Homework: Record Effect reading

One of my absolute favorite pieces by one of the best music writers currently working (Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker) is a review of books looking at recorded music:


Please read this article before class on Tuesday. For us, the issue is making sense of the impact recording makes upon music (and music education). This should give us more room to think about recording as a possible music literacy.

Below: here’s a poster for a class at the YMCA (where I stayed in NYC last week for the AERA conference):

Hip Hop class at NYC YMCA

Explore posts in the same categories: Do and Due, Readings

20 Comments on “Homework: Record Effect reading”

  1. Sara G. Says:

    I found this article to be very interesting. As a string player, I was very surprised that the origins of vibrato came from a recording. Nowadays, it seems very out of place not to use vibrato in solo and orchestral pieces. This article also brings up the debate we were talking about in our MUS 110 class. The difference between Studio-Audio Art and Live recording and performances. Sure, Studio-Audio art has its advantages. You can manipulate anything and everything. But there is that allure and excitement attached to live performances. I love watching live musical performances, be it classical or classic rock. There is something about the interaction between the ensemble and the audience that cannot be found in a recording. And because of that relationship, I believe that live performances will never really “die.” There’s a sort of symbiosis that occurs, and that cannot be replicated when you are listening to something on your iPod. I watch SNL on a regular basis, and studio 8H, where they tape the show was the original recording studio for Arturo Toscanini and the NBC orchestra. When a musical guest performs on SNL, and they sound good on TV, they truly sound good, because that studio has excellent acoustics. I remember watching Maroon 5 perform on SNL once, and i was disappointed. The vocals were out of tune, and it did not sound as clean as it did on the recording. So, in conclusion, studio-audio art can hide many flaws, but it is nothing compared to an actual live performance.

  2. travismarkley Says:

    I thought this article was pretty cool. Just reading about some of the origins of recording is an interesting subject. I really liked the fact that Soussa thought recordings were going to destroy music, even though recordings were really helping African American artists get recognized and listened to more often. I also thought that the part about violin vibrato was very interesting because I would have never thought about where it had actually came from. I think recording has been a good thing for music. I think live performances may have suffered some, but not too much. And overall, recordings have given so much exposure to pieces from all over the world.

  3. Eric Swanson Says:

    I found this article really thought-provoking. I thought it was very interesting how the recording music split the opinions about music between those who play and those who listen. Recordings made music available to everyone, so everyone could be exposed to this culture and could be inspired to take up their own form of music making, no matter how big or small. Performers could either create “perfect” recordings of songs using state-of-the-art editing technology, or take their creativity to new heights by creating, mixing, editing, and editing sounds that usually can’t be created in a live performance. This caused a standard of perfection to be implemented among performers and thus the quality of music continues to grow even today.

  4. radford2 Says:

    I liked the article because it gave a very well researched background in the origins of the recording industry. I also think that Soussa’s negative opinion of them has some value, but not enough to eliminate recording entirely. However, I do admit that I would probably see a lot more shows and concerts if there were less recordings, or even if it weren’t so easy to download songs. The violin vibrato was very interesting to me and makes me wonder whether the singer’s vibrato originates with the recording industry as well.

  5. katieh Says:

    I really enjoyed the quote by the German guy who said that “The machine is neither a god nor a devil.” I agree with this statement, it’s very simple and truthful. He is simply saying that the machine is what we make of it. It on its own has no power over us. We tell it what to do–like the media. Even though we say that the media and technology are taking over, we are allowing this to happen. We keep inventing new technologies and feeding information into the media, so it keeps growing and evolving. The “machine” cannot rule itself without us giving it room to grow. And so, the technology keeps improving. We learn more every day, and new technologies are born all the time. With music, it is getting easier to attain music to listen to and create. There are obviously ups and downs, but the fact is that we have done this ourselves, it is not the fault of the machine.

  6. oliver3 Says:

    I think this article was interesting in that the issues seen with recording technology in the beginning are issues that we see today. When Sousa said that he was worried that recording technology might make the musician obsolete I realized that that is the kind of thing we’re facing today to an extent. Maybe the situation today isn’t as dire as Sousa had predicted but at the same time we’re facing a music industry that is against the ropes because of ease of access to music. I think one thing that he could’ve brought up was the recording industry’s abuse of the musician. Louis Armstrong cut the Hot Five Records fora few bucks at the most and the records became the most selling records of their time making the recording studio thousands and thousands of dollars which was a fortune in those days.

  7. Batman Says:

    This article was cool for several reasons. The top two were how people thought of recording as they were being invented, and the second is how recording have changed how we play. There were already controversies about if this technology was good or bad as it was being invented. Some people realized how good it could be for the music industry, but other people also thought that it destroyed music. People from different cultures began to play with a similar style. On the other hand, a student could here several recording to make their own style. Recordings have also changed the way we play because recordings are perfect. No live performances are ever perfect, but we now strive for perfect technicality because of the perfect recordings. I think people would emphasize character over technicality if recordings were never invented. Regardless, it is a very interesting article.

  8. Ben K Says:

    There was a lot of stuff in this article that was pretty interesting to find out about. The origins of vibrato was especially interesting. I never knew that before. The debate over musicianship and technology with recording I think is pretty compelling, especially now. So much of recorded music now-a-days is basically spliced up, turned around, and almost entirely redone. I think that a lot of the skills involved in doing all that stuff is impressive, and I know it takes a lot of hard work and talent, but in terms of musicianship and the quality of the musician, how can we really even tell what there talent is based on a recording? That’s why I think live concerts will really become bigger and bigger, although I”m sure even technology can effect live performances.

  9. Emily D Says:

    I’m not sure if I agree with Sousa… Don’t know if I should say that…
    But I think that recordings didn’t kill musical performance. I DO think that it puts responsibility where it wasn’t before. Now that it’s so easy to listen to music online, it becomes the responsibility of music enthusiasts(notice I didn’t say professional musicians) to go out and listen to, support, and experience music first hand. But it IS exciting that people everywhere can listen to all kinds of music.
    I think it’s sad though, that now that we can edit music to sound perfect. perfection has become the goal. I think that people everywhere should be able to make, share, and enjoy music as well as listen; I feel that art, not flawlessness, should be the goal.

  10. mike k Says:

    I was fascinated at how much music changed with the advent of wax cylinders and recording devices – when you think about it, it makes sense, but otherwise these are things that are easy to overlook. I like how the article described early recordings in that they discouraged classical music for its subtleties in favor of loud genres like jazz and rock, which explains why these types of music became so popular.

    Though I can see where Sousa was coming from with his fears that live music would be replaced with recordings, recordings provide the masses with just about anything they want to listen to. Without recordings, musical genres would not be so clearly defined and many people would have no idea that there are genres that exist that they would like had they known about them – especially in world musics and traditional music.

  11. jschwar7 Says:

    It was pretty cool to read about how vibrato started out just to make bigger notes in a piece heard better. Then it was mimicked again and again. The recording device can then pick up all the semitones as well. Pretty cool stuff. Recorded music seems to be the way of life these days. Everybody has an iPod or headphones in their ears on the way to class. This wasn’t possible everyday like it is now. So a little something to think about there is what was the life life without recorded music?

  12. kditsch Says:

    This article was very interesting to read. It is sometimes hard for students our age to completely understand what life would be like without recordings. Much of our lives are based on recordings. I know that I wake up every morning to my Ipod, and throughout the day, I am constantly listening to my music. Sousa had an interesting thought when he said that the phonograph would lead to the downfall of music. In a way, it already sort of has. Now, instead of having to go see concerts to hear the music of our favorite artists, we can just download it off of the internet. It has also been hard on the musicians because there is so much illegal downloading going on, that they are no longer making the same amount of profit as they used to. They now have to rely on other ways to get their audiences attention and hope that their fans can support them. I think that it will be definitely interesting to see what the next 10-15 years brings us within the music industry.

  13. theresas Says:

    I enjoyed this article and how it described music in relation to the recording industry, and I especially liked the connection Sousa made that recording technology may take away from certain aspects of performing. I think he had a very valid point, but recordings are also essential to the growth and expansion of music. Take folk country music for example. Country music was unheard before the 1920’s except for people in certain areas within Appalachian mountain region until the recording industry slumped and began looking for fresh material to make money. They recorded this music and marketed it, and many people got to experience and like it. Without the recording industry, we would have no idea what music exists in the world, and this industry lets us experience everything.
    I don’t know if that gets to the point, but my point is that we need to embrace the recording industry. It may make unreasonable expectations for musicians, but it keeps music progressing forward. Without the industry, I think there would be less motivation to keep pressing on… we just need to learn how to use this in a positive way for everyone.

  14. Aaron K Says:

    I found this article very interesting and thought provoking. Alex Ross always has very interesting arguments. I agree with lots of what everyone has said already. I don’t think we can imagine how our lives and our musicality would be if it weren’t for recordings. Recordings not only give you the opportunity to listen to a certain performance, but from it you can take different ideas and expand on them and make them your own. With every new piece I learn, I listen to several different recordings to see what certain people did differently, and everyone has a new idea. From these ideas, I begin do develop my own ideas and make the piece my own. Without the advent of recordings, we wouldn’t be able to do this. On the other hand, there is nothing like a live performance. A truly live performance only lives once and it’s the memories and the impact that it has that keeps it alive. The thrill that any can happen, that you have one chance to get it right…this is why live theater, live concerts, etc are so intriguing, because of the thrill. The feeling you get when you’re on stage about to start, the feeling of being an audience member about to watch someone do something amazing, the ambiance of the room, these are only present at live settings. However, is it fair that only the people who were lucky enough to get tickets are the only ones to experience great concerts? No, and this is were recordings come in. Recordings give you a sense of what was there. That and learning from them are why I think that the age of recording as revolutionized music and kept it alive, because people are being exposed to different things all the time, and you can get a recording of almost anything. Recordings make it possible for everyone to experience great music.

  15. eskayve Says:

    This article was very interesting to me. It was fascinating to learn how recording technology developed, people’s opinions on its development, and how new recording technology changed the way we play. I partially agree with Sousa’s belief that recordings will take away from performing. I think that many more people now listen to music on iPods, treating it as just background music as they go through their day. Years ago, it was a treasure to hear music, because it only was heard live. Less people attend concerts now because they can hear the music anytime. However, a major contributor to that is ticket prices. I love seeing performances, but many times it is too expensive to go often. But being the performer has to be one of my favorite things… it is so thrilling and I learn so much simply by having the experience. On the other side of the debate, one of the positives of recorded music is the ability to become exposed to groups at very little cost (compared to that of a performance). The ability to have music with me always brings sound into life, making everything so much more enjoyable. As a jazz musician, one of the main things I like about recorded music is having the ability to study recordings and transcribe them, which really helps me develop as a player. Performances can be remembered through recordings. Lastly, when I am able to record my own performances and practices, I can learn so much about what I should and should not change, which helps me improve immensely.

  16. glenn e Says:

    This article is full of great little trivial tidbits that accrue into a general music knowledge base. It was a great look into two books that examine the effects of something that is easy to go unnoticed. And while I don’t believe that, as Sousa purported, music is doomed because of live recording, the technology certainly has changed the art of music and music making. I really appreciate the author’s level headed, moderate approach to the subject, both noting the helps and the horrors of recording technology, because both sides have a great effect on music and our lives as musicians. The helps of recording technology include the fact that anyone can record anything they want – it facilitates music making. The horrors of recording technology include the fact that anyone can record anything they want – it does not necessarily facilitate musicality. Obviously, the con side also holds skyrocketing ticket prices, a dwindling market for live performance, and, it can be argued, that a lot of the musicality, excitement, and soul can be sucked out of a piece of music when it is overly polished. I love listening to recordings of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, because they had no rehearsals – they simply passed out Thad’s (and later Bob Brookmeyer’s) charts in front of the Village Vanguard crowd, read them down, and recorded them. There are some wrong notes, there’s people talking in the background, glasses clinking, band members hootin’ and hollerin’. In a Garage Band era where you can dive in and fix every wrong note, however, I think that may cheapen the experience for both the performer and the listener. but still, it exists an opportunity for more music making. So we as music educators are obliged (and heck, should want to!) to encourage the use of recording technology to facilitate musicality as an integral part of music making. As Professor Ronald Romm would say, “keep the music in music education!”

  17. Colby C Says:

    Since Alex Ross writes for everyone to read, I think it is particularly interesting for us, almost as “insiders”, to talk about recordings in music. Quite honestly, I don’t have a clue how I could be an educated musician without them. They take you to concerts you couldn’t go to, they let you HEAR people you could never hear — and the interpretations that they provide (often now, many interpretations in our 8, 16, 80, etc. GB little hands). Sure, it may have certainly changed the music industry, but I don’t see how this perceived change could be negative. In the “recorded perfection” we rarely hear professionals miss a rhythm or a note, but thanks to the field we are in — we know the truth. True perfection is sadly never attainable.

  18. emilyjayne Says:

    i found ross’s argument about racism being directly tied to the recording industry fascinating. it makes sense, indeed, that before recordings, african american music was not made available to white americans. recordings promote diversity – opening up new horizons, and past that, providing new inspiration to composers. without recordings of jazz, where would modern music be today?

  19. us243 Says:

    This article said quite a lot about recording and the effect it has had on the musical world. I think it is a rather pessimistic view about the advance in technology that has ‘shifted’ out musical appreciation. Yes there are some points that I agree with like the negative effect of having access to music all the time due to the invention of mp3 players, computers, and sound systems which has made our society undervalue live performances. On the contrary I think there is a very positive side to the advance in music technology, throughout history it has helped link cultures and people together all over the world. Universal access to musical recordings has had a large impact on the way so many cultures have been shaped. Additionally easy access to music has opened doors for many more people who couldn’t necessarily afford or had the opportunity to go experience a live performance of an orchestra from Germany or any other artists. Sousa seemed quite ahead of his times and his prediction about how musical recordings would directly effect our appreciation of music. But rather than blaming the invention of audio recording technology I believe we should embrace all the new technology that comes along and find a way to use it to our advantage as musicians in this decade.

  20. Kristin K Says:

    I completely agree with many of the statements stated before, but particularly with Aaron’s sentiments. While Recordings are a fantastic advancement, they cannot truly replace the feel of a live performance. However, Recordings still are quite valuable as a resource and as a sort of guide through a single performance, a single interpretation, from which you serve to expand upon and paint your own picture of what a piece should be.

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