Some thoughts on editing

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Some thoughts on editing

Recently I had the pleasure of listening to internet broadcasts of several performances from the most recent Van Cliburn competition. It was wonderful to hear these world-class players, and of course everything was live.

I have always appreciated live concerts, but recently I have come to value them even more as extreme editing in pursuit of perfection with studio recordings has become the norm. Unless you attend a live event, the chance to hear a true performance where a person or group plays a piece straight through from beginning to end seems to be becoming more and more of a rarity. And although the perfection attained in recordings through editing can provide superb renderings of a sort, they aren’t real, and at times I do find myself a little frustrated by the ubiquitous hyper perfection. I guess you could say that at those times I’m in pursuit of something more human than perfect!

Editing is not actually new of course—it’s been around for decades, but until some time in the 80s it was a tedious process with tape splicing. However with digital music editing software, it's so easy to replace anything that isn't just right—not only an outright mistake but a note too loud here, a note too soft there, a phrase that doesn't quite have the right shaping here, a passage where the articulation is not quite crisp enough there, etc. With any given phrase, bar, or even single note, the ideal rendition can probably be found in at least one of the numerous takes and readily dropped in, or the notes might be directly manipulated with the software. People spend days putting together a patchwork of snippets that finally result in the 'perfect' performance. And given enough takes, I could imagine it sometimes becoming exasperating to make the final choice of just the right rendition for a given section of the music from a wealth of excellent options. The process could in theory be almost endless.

Editing out wrong notes for a recording that is listened to repeatedly makes some sense, but it seems to me that the obsessive editing produces a result that is not only artificial in that it is no longer an actual performance but, in a way, is less and less representative of the performer. Yes, the artist played all the snippets, but s/he did not walk in and play the piece this way. Also, played in the studio, the piece will already be missing some of the vibrancy and excitement of a live performance, but does heavy doctoring remove these qualities even further? I suspect it might, although this would be difficult to prove without the ability to compare recordings of the same piece by the same artist around the same time that are live in front of an audience, in the studio without doctoring, and in the studio with significant doctoring.

One classical music producer stated that the number of edits on his recordings typically number around 400. However another producer said that in his experience that number is low, with the actual number often being closer to 800. It would be interesting if the number of edits were disclosed along with the other information published with a recording. Then you would know what you are getting, but the second producer mentioned above said that would never happen!

On one hand, I’m surprised that more artists do not eschew so much editing in favor of recording completely honest straightforward performances in their totality in real time. But on the other hand I can understand, given that flawlessness through editing is everywhere, they might feel they are putting themselves at a disadvantage, even though in some cases their unadulterated performances may in some ways be superior.

Of course I can enjoy and marvel at many recordings without invariably thinking about the fact that they were probably produced with the help of 400 to 800 edits. But if I want to hear recordings of actual performances, end to end in real time, I have to look for performances by artists willing to ‘stick out their necks’ (not easy to identify, but pianist Valentina Lisitsa is one), or I can turn to something like the Cliburn competition.

RE: Some thoughts on editing

Very interesting your thoughts and very legitimate your concerns, but a playback product is like a can; you cannot expect to "eat" fresh and real "food". It is another thing that cannot offer certain good features of the "live", but, on the other, it can "correct" certain problems and disadvantages of the actual performance.

The issue is whether the performance seems to flow smoothly and as natural as possible. Personally, I enjoy studio recordings as such, not as "alternative" or substitute of the "live" or the "actual" performance.

Besides, as long as the artists involved signed their recordings, it means they accept that the final product represents the integrity of their art and performance.

However, as I said at the beginning, you are entitled to feel uncomfortable, if you are so preoccupied with the idea (and the fact) of editing.

Parla

RE: Some thoughts on editing

In the days of 78rpm recordings wrong notes were practically a given, especially piano recordings. I think it was Alfred Cortot who led the pack in that field. Orchestral recordings could also be named. Pierre Monteux and the San Francisco Symphony come to mind with, I believe La Valse by Ravel, a botched high note from the trumpet. They repeated the side but Monteux said he preferred the original. More tries were done with the trumpet perfect but the rest of it, in Monteux's opinion, was not as good as the first. So it was the first attempt, missed note and all, that was issued. Another example was the Oberon Overture recorded by the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky. The middle of side one has an obvious wrong note from one of the wind players. The end of the first movement of Sibelius's 5th Symphony conducted by Kajanus is a real mess. I'm sure other examples can be given. These were studio recordings, not live performances, by the way.

Bliss
RE: Some thoughts on editing

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my rather long-winded post.

You are absolutely correct that studio recordings are not substitutes for live performances. And my intent is not to give the impression that I am uncomfortable with or preoccupied regarding heavily edited recordings--in fact, despite, as I say, my sometimes feeling a bit tired of the ubiquitous perfection, the fact of the matter is that I still very much enjoy many of these recordings on a regular basis. However, I would also very much appreciate greater availability of live or unedited (or at least almost unedited) recordings.

RE: Some thoughts on editing

Thank you, Carlos. And you bring up a good point about the 'live' recordings. Yes, I've heard that those are often doctored as well. And furthermore, these days there are even some concert halls where the sound is manipulated for the actual concert--my husband and I attended one of those a couple years ago when we heard the Vienna Philharmonic (on tour).

RE: Some thoughts on editing

Now a days so-called live recordings are a composite of several performances, using the best parts of each day's performance. If there is only one day's performance to work from, the orchestra can be called in for some "patch" work.

Bliss
RE: Some thoughts on editing

'Live' in large quotes!

RE: Some thoughts on editing

However, the audio products are offering the "virtual reality" of music playback. So, we cannot complain for any "unusual" features, like a boring perfection or a "fake" performance. As long as the performers agree on the end product, that's the way it is.

Parla

RE: Some thoughts on editing

I think this is a very important topic, and is a relatively modern one with regard to classical music.  I think that Schnabel's view of great music being better than it can be performed is relevant.  Editing gives an artist the ability to more finely craft the specific interpretation they really want, removing their merely human technique as a limiting factor.

For example, Pollini's recording of Beethoven's Opus 101 is known to have hundreds of edits, but I am incredibly thankful that it exists.  I love this recording.

I also love live recordings, but I don't look down upon edited recordings.

RE: Some thoughts on editing

I am reminded of the two people in a record shop, listening over the loudspeakers to a recording by a renowned pianist. "Ah," said the one, "I wish I could play like that!"  Said his friend, "So does he!"

Harvey Bordowitz

RE: Some thoughts on editing

Harvey Bordowitz: That's a good one!

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