Forget About an iPod for Classical Music

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Ralph
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Forget About an iPod for Classical Music

Post by Ralph » Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:16 pm

My iPod-addicted teen has been trying to sell me on transfering CDs to one of those devices. I haven't been interested and this article reinforces my skepticism.

*****


Why classical music is out of tune with the iPod
(Filed: 04/08/2005)

Classical music doesn't belong in a private, mobile space, writes Ivan Hewett

As if the iPod wasn't ubiquitous enough already, it's now had the extra fillip of Dylan Jones's rapturous hymn of praise iPod, Therefore I Am, excerpted and reviewed in these pages.
iPods
iPods are convenient, except when it comes to classical music

But why is it when I peruse Jones's endless lists of favourite tracks (the 50 best cover versions, the 100 best songs from the best jazz albums) I don't feel even the smallest urge to rush out and buy one? I do quite like music, after all, and I'm sure I could find several hundred classical tracks on iTunes to while away those boring tube journeys.

The answer is connected to the discarded portable CD player that for years kicked around at the bottom of a drawer at home. I bought it because much of my week was taken up with listening to CDs to review or for teaching, and I thought I could use all that dead time sitting on trains to get through them. It was a total failure, because although I could "get through" the CDs, I couldn't actually listen to them. The real world would always intervene.

I'd set the volume at what seemed the right level for the Haydn symphony, and for about five seconds everything would go swimmingly. Then the symphony would suddenly go quiet, or even stop dead in that disconcerting way Haydn symphonies have. And in that moment the clackety-clack of the train, and the dull hiss and thud of someone else's CD player would come rushing in to my aural space. So I'd turn up the volume, and be deafened a moment later when Haydn gave us one of his surprise loud moments.

Then there was the maddening way the ticket inspector would arrive just at a critical point in the form. By the time I'd fumbled for the ticket that wonderful harmonic surprise had passed, and I'd have to wind back. But the winding back wrecked the form anyway. In about three days I knew the experiment was a dead loss.

Classical music fits badly into the Walkman world, and even worse into the iPod world. For one thing, the technology doesn't suit it very well. Try listening to an opera on an iPod, and you'll discover the software puts a gap between tracks, which is pretty annoying if you're trying to enjoy the dramatic flow of an opera scene. And just try searching for your favourite Beethoven trio on iTunes, which is designed to search for "song" and "artist", and copes badly with keys and opus numbers.

But the very conception of music embodied in the iPod is bound to seem odd to a classical music lover. As Mick Brown put it in last week's Telegraph, the iPod gives you "the all-singing and all-dancing memory bank of the soundtrack to your life… every record you ever danced to, kissed to or fell in love to is there - ready to be snatched out of cyberspace."

Now classical music means the world to me, but I can't say it forms the soundtrack to my life. Bach's music won't stoop to forming a soundtrack to my little life; it has bigger things on its mind.

Nor can it be plucked from cyberspace, because it doesn't come from there. It comes from a real space. OK, I know my recording of a Bach cantata was made in a studio, but the fact that we can hear 30 people all doing something together immediately evokes the real, social space the music originally took place in.

But that's not the space we live in now. We prefer the solitary, nomadic space of trains and airport lounges, which seem to be the places we feel most at home. And we like the space of privacy and home, the one conjured in all those home makeover programmes. The iPod bridges these two perfectly. Put it on, and you can be at home with your personal soundtrack anywhere in the world.

Classical music doesn't belong in this private, mobile space. It was created in a space that's vanishing - the public space of churches, libraries, debating societies and concerts. That's the real reason it's so hard to listen to it on a Walkman or an iPod.

The jarring sensation I felt wasn't just a practical problem to do with sudden louds and softs. Those things are just a symptom of the fact that, stuck on a train with Haydn pouring into your ears, you're poised uncomfortably between two incompatible worlds.
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BWV 1080
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Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Aug 05, 2005 7:38 am

A pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help (you can get through a symphonic work on an airplane but with some distortion of sound). The bottom line is really just that you need someplace quiet to listen. There is too much ambient noise in the car or in public places. I will generally load my MP3 player with harpsichord music when I take it to the gym and that, as the dynamic level is constant, can be used to drown out the music played there.

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Aug 05, 2005 8:16 am

BWV 1080 wrote:The bottom line is really just that you need someplace quiet to listen.
That is a profound, Zen-caliber truth.
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
Published by Lux Nova Press
http://www.luxnova.com/

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Post by Dickson » Fri Aug 05, 2005 8:44 am

You listen to harpsichord music at the gym? Isn't that taking the "no pain, no gain" saying a little too far?
I can't relate to this article at all. Believe it or not, for some people, having a quiet place, being all alone, and having nothing to think about but music is only a nice sounding dream. I listen to most of my music in the car, and try not to get too upset when I get startled by those darn Haydn Symphonies. (Does this guy not have a volume knob?)

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Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Aug 05, 2005 8:54 am

Dickson wrote:You listen to harpsichord music at the gym? Isn't that taking the "no pain, no gain" saying a little too far?
Not at all and it sure beats hearing Bach or Scarlatti butchered on the piano

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Aug 05, 2005 9:28 am

BWV 1080 wrote: it sure beats hearing Bach or Scarlatti butchered on the piano
For some reason, after years of preferring Scarlatti on harpsichord, this EMer much prefers now (for the last 15 years anyway) to hear my Scarlatti on piano. The music seems much more muscular than precious that way. I can understand why Scarlatti was so popular when I hear it on the piano.
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Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Fri Aug 05, 2005 10:01 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote: it sure beats hearing Bach or Scarlatti butchered on the piano
For some reason, after years of preferring Scarlatti on harpsichord, this EMer much prefers now (for the last 15 years anyway) to hear my Scarlatti on piano. The music seems much more muscular than precious that way. I can understand why Scarlatti was so popular when I hear it on the piano.
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Both work for me.
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