Much has been written about Sergei Celibidache’s refusal to release recordings of his interpretations.

Many are the resaons were wielded by the late conductor, and many more can be deeduced from the overwhelming avalanche of recordings that threatens to swallow our everyday. Today’s reflection attempts to realize what is it that we lose by recording music.

So far I have found 3 aspects: the disconexion with the ever flowing pace of music, the acoustic marvels of a perfomer reacting to a cconcert hall, and the “soul” of the sound once it is converted to 1s and 0s.

About the first 2, please allow me to share a little story.

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As a young man, Sergiu Celibidache heard Furtwängler’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Fifth every night, and, every night, it was different, in particular as far as the tempo was concerned. Thereupon, Celibidache asked, “Herr Doktor Furtwängler, how do you determine the tempo?” Furtwängler responded: “Depending on how it sounds.” It took years until I understood the deep, philosophical significance of this remark. I believe that musicians come to terms with tempo far too soon. One must, however, also establish the sound content to a much greater extent. The decision on tempo is last. Only at the moment when I comprehend the piece, the content, the sound—consequently everything that belongs to it—do I ask the question, “What tempo suits this?”In this regard, I will tell you a story. As a young man, Sergiu Celibidache heard Furtwängler’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Fifth every night, and, every night, it was different, in particular as far as the tempo was concerned. Thereupon, Celibidache asked, “Herr Doktor Furtwängler, how do you determine the tempo?” Furtwängler responded: “Depending on how it sounds.”

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It took years until I understood the deep, philosophical significance of this remark. I believe that musicians come to terms with tempo far too soon. One must, however, also establish the sound content to a much greater extent. The decision on tempo is last. Only at the moment when I comprehend the piece, the content, the sound—consequently everything that belongs to it—do I ask the question, “What tempo suits this?”

About the 3rd aspect, the actual sounds that we lose in a recording (by the way, also an argument by Celibidache against recordings), let me share this exercise. To expose and explain just what is being taken from the listening experience when audio is compressed in the MP3 format. In a video posted on his website, ‘The Ghost in the MP3’, Ryan Maguire has taken the Suzanne Vega song, “Tom’s Diner,” famously used as one of the main controls in the listening tests to develop the MP3 encoding algorithm. Here we find the form of the song intact, but the details are just remnants of the original. The video is the MP4 ghost of a corresponding video created in collaboration with Takahiro Suzuki. Thus, both audio and video are the ‘ghosts’ of their respective compression codecs.”

The bottom line is this: The listener is being cheated of hearing the entire recording via MP3. While this may not be news to those who have been keeping tabs on such things, hearing these fragments that have been removed helps illustrate just what is actually happening. Of course, records have the occasional pop and skip, tapes get mangled now and again and a smudged CD will send your player into hyperdrive, but in all those formats, there was nothing taken out of the equation. Obviously, a higher grade cartridge or top of the line speakers make things sound better than your average close and play, but that was up to the discretion of the listener.
With the MP3, that choice is gone.

 

To close today’s entry, lets read the opinion of the master hinself:

What is the interpretation in what we are doing here? It’s nothing else but finding out what the composer had in mind. He starts from an experience and looks for the notes. We start with the notes to come to his experience. The artist adjusts according to what he actually hears! According to the actual result, and not to a theory! What does ’92’ mean in the Berlin Philharmonic, and what does it mean in Munich or in Vienna? What nonsense! Each concerthall, each piece and each movement has its individual tempo which represents a unique situation

For more Celibidache’s quotes, please visit.

Lost Sounds, or what do we lose by recording music?
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