Saturday, January 7, 2012

Altering Physical Boundaries to Expose the True Structure of a Piece

Boundaries help define art.
In our last installment, we discussed how buying pre-packaged music means accepting someone else's decision-making when the physical boundaries on an audio delivery medium (LP or CD) do not align with the intended artistic boundaries of the music recorded.

When you ephemeralize your own LPs, you are the master of your own destiny, introducing or removing boundaries to personalize the digital result for the most important listener: you.

Two relatively simple examples were presented last time; here we discuss two more interesting examples.

            Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #6           

Title: Bach The Goldberg Variations
Artist: Glenn Gould (1932-1982)
Genre: Classical
Year: 1982

The Goldberg Variations, originally written for harpsichord but often performed on piano, consist of an aria and 30 "diverse variations" on it. There is a definite order and structure. The variations all use the base line and chord progression of the aria. Every third variation, starting with variation #3 is a canon following an ascending pattern. The two variations following each canon also follow a distinct pattern, forming groups of 3. The 30th variation is a unique piece called the quodlibet; the aria is repeated to close the piece.

The CBS Masterworks edition of Glenn Gould playing The GV ignores the structure completely. Side 1 is the aria and variations 1-15; Side 2 presents variations 16-30 plus the aria reprise. It's an efficient use of vinyl (50% of the total piece on each side) recognizing the listener's need to flip sides to hear the entire piece. The CD re-issue went to the opposite extreme, organized as a flat list of 32 tracks.

I took a hybrid approach. Using the CD track times as a guide (accurate because the CD and LP contain the same performance) I exported the arias, variations 1&2, and the quodlibet independently, then exported the remaining nine groups of 3 as combined tracks identified by their canon. This offers playback flexibility while accurately reflecting the structure of the piece. One may not want to shuffle The GV, but a good index is always appreciated. The track list looks like this:

01 Aria
02 Variation 1
03 Variation 2
04 Variations 3-5: Canone all'Unisono
05 Variations 6-8: Canone alla Seconda
06 Variations 9-11: Canone alla Terza
07 Variations 12-14: Canone alla Quarta
08 Variations 15-17: Canone alla Quinta. Andante
09 Variations 18-20: Canone alla Sesta
10 Variations 21-23: Canone alla Settima
11 Variations 24-26: Canone all'Ottava
12 Variations 27-29: Canone alla Nona
13 Variation 30: Quodlibet
14 Aria da capo

            Digital Transfer #7           

Title: Music for 18 Musicians
Artist: Steve Reich and Musicians
Genre: Classical
Year: 1978

Music for 18 Musicians is a so-called minimalist composition for voices, strings, reeds, piano  and mallet instruments. Like The GV, Mf18M is structured as a series of variations (11 in this case) which composer Reich calls Sections, framed by the equivalent of an aria, a section entitled Pulse to open and close the piece. Unlike The GV, played as 32 self-contained pieces, Mf18M is a single continuous composition; transitions between sections are identified only by a shift in the pulse patterns and repeated phrases being played.

There are no tracks on the ECM vinyl recording, nor any time information published for the sections. Ask yourself: how does a continuous piece of music get put on LP, a medium with a distinct side A and B?

Producer Rudolph Werner solved that problem by engineering a long fade-out at the end of Section 4, which closes side A, and enginering a long fade-in at the start of Section 5, which opens side B. He effectively cut Mf18M in two to put it on disc.

As with The GV, I went to the CD re-issue to look for a strucural approach for my digital transfer for the LP. In this case, ECM chose to structure the CD as a single track containing the entire performance. I could do the same, fusing sides A and B, but that still would leave the fade-out/fade-in between sections 4 & 5.

So in the end, I chose to remain as true as I could to the composer's intent for the piece and the producer's intent for the LP, and transferred the side A and side B tracks as is.

Sometimes you slay the dragon. Sometimes the dragon wins.

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Are you literal or creative with track lists in your library? Please leave a comment.