Saturday, January 02, 2016
New music beyond the reality distortion field
A friend whose views on both music and technology I respect tells me that in recent months he has cut his time online by 70%. That is an admirable achievement and in 2016 I hope to emulate him. In recent weeks I have absented myself from the social media defined online reality distortion field as much as possible, and instead have spent more productive time listening to music and reading. Among the recordings that I found very rewarding are Sony's 39 CD Bruno Walter Edition, the Spanish label Pneuma's Ibn Arabi compilation Morade de la Luz, the International Contemporary Ensemble performing the music of the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Francesco Provenzale's Missa Defunctorum for 4 voices from the 17th century, and Michael Hersch's epic piano cycle The Vanishing Pavillions from the 21st century.
I was particularly taken with Anna Thorvaldsdottir's In the Light of Air. Here is a contemporary composer who uses textures and forms in the same way as a sculptor. What is particularly striking is that although the textures and forms she creates in sound are startlingly original, they also exhibit, like Henry Moore's masterpieces, a familiarity that makes them accessible - video sample via this link. The impeccably engineered recording from Sono Luminus comes on two CDs: one is encoded in the standard red book CD format, the other has the same music encoded in three high resolution surround sound formats. As well as auditioning the music on my reference stereo system I was able to hear the DVD audio 5.1 24/192kHz surround version, and the benefit of the high resolution sound was immediately apparent. However I am from the last generation whose classroom was the concert hall, and I am conditioned to the spatial conventions of the concert platform as represented by a stereo image spread between two speakers. So, for me, the surround sound mix was mildly disorientating. But this caveat simply highlights the fundamental shift in the way that classical music is being listened to. This shift in listening habits from proscenium arch stereo to multi-channel surround and binaural headphones is key to understanding how to engage new audiences, but it is one that classical music remains in denial about.
Sono Luminus' inclusion of high resolution formats on a bonus disc (the two discs are priced as for a single CD) is an admirable example of technology being used in the service of art, rather than vice versa. My recent complaints about the imposition of social media's reality distortion field on classical music prompted the usual online invective of "facile-minded gibberish" and "anti-tech" from a self-appointed music technology evangelist, while the deputy editor of the BBC Music Magazine tweeted: "Not sorry to see the back of the Overgrown Path. Pompously written, it lacked both charm and meaningful content". I leave it to you to judge my style and content; however I am anything but anti-tech, and spent more than thirty years professionally involved in sound recording, digital technologies, and the Internet. I believe passionately in the value of technology in the service of art and commerce. What I object to is the misuse of technology to create a reality distortion field that serves personal and corporate agendas at the expense of art, as is happening in classical music. Which is why I will be spending much more of my time off-line in the future.
My thanks go to Alex Ross for the heads up on Anna Thorvaldsdottir's In the Light of Air. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.