Recording technology opens up large new realms to explore, but it also presents us with some dilemmas: how does one replicate a living, breathing performance in the medium of a recording? I began my musical life as a performer (a very serious pianist), and it is in the visceral world of physically playing music on a stage for a live audience that my musical ears and abilities were shaped. When my compositions are transcribed to recordings, I definitely do not have the same type of experience.
But surprisingly I find I usually like recordings better: in my own music I can achieve a more careful balance of the overall texture, which is often difficult given my typical layered and complex polyphonic approach to composition. I can record sections of the music many times and use the best “take” which can be important when the music is challenging to play, as mine usually is (according to the performers!). Many composers profess disappointment with the experience of a studio recording, as they feel it lacks the spontaneity and musicality of a live performance. But surprisingly I have not found that to be the case, at least not very often, when comparing my live recordings to the studio ones.
There is also an immediacy to modern digital recordings if well engineered, I feel like I am “inside” the sound, and there isn’t that sense of distance that separates the audience from the players onstage. And I can play it loud! In a live performance one has all of the excitement of an event which is happening now and won’t happen again in the same way, but somehow I often feel disappointed by the experience and miss the control I have with the fast-forward or review buttons on the CD or tape player. In the same way I gravitate to the act of composing, I also appreciate that in the privacy of my study I can go backwards and forwards in a recording and study and relish the special moments again and again at my pleasure.