What exactly is live music?

"Way more than 50% of our output is live music ..." claims BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright in a revealing article about a new jazz radio station in today's Guardian.

But Radio 3's definition of live is slightly different to yours and mine. As I reported here in February 2007 virtually all evening concerts on Radio 3, except the Proms, are pre-recorded. But the BBC counts these recordings as 'live' performances, and the text streamed with their FM broadcasts describes them as 'live concert recordings'.

In a wonderful example of BBC corporate-crapola Radio 3 defines 'live' as any music recorded with an audience present. Which has important implications both for musicians who earn their living from live music making, as these recorded 'live' performances can be repeated, and for audiences, who may find real concerts with living breathing musicians disappearing.

If Roger Wright turned up at a concert hall for a 'live concert', and found a pre-recorded performance being played through speakers wouldn't he feel cheated? It's not a stupid question - that's what is actually happening in my header photo. Read about it here.
Header photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
I've tried to keep this post a sensible length. But there are other claims made by Roger Wright that need to be challenged. Particularly -

"Way more than 50% of our output is live music ... there's no way you can operate that as a computer-generated playlist. You've got to do it with humans."

BBC Radio 3's 'live recorded' evening concert slot is fixed at a 1 hour 45 minute duration.

Every selection of music needs to fit into that slot. It is now well known among other UK concert promoters that the BBC will only take your concert if it fits into a 105 minute slot including link announcements, so programming becomes a mathematical exercise.

Whether it is computers or humans doing the sums this fixed time window produces bizarre results -


Pliable said…
Presumably the 105 minute slot was determined by the need to accomodate the longest works in the mainstream repertoite - Mahler and Bruckner symphonies for instance?

In the same way Sony and Philips fixed the maximum capacity of a CD at 80 minutes on Herbert von Karajan's recommendation that the new medium should be able to accomodate Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

But there are major works that cannot be accomodated in Radio 3 evening slot. The Matthew Passion is the obvious one. I am sure readers can provide other, non-opera, works that exceed 105 minutes. (Bernstein's ultra-slow Enigma Variations, with the BBCSO no less, doesn't count.)
Garth Trinkl said…
RE: corporate-crapola and the so-called "rule of 105"

When Classical WETA-FM, in Washington, D.C., recently polled its listeners and learned that they wanted to hear Mahler and Bruckner symphonies, the station obliged and broadcast a movement from each composer as part of their listener-choice top 100 countdown....


But to keep with your actual question, Sofia Gubaidulina's "Saint John Passion and Easter" apparently clocks in at 150 minutes. I look forward to hearing this work live or on a "live-delayed basis", despite some of the luke-warm British reviews of the epic work.

Pliable said…
Garth, please don't tell that to the BBC. They've already started playing extracts in record programmes - http://www.overgrownpath.com/2008/01/bbc-radio-3s-weir-and-wonderful.html

We are not far away from a Prom conducted by a reality show winner coupling the Mahler 5 Adagietto with some Lennon and McCartney.

Think I joke? Look at 9.37 yesterday - http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/breakfast/pip/q02ez/
Garth Trinkl said…
Oh my god ... don't tell Sharon Rockefeller's Classical WETA-FM, or this weekend could morph into wall-to-wall Mozart, and Lennon and McCartney.

On a 'serious' note, even the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas found it necessary (sadly) to drop one movement from the world premiere of Robin Holloway's Fourth Concerto for Orchestra, Opus 101; almost exactly a year ago.

I still recall critic Joshua Kosman's wonderful review ("Big Audio Dynamite ...") of that concert of early February 2007:


I would hope that the BBC would have broadcast the full Holloway "Fourth" (ca. 75') by this time; although perhaps I am wrong (having been confined lately to wall-to-wall 'Mystery' reruns).
Yvonne said…
«Which has important implications both for musicians who earn their living from live music making, as these recorded 'live' performances can be repeated»

A question (based on my understanding of concert planning and of a somewhat similar public broadcaster in a C'wealth country): Can the BBC really re-broadcast a live concert recording without further payment of rights to the performers?

I would have thought that they had the rights for one broadcast of a performance (whether direct or delayed) and that plans for repeat broadcasts would need to be negotiated accordingly. The apparent variation might be if there were multiple performances of a program, each recorded, which would then yield the corresponding number of broadcast rights.

Does anyone have clear information on this re the BBC that they can share? I'm curious.

And for what it's worth, I have less of an issue with the distinction between the direct broadcast of a concert and the delayed broadcast of a concert. Both still capture the spontaneity and occasion of the live concert before an audience (especially if the delayed broadcast uses commentary/presentation also recorded at the time "as if direct"). And the option of a delayed broadcast allows for more flexibility: if two equally interesting concerts are both held on the same night, for example, or for the broadcast of a lunchtime concert in the evening when more people might be able to listen to it, or for the broadcast of a concert in one time zone at a time more congenial to listeners throughout the whole country (this last not a concern for the BBC, I realise).

After all, the performance captured and transmitted is indeed a "live performance" (as in not studio and not edited from recording takes) and "live concert recording" is an honest descriptor. It's just that not all the broadcasts are "direct". I say, thank God we have the technology that allows the possibility of delayed broadcasts. I'm sure there must have been as many (if rather different) constraints on performers and presenters in the early days of broadcasting.

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