On the up and up or on the slippery slope?

On several occasions recently when listening to classical music on Radio 3, pieces which have been recorded in the early 60s or 50s, such as this morning’s Tchaikovsky piano concerto, have struck me as having far more vigour and far more expression than today’s performances. In short, the earlier performances are better than today’s.

There are recordings of the great tenors starting with Caruso, going through Gigli and Bjorling and coming into the modern age with Pavarotti and Domingo which tell the same story: the quality is degrading over the years. (This opinion is not peculiar to myself. I have heard it expressed by many experts.)

Even worse, some modern recording of orchestral works sound quite cacophonous at times as the members of the orchestra are obviously having difficulty keeping time with one another.

I often express the opinion that the world of the past was better than the modern world, that things are not what they used to be. Inevitably I get accused of nostalgia and my opinions are thus discounted. However, modern technology allows us to overcome this problem: if anyone thinks that my opinion that music is going downhill is mere nostalgia, then go listen for yourself. The evidence is there on record.

I find it difficult to believe that music is out of step with the rest of the world, that it can be going downhill when everything else is on the up and up.

That’s because the electronic recording equipment, of that era, introduced distortion which humans find pleasant. Modern equipment records much more accurately and the sound is often described as cold and mechanical. The cacophony comes from the ability to hear the errors which were previously smoothed away.

Same reason why solid state guitar amps suck, and all tube guitar amps are awesome.

You speak as somebody who does not know what it is to have an ear for music. Not every cacophony sounds the same, and the sources are usually identifiable and easily distinguishable one from another.

I’m sorry I posted in your thread, Ms Know It All. It won’t happen again. :smiley:

Man, everyone knows that solid state amps don’t clip like old analog tube amps. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s a guitar, or a mic’d drum set in a studio. If you use vintage equipment, then your frequency range isn’t as limited as it would be with a solid state board, and therefore you actually get more of the music, and the distortion varies constantly as you strike the strings, or sing, of hit the drums harder and through that distortion more nuance is available to the ear than would be if instead of a natural fade via a nice set of tubes, your signal will be cut off when it reaches too low a level to get past your digital noise filter. With tubes, you get a fade into harmonic feedback, so the music is still there. WIth solid state equipment, you can use a digital delay to give the sound a better decay as is goes away, but not as good as you’d get from tubes.

I’ve had solid state marshalls, crates, peaveys, etc. And when I got my tsl601, all tube marshall and plugged in my les paul classic, I didn’t truly get what people meant by sustain and natural decay as the tubes begin to clip. It’s a beautiful thing. Solid state amps sound like robots. Tube amps sound like children screaming in agony. I’d rather hear the natural sound of children screaming in agony than the sound of a robot playing guitar.

I hope this makes sense.

“Solid state” or more specifically “digital” allows one to make any kind of sound that one wants to make. But just as with Science, knowing how to do doesn’t tell you what to do or what one “should do”. What is most pleasant must be carefully, very carefully, examined before one presumes to digitally manufacture music.

When the mind is on manipulation, the heart is not on harmony.

The thing is that there’s a difference between some measured frequency and another and when the instrument goes from that note to another, in the digital example, it makes a quick jump. In the analogue example, it makes a smooth transition without any hint of the choppy, pixelated sound that comes with everything being digitized.

As time passes it is of necessity increasingly more difficult to surpass in quality all that has foregone.
There is simply no avoiding this, as it a feature of the simple fact that has time goes on the volume of work to which each new performance has to submit increases the difficulty of doing better.
That is not to say that there is a trend that things are on a slippery slope.
If you want a great example of a piece of Classical Music that is easily on a par with anything that has foregone, I suggest you seek out and listen to Daniel Barenboim’s Symphonies of Beethoven, as he conducts the East/West Divan Orchestra.

He is not just remarkable for his work as a conductor, but as a band leader he has gathered together a crack team of musicians all taken from the Israeli and Arab/Muslim worlds.

I think this observation is better applied to the “popular” music realm, which as fallen the recipient of a massive increase in the power of the record companies who have increasingly geared the production of music to the lowest common denominator, with the widest possible appeal.
But this simply means digging deeper for new music, where one is still struck by the dynamics of diminishing returns (above para one); but alos you come against your personal prejudice.

Which leads me to another problem. The 'other" version problem. When I first hears, say the Planets, by Holst, that performance, by whom I forget, becomes the ideal type, and all subsequent versions don’t sound quite right; too fast too slow, too dynamic, not dynamic enough; the violins are too loud in the second movement… ad infinitem.
The new performances interrupt the emotional landscape that the first hearing occupied. Whilst the “other” performance might be objectively as good, it has to unapck your first conception before it can be submitted into your consideration as a better performance.