Thursday, January 05, 2006


It's not quite a new year's resolution, but I've decided to avoid recorded music for a while. I'll use the playback facilities in my notation program, and I'll make live electronic noises, but I'll just not deal with cds and dats and mp3s and oggs and wavs for the next few months.

It seems that the easier it gets to handle recorded music -- portable, divisible, non-perishable -- the less I have to do with it. Even more than going to concerts, I prefer score reading as a way of getting close to a piece of music. I can read scores noisily at home, singing and some instrument or another at hand, or silently, which is useful in public.

Although they've been important to me, I've never owned many recordings. I never had a record player of my own and my first cd player came with a computer. Back in LP days, the interesting ones were fairly hard to get and I couldn't afford many anyways (& unlike some of my colleagues, wouldn't steal them). We have a lot of cds around the house, but I've seldom bought one, they just appear, as gifts or jetsam from visitors. I did listen to the radio a lot as a teenager, thanks to a lucky combination of insomnia and good programming at KPFK and KUSC in those days developed a good sense of both classical and experimental repertoires. But I've never been into that swagger that some guys get into when comparing their record collections. (The whole John Zorn scene seemed to me to be a pissing contest over who had had stolen the most records).

In contrast, digging into a score has always been an ecstatic experience for me. There is a moment when the notes come off the age and jump into association spaces that are always new and surprising. It's like that moment when you suddenly could ride a bike or could read, but repeated over and over again. Repeated listening to recordings have diminishing returns -- the piece becomes more and more the same, and recordings come out of speakers and headsets and thus have a physical presence that is too stable for my tastes. Repeated score readings create new worlds.

1 comment:

Richard Friedman said...

I completely agree about score reading. I've always felt that the highest complement you can pay a composer and a piece of music is to own the score. And while my score collection is small (the big ones are expensive!), there are some that I totally cherish. Like Varese's Arcana and my falling-apart Kalmus edition of Le Sacre that I bought at Petelson's Music Shop near Carnegie Hall when I was in High School over 50 years ago.

There's one score, of Berio's String Quartet, that I bought in a used bookstore in London once. It took me over 30 years to hear a performance of it. The piece was too hard for me to decipher and I always wondered what it sounded like, really. The story is here.