Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The sound of louder music
'A recording of overwhelming emotional power: the power of Bach combined with the great themes of Coltrane. The resulting sonorities are literally unheard-of: classical sound plus the mix of a pop album' - Raphaël Imbert's excellent Bach-Coltrane album which featured here recently hardly needs marketing-speak to promote it. But the promotional copy quoted above from the record label's website may be the tip of an iceberg.
My header image shows how the Grateful Dead's 1974 Wall of Sound redefined louder music. Even before that Stockhausen wrote Stimmung for six amplified voices. Then in the 1980s Xenakis decided that amplification was the only way to balance a harpsichord against percussion in Komboï. In the twenty-first century Jordi Savall uses subtle amplification for instruments such as the santur in his concerts of medieval music. And the new English National Opera production of Bernstein's Candide, transplanted from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, used sound reinforcement, which didn't please everyone.
Is amplification the next big thing for classical music? Will a generation who have grown-up on pop be turned on by classical music mixed rock style? Is there going to be a revival of recording styles that don't use concert hall perspectives, such as Decca/London's Phase 4 Stereo from the 1960s with its twenty channel console seen above? Is the sound of louder music the way to reach new audiences? Is this the end of silence as we know it?
Below is one of the classic Phase 4 Stereo releases which includes, as a filler, Stokowski's orchestration of Debussy's The Engulfed Cathedral (La cathédrale engloutie). Now read how Stokie's experiment with louder music in that work had to be abandoned when it made his orchestral players ill.
Header image of the Grateful Dead's 1974 Wall of Sound RatSound.com. Middle schematic of Phase 4 Stereo is from the Endless Groove. Phase 4 Stereo image is from a site with some real nostalgia for vinyl freaks. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk