Orchestra Tech: Introducing Technology into the Orchestra

Live Music versus Recordings

FRANK J. OTERI: I want to say something potentially even more heretical. I want to take it even further along. Older concert halls are not ideal for new music. Maybe the whole notion of concerts, which is a very 19th century idea is outmoded. Very early on in the discussion, Ray used the term “real time input” for performance. Now you can listen to music on a home stereo system or on the radio or on the Web, and other technologies will develop in the future. Maybe what we’re looking for in this new orchestral music, this new orchestra tech music is not necessarily a live concert hall experience. Maybe the ideal realm where this will work acoustically is either in a recorded format or some other non-concert hall type format.

RAY KURZWEIL: People are creating many new forms of music. A lot of the musical creativity is in experimental music, popular music, and many different genres. I imagine in Beethoven’s day you had folk music and classical music and his contemporaries were the cutting edge of the popular music. A least, that kind of folk music at that time. But the tradition that has come up from those classical traditions is not the only place where music is being created. As you say, a lot is being created, in terms of finished pieces of music, in non-real-time and it’s in a recorded form. But that’s not an audience experience. There’s something about a real-time expression of musicians making sounds to communicate in real time with an audience: an emotional, artistic, inspirational message.

TOD MACHOVER: If what you say will happen, and it is happening and will expand, we don’t need an orchestra for that. You could make everything by yourself in a studio. The BBC is a really interesting organization to watch right now. Sometime before next summer, they’re going to launch two new digital TV stations. One is going to be for education; one’s going to be for culture. They’re going to be completely connected with the Web. They’re pushing their own line and they’re really looking at it as a chance to think about how live performance fits into broadcast, fits into enhanced experiences, fits into being there watching something, having something that doesn’t always have to be live, a live kernel that branches out into other forms. And they’re a very interesting organization because they have orchestras and they have a real belief in performance and they also know what studio production is. I personally really believe in live performance. I love studio work, but I love live performance. I love the fact that you have this text that can be changed in different contexts and changed over time and changed for different audiences. I think that it’s a very important part of music, as much as I love studio work.

RAY KURZWEIL: There’s real communication going on in a live performance. An excitement and a chemistry and a magnetism that doesn’t exist in a recording, and so very often then, when you’re trying to capture by recording the live performance, it has certain imperfections. It’s hard to capture that immediacy of the emotional response of a real live audience. But there’s something magical about live performance. I’ve experienced that difference. You’ve got something much more polished, but a recording is a static object.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, well the amazing paradox at this point is that the majority of people have heard the Brahms symphonies through recordings rather than through live performance and ironically, most people have heard the Orchestra Tech-type works through a live performance because most of these works never even get recorded.

TOD MACHOVER: Yeah, that’s funny. Yeah, and actually one of the interesting things about the BBC model is how these different worlds can complement each other better.

GIL ROSE: And maybe this answers this question about how to go forward. It’s not un-historic. The radio orchestras in Europe were much more on the forefront of new music than the Vienna Philharmonic or the Berlin… There was always the Stuttgart Radio Symphony and that’s why there was a certain segment of musicians who really circulated through the radio orchestra networks. And even conductors like Hermann Scherchen, who were ahead of there time as far as integrating technology, really navigated through the radio symphony circles because there was a certain leeway they got there on projects. So maybe that’s the answer; we just have to get the BBC here.

TOD MACHOVER: Yeah, well I was thinking in this country, that kind of thing is so hard; to get media integrated, but you know, BMOP and WGBH. I think WGBH is clearly thinking about online media broadcasts.

GIL ROSE: In the end, it gets back to a certain level of support that the BBC has and again which a good organization used to do things like that. WGBH at one point did a broadcast of Britten‘s last opera Owen Wingrave, which was a television opera. WGBH mounted a production of it and broadcast it on television. Now that was in a different culture thirty years ago than what we have now. It gets back to that cultural question. If we could answer the cultural question we could probably drive the money to the right places, but we live in a country which is all descendents of people who came here for economic independence and low taxes and all of these things that make us Americans and that’s a hard thing to navigate.

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