate after participating in this long thread over at 3 Quarks Daily.

I would love to hear your own take on this matter. I hope Dean will weigh in too as perhaps also Andrew.

Wow, that was a super-long thread indeed. As for my opinion, the day that Emily can compose something like this:

is when I will acknowledge that there is more musicality to 'her' compositions. The excerpts in the article and the 3QD discussion from iTunes are superficially musical, but lack the punch and phrasing that a human composer would give it.

I have a recording of Cope's from the pre-Emily days, and it's a hoot. Barely Bach, mostly Mozart, some proto-Prokofiev...a real treasure of not quite right, not exactly bad, but not entirely good music. (One of my favorite recordings in my collection is an LP of a recital featuring a natural horn, a notoriously difficult instrument to play. I love achingly bad performances!) But for all my poo-pooing of technology's meddling in the arts, I appreciate Cope's work.

But of course the point is not to engage in yet another stupid Turing test. Who cares whether a machine can deceive? Humans themselves are perfectly capable of radical deception. And anyway Sujatha's Richter link illustrates not only Mozart's compositional skills, but Richter's interpretive genius. (I once drove across the greater LA metropolitan area in search of an out-of-print Richter recording, without luck. Later that week I dropped into a friend's record store where a pile of used classical LPs sat on the counter. I knew instinctively my record would be there. It was. At the very bottom.)

Now take this, silicon chip!

Darn it! I forgot Narayan. He too is a music aficionado. I don't know if Prasad has the energy left to comment here.

After naming all the A.B. authors who could opine on music and its technicality, it sure makes it clear that I may be the sole tin ear here.

Listening to a recording and to a live performance are entirely different experiences for me; I tend to be far less critical of the latter. Seeing and hearing must be inextricably linked, like taste and smell, so it is difficult to say definitively if music is received exclusively by the ear. To this, having experienced a concert by Evelyn Glennie, I am inclined to add the sense of touch as it facilitates resonance. So I sympathize with the person who had conflicting opinions of the music of Emily Howell in different settings.
While music plays a large role in my life, I know little about the technicalities of it, and how it is conceived and conveyed. There are composers and there are performers, but the practitioners I have come to admire most are arrangers, a tribe of unknowns who seem to have no role in classical music. Arrangers first, and then performers, are who make a piece of music spring to life, acquire color and grab my intestines; without their participation, compositions are artifacts of pen and paper, and now of computer.

Narayan is on the money respecting live versus Memorex (I mean, recording). They are two entirely different phenomena. I have records. I play them. Sometimes I listen to them and pretend they are more than mere proxies for what may have been the live performance whose recording is fixed in the disk. Usually, however, I just play records, like a nervous habit.

Narayan is wrong, though, about classical music and arrangers. For one thing, stereotypical (great pun, huh?) classical composers like Beethoven and Brahms were also their own arrangers. Composing a symphony entailed arranging it, too. But then take Liszt, who arranged Beethoven symphonies into solo classical pieces, or Benjamin Britten or Ralph Vaughn Williams, who each prepared orchestral arrangements of English folk songs.

But Narayan is right, though, about compositions as artifacts. Some musical artifacts are more interesting than others. Some of the scores of Cage and Xenakis are themselves wonders to behold.

I much prefer Alicia DelaRocha's rendition of Mozart's K310, compared with the Richter performance that I linked too- a case of much-listened-to CD trumping a one-time hearing of another performance. I'm not sure how I might react to a live rendition. Perhaps the audio imprint of listening to the same version over and over again might bias my judgement.
I remember learning a song from my music teacher long back and having the utmost difficulty in not slipping into the version rendered with all attendant frills by M.S.Subbulakshmi on one of her records. Human memory can initiate strange overrides, like faulty accelerators...

Is there an antonym for esprit d'escalier? Before Dean caught it, I realized that I was wrong about arrangers and Western classical music - I bite my tongue! I am stuck in the jazz/popular music groove where an arranger is oftentimes other than the composer. It also occurred to me that I don't know what exactly is meant by 'composition'. My simple minded view was that it is a melody or a string of melodies, having conceived and encoded which the author gets out of the way and leaves it to others to interpret.
My first reaction to the article was quite different. I had in mind, at the time, Sujatha's Toyota discussion. If a composer is also an arranger isn't there a strong claim to repeatability and reproducibility being built into the work? These are qualities that I do not care for at all in music. I'm afraid my ears can't detect variations in different performances of Western classical music. On the other hand I haven't made an effort to listen.

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