The Preservation of Inspiration Page 2

Some of the audiophile-disc manufacturers eschew that kind of temporal butchery and allow the work to be played all the way through before going back to correct fluffs. But many of the performances they get are still uninspired, perhaps because the conductor and the orchestra are bored with the potboilers that comprise the core of audiophile discography, and almost certainly because there is no audience to bounce a mood off.

The French record company Lirynx (which also releases Sirynx, unless I have that backwards) has come up with an ingenious solution to the problem. First they record the work all the way through in the traditional style, doing whatever retakes are necessary to get everything right. Then they invite a small audience—small enough to not change the acoustics—for a concert runthrough. The musicians are relaxed because they know the recording is "over," and the players and audience can interact as at a live performance. It is the live-performance tape that is used for commercial release. Only bits and snatches of the first tape from the "recording session" are used as needed to patch up fluffs and extraneous noises in the "concert" performance. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but even under such ideal circumstances it is unlikely the concert recording will turn out to be one of those rare, inspired performances, simply because those happen so rarely even in a live-performance situation.

Every performing group that can play 80% of the notes properly stands a chance of producing a really memorable performance. If there is no tape recorder running when it happens, it is lost forever. In order to capture one of those performances on tape, every performance of that work by that group must be taped, routinely.

In truth, many amateur and professional performing groups are routinely recorded, but not seriously. The recordings are usually done with mediocre equipment owned by a local amateur recordist, and microphone placements are more often than not dictated by laziness—it's a pain to hang the mikes and take them down again for every performance—or by aesthetic considerations (the mikes must not be conspicuous). This is okay if the tapes are only going to be used for playback by the orchestra members at their after-concert party, then to be added to the conductor's personal vanity archive.

But what happens when something goes wrong and the orchestra happens to turn in an absolutely inspired performance? The conductor's first thought, typically, is "Let's make a record to sell locally." But it's too late then. The recording, subjected for the first time to critical appraisal, just isn't good enough. And the performance turns into just another fond memory, becoming increasingly inspired with the embroidery of lengthened remembrance.

This kind of thing happens all the time. But it shouldn't, because anything as rare and precious as a stupendous performance ought to be preserved for others to enjoy. Routine concert recording should be done with the thought that someday a recording of that group may be commercially released.

And there's a second reason for recording every performance. If a real winner comes along, it will invariably contain at least a few rough spots or extraneous noises. These can be edited out and replaced with bits and snatches from the other evenings' takes. (That is, as long as the recordings were not made in both directions on a 4-track tape.) Editing should take place as close to both sides of the fluff as possible; replacing whole measures because of a single wrong note will invariably destroy the flow of the music.

But what about the cost of all that tape? Forget it. If at least one performance of each concert is recorded anyway, that tape can be considered already paid for. The backups, from other performances, can be erased and reused if they aren't needed to edit a release tape.

For a major orchestra like the Philadelphia or the Boston SO, which is always contractually straightjacketed by one or another of the big record companies, it is impossible to get permission for the release of a concert recording, presumably because the parent record company is afraid a spontaneous, well-miked recording will compete with sales of their ersatz plastic "formal" recordings. With other union orchestras, recently revised union regulations (1979) now permit the release of live-performance recordings. But because of musician payment stipulations the cost can be quite high.

On the other hand, if the orchestra itself and not an outside producer will be issuing the record, and the orchestra members agree to the idea, it is usually possible to negotiate a payment schedule whereby sales of the record first pay off its production costs, at which point further income is distributed among the musicians up to a specified limit—typically the tariff for an evening's performance. Any additional proceeds could go toward the orchestra management. Of course the recordist should get a little something for his efforts too.

Some small record labels will buy master tapes for commercial release, others will handle distribution of discs that they feel meet their musical and technical (sonic) standards. Either way is recommended over trying to distribute on one's own. National record distribution is a headache, and is best done by those who by experience have evolved suitable remedies.

Even if an inspired performance is only distributed locally, it is worth making available because of the pleasure it can bring to those who love good music. And it could turn out to be the definitive recorded version of something.