«NG SO R U U T N P D CA k k at z HOW T EC ar H m N O O L IC G Y S MU HA SC HANGED UNIVERSITY OF CALIFOR NIA PRESS BERKELEY LOS ANGELES LONDON ...»
“Picture the scene,” you are told, until “it is clearly... in mind.” Once this mental image is ﬁrmly in place, you are to say, “I am ready,” at which point the demonstrator plays your chosen record. The ﬁnal instruction is wonderfully complicated: “About forty-ﬁve seconds after the music begins, close your eyes and keep them closed for a minute or more. Then open your eyes for ﬁfteen seconds but do not gaze at your surroundings. After this, close your eyes again and keep them closed until the end of the selection.” If you follow these directions exactly, you will supposedly get “the same emotional re-action experienced when you last heard the same kind of voice or instrument.” If for some reason you do not, it is because “you have not wholly shaken oﬀ the inﬂuence of your surroundings,” in which 18 CAUS E S case you are to repeat the test until successful.29 What is fascinating about the Edison Realism Test—essentially a set of instructions for how to listen to a phonograph—is the importance given to the visual dimension of the musical experience. Listeners must go to great lengths not only to conjure up the correct mental imagery, but also to avoid all possible conﬂicting stimuli. The assumption behind the test is clear: in order for recorded music to be comprehensible, listeners must visualize a performance. Seeing was indeed believing.
Various strategies were employed in the attempt to restore the missing visual dimension to the phonographic experience. The Stereophone and the Illustrated Song Machine, both introduced in 1905, consisted of similar mechanisms that, when attached to cylinder-playing phonographs, rotated images in time with the music. As an article in a trade journal crowed, the Illustrated Song Machine “is just what the public has wanted since the ﬁrst automatic machine [i.e., phonograph] was placed on the market, and the listener drew a mind’s picture as the words and music were repeated to him.”33 In 1929 a British phonograph enthusiast reported on the miniature stages he had constructed to look at while listening to his favorite operas. He meticulously fashioned scaled-down sets and wooden cutouts of characters in various costumes, all of which he changed with every new scene.34 In the United States, music educator Albert Wier devised what he called the “projecting phonograph” in 1936, for use in music classes.
Wier created slide shows, in which main themes or motives, graphic analyCAUS E S ses, translations of texts, and images of musicians or opera sets were projected in time with recordings. In the absence of these rather extravagant remedies, listeners simply stared at their phonographs—a practice that was, as one observer noted in 1923, “an unthinking inheritance from the days when we had no phonographs, and when we naturally had to look at the performer.”35 When musicians record, their invisibility to listeners removes an important channel of communication, for performers express themselves not only through the sound of their voices or instruments but with their faces and bodies. In concert, these gestures color the audience’s understanding of the music. As Igor Stravinsky rightly explained, “The sight of the gestures and movements of the various parts of the body producing the music is fundamentally necessary if it is to be grasped in all its fullness.”36 The violinist Itzhak Perlman, for example, is eﬀective in concert in part because his face registers and reinforces every expressive nuance in the music.
Perlman himself once remarked that “people only half listen to you when you play—the other half is watching.”37 The visual aspect of performance is especially important for pop musicians. What would pop be without the wriggling and jiggling, the leaping and strutting, the leather and skin, the smoke and ﬁre? It would merely be sound, and so much the poorer for it.
The power of the visual is further demonstrated when the audio and visual channels are at odds with each other. Consider the violinist Jascha Heifetz, known for his rigid posture, skyward stare, and blank expression when performing. A 1925 article remarked on his deportment: “Cold, calm, dispassionate, he stands on the platform and performs miracles of dexterity, displays his beauties of tone; but do we not feel slightly chilled, anxious perhaps for less mastery and more humanity?” Yet the author also noted that Heifetz sounded rather diﬀerent on disc: “These impressions are to some extent corrected by Heifetz’s records. There is certainly a hint of passion, of tenderness.”38 In other words, with the visual channel oﬀ, Heifetz no longer seemed emotionless. Heifetz’s playing provides a musical analogue to what is known as the McGurk Eﬀect. In a 1976 experiment, psychologists Harry McGurk and John MacDonald showed subjects a video of a young woman speaking certain syllables, while what they heard were sounds of diﬀerent syllables dubbed onto the tape. The results 20 CAUS E S were striking: the subjects, who could readily identify the syllables being spoken when not looking at the video, consistently misidentiﬁed the sounds when the video presented conﬂicting information.39 The psychologists’ conclusion, which Heifetz had demonstrated long before, is that what we hear is deeply inﬂuenced by what we see.
For quite a diﬀerent example, take the case of Milli Vanilli, a 1980s pop duo. Their popularity stemmed in large part from their good looks and provocative dancing. They fell from stardom, however, when it was revealed in 1990 that all along they had lip-synched to the recordings of two unknown performers.40 That the real singers, a pair of middle-aged men, were not deemed glamorous enough to be put before the public suggests how crucial a group’s look is to its success.
Yet as the Heifetz example reveals, the absence of the visual can have its own appeal. A 1912 article in the Musical Courier praised the recorded medium for stripping away all that the author considered unnecessary to the musical experience. “In listening to the Talking Machine,” he explained, “the hearer must of necessity concentrate upon the tonal performance and does not have his attention diverted to extraneous matters, such as scenery, costumes, [and] acting... that keep him from directing his faculties to the music itself.”41 Theodor Adorno agreed, and argued that opera—the most visual of musical genres—is in fact best heard on recordings, that is, without seeing the costumes and sets. In his 1969 article “Opera and the Long-Playing Record,” Adorno explained that contemporary stagings detracted from the musical experience, whereas, “shorn of phony hoopla, the LP simultaneously frees itself from the capriciousness of fake opera festivals. It allows for the optimal presentation of music, enabling it to recapture some of the force and intensity that had been worn threadbare in the opera houses.”42 A musicology graduate student once told me that, for him, the experience of sacred music on disc was powerful precisely because he could not see the musicians; hearing such bodiless music made him feel closer to God.
This eﬀect is not new to recording; it is the same achieved by the age-old practice in Christian churches of placing the organist and sometimes the choir out of the sight of the congregation. The removal of visual cues, certainly no accident, separates body from sound, heightening the sense that the music comes not from humans but from heaven. In prephonographic
CAUS E Stimes such unseen music was the exception, used for speciﬁc purposes.
Today, however, given the ubiquity of recorded music, such sightless hearing is closer to the rule. However listeners have responded—whether by compensating for it or exploiting it—the invisibility of performance is a fundamental part of the modern musical experience.
Ironically, this invisibility can have observable consequences. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt suggested that recording artists must somehow compensate for the missing visual dimension. “If you don’t see the musician—and this is the case with all recordings—you have to add something which makes the process of music making somehow visible in the imagination of the listener.”43 As I will argue in chapter 4, it is precisely this missing dimension that encouraged classical violinists to “add something” to their playing—in their case, an intense vibrato that helped communicate a sense of physical and expressive immediacy. Sometimes, however, musicians have responded by taking something away. Because recordings provide no visual continuity during extended pauses or tempo changes, musicians may deemphasize temporal discontinuities when performing in the studio. This may be accomplished, as several performers have attested, by “tightening” the spaces between phrases and larger sections. Cellist Janos Starker has explained that “while in a concert hall, the performer is able to create tension with rests... he cannot do this with recording.” On disc, then, “the presentation of a composition” must “become much tighter.”44 Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet has oﬀered a speciﬁc example of this “tightening” response. Drucker recounted how, in recording the Schubert Quintet, guest cellist Mstislav Rostropovich encouraged the group to shorten pauses that, in concert, they might normally extend for dramatic eﬀect. For example, “after the big chord in the coda of the ﬁrst movement [m. 428]... we took no extra time for rhetorical eﬀect. Rostropovich pointed out that in a recording, one cannot always aﬀord to play quite as broadly as in a performance. The impact of the performer’s presence, even visually, can ﬂesh out the musical ideas and add interest to phrases that might sound dull on tape.” In concert, the performers would have lifted their bows oﬀ the strings after playing the chord, paused for a moment, and slowly returned them for the following phrase.
Such a gesture would have heightened the drama of the moment and visually linked the two chords. On a recording, however, an extended silence 22 CAUS E S like this would simply have been “dead air,” something to be avoided. “This streamlining of approach,” Drucker explained, “is required by recording.”45 Why, however, should a second here or there make any diﬀerence in the larger scheme? Over the course of the century, there has been a noticeable move in classical performance toward steadier tempos, with fewer and less marked tempo ﬂuctuations.46 What seems to be a common and almost instinctive “tightening” response has, in part, contributed to this general change in the rhetoric of modern performance.
Recording artists have also reacted to the fact that they cannot see their audiences. For many, the task of performing to unseen listeners, with
recording equipment as their proxy, can be both daunting and depressing. In her memoirs, French soprano Régine Crespin registered her dismay at the artiﬁciality of performing in the studio:
Fear of an audience is healthy; it stimulates you. The people are there in front of you. With them there can be mutual lovefests. But how can you fall in love with a microphone? First of all, a microphone is ugly. It’s a cold, steel, impersonal thing, suspended above your head or resting on a pole just in front of your nose. And it deﬁes you, like HAL the computer in Stanley Kubrick’s ﬁlm 2001: A Space Odyssey, although at least he talked. No, the microphone waits, unpitying, insensitive and ultrasensitive at the same time, and when it speaks, it’s to repeat everything you’ve said word for word. The beast.47 Not only Western classical performers are aﬀected by the absence of the audience. Before the era of the phonograph, Hindustani classical musicians not only took inspiration from their listeners, but also improvised directly in response to their reactions. The exact sound and shape of the performance, then, was determined in part by the interaction of artist and audience. For those who recorded, one way to compensate was to manufacture an audience, planting enthusiastic listeners in the studio. On an acousticera recording of Maujuddin Khan, for example, one can hear a few “plants” shouting “Wah! Wah! Maujuddin Khan! Subhanallah!,” praising the divinity of the singing.48 In a more recent example, I myself was an unwitting plant in a recording session for the rock group Rotoglow. After observing from the control room, I was invited to sit in the studio while the band