Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Why live classical music sounds better than recordings

There have been a number of musings On An Overgrown Path as to why recordings cannot quite capture the essence of live classical music. So I was delighted to find the following explanation of the shortcomings of sound reproduction in Harmonies of Heaven and Earth by Joscelyn Godwin. The author describes Ernst Hagemann's theory as being on the borderline between occultism and farce. But that is a facile way to dismiss it. In today's recording studios a plethora of digital tools means that only the beautiful forms enter the microphone. As a consequence the ugly spirits are absent, and so the full artistic experience is lacking. Why is why live classical music sounds better than recordings. And before dismissing this post as an amusing mix of farce and occultism, remember that a number of prominent musicians were profoundly influenced by Rudolf Steiner, including Bruno Walter and Jonathan Harvey.
The inevitable question, which could not have arisen before Edison's phonograph (1877) is, What happens when the tones are reproduced mechanically via a record or tape? Rudolf Steiner, speaking in 1923 shortly before his death, had condemned the gramophone as a source of music. Of course the gramophone of that time could only produce a travesty of live music, but according to his follower Ernst Hagemann the rejection was more than aesthetic. In an extraordinary passage on the borderline between occultism and farce, Hagemann solemnly described his own research with clairvoyantly gifted people in order to find out what happens to the elementals' function when music is mechanically reproduced. Not every detail was satisfactorily explained, but the consensus of several clairvoyants working independently was as follows.

On applying their second sight to the surface of gramophone records, they found them thronged with elemental forms - all dead. Looking through a magnifying glass, they could see even more of them! These, they said, are the lifeless replicas of the elementals who were constellated in the air, entered the microphone, and were 'shadowed' upon the record matrix during the original live performance. In order to carry over these dead copies into the physical world via the reproducing device, one needs the cooperation of other living elementals - tiny Gnomes, to be precise - whom the clairvoyants were able to perceive in the diamond or sapphire stylus. (One recalls that gemstones are traditionally associated with these earthly spirits). Through the Gnomes' agency, the very same kinds of elementals - presumably Sylphs and Undines - could be seen emerging from the loudspeakers as had been originally captured in the recording process.

So far the inadequacy of recordings was not proven. But the clairvoyants had more to say. At live concerts they did not just enjoy the visions of beauty which the music throws off into the air above the stage, visions which several artists have tried to capture. They also saw the concert hall beset by Spirits of Undine, vile, spider-like beings who swarm around whenever beauty is manifest, and crawl into our ears and noses while we are entranced by it. Everything must have its opposite, in order to create beauty. Man has to have the stimulus of the ugly. The greatest artistic natures, Hagemann says, are those who have felt this conflict the most keenly - even to a physical degree. During recording, however, it is only the beautiful forms who enter the microphone and whose fair corpses little the grooves of our records. The ugly spirits (who actually are no more evil than the manure with which we nourish our roses) are absent, and so the full artistic experience is lacking.
Header image shows one of the Goetheanum Cupola Motifs of Rudolf Steiner. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).Also on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment:

Acuvox said...

I agree with the dialectical metaphor. This is also an argument against even tempering. Historical temperaments which were highly evolved during the Age of Enlightenment favored notes and keys, producing wider contrasts of sweet and sour. The first time I heard a Baroque Orchestra this was a revelation, opening a whole new dimension to the sonic palette. The homogenization of equal scale divisions diminished musical expression.