Live or Memorex?

Friday, August 13, 2010 - 02:00 PM

I hadn’t even read the ecstatic New York Times review of Mark Morris Dance Group’s Mostly Mozart Festival performance of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato  yet when I called my Mom, and said I would cheerfully go right back and see it again.  Sitting in the theater, I was thrilled by the imaginative choreography and luminous dancing, and also by the fact that it was all “accompanied” by a topnotch, live performance of a piece by Handel.

That got me thinking about the difference it makes for dancers to perform with live or canned music   So, I called Connie Dinapoli, who spent seven years with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.  She said with live musicians, each performance is slightly different – for example, if the conductor has a cup of coffee before the show, or if there’s a substitute in the flute section, it could alter the tempos.  Each change, however subtle, makes for one-time-only moments that keep the dancers on their toes (metaphorically speaking, in modern dance).  But with recorded music, dancers know the accompaniment will always sound the same, so they have to reach into their own imagination to bring something artistically new and fresh to each performance. 

Of course, having live musicians in the pit is MUCH more expensive, which is why so many dance companies today use recordings.  When I asked Connie which she liked better, live or “Memorex,” she immediately said she preferred the give and take with live musicians.  As a performer myself, I’m with her.  How about you?

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    Comments [4]

    Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

    Sound re-enforcement is an ABSOLUTE must in cases where the instrumentation is dense and the orchestra is large and playing fortissimo much of the time, as in Wagner's operas, IF the singer does not possess a robust singing voice or the appropriate vocal technique to be heard clearly and fully all the time one is singing. Amplification has improved considerably since Broadway theaters started universal use of body mikes. Nevertheless, if the singer has the singing voice and technique, singing without a mike, if others are as well, so as not to be judged unfairly, then the true timbre and size of the voice can be heard and appreciated by the audience.

    Aug. 17 2010 02:13 PM
    Naomi Lewin

    Diana --

    First of all, thanks for your kind comments about the music on WQXR. What I said was that I saw lots of microphones in the pit at the Mark Morris performance, but the music didn't sound amplified in the hall. When I asked one of the orchestra members about them, he confirmed what I had suspected -- the microphones were sending the sound to monitors backstage, so that the dancers could hear the music better.

    Aug. 16 2010 02:42 PM
    Diana Stein from Grants, New Mexico

    I caught your program only in the last portion - when I heard your discussion about ballet dancers not hearing a sufficiency of orchestral music and some mention of help backstage so the dancers could be 'in sinc' with the music. Can you elaborate on this?

    I've been watching an enormous number of DVDs of live ballet performances preserved for posterity. I wonder how far back mechanical, musical assistance to the dancers had been used? I've often pondered how the ballet dancers, conductor and musicians manage to get it all together so successfuly.

    Being very much a stay-at-home elderly person, WQXR has been a life saver, especially with the music you present. Thank you.

    Aug. 13 2010 05:49 PM
    Michael Meltzer

    The fine tweaking of tempo and duration and the achievement of "legato" are also functions of the acoustics of the room. In a "warm" room with good resonance and reverb, too brisk a tempo can sound too "busy," in a "dry" room the tempo may have to be picked up to compensate. This can effect even the extremely brief silences between notes that players have to adjust, which they do by listening to themselves. That can't be done after the fact by a sound engineer. The number of people present in the audience affects the resonance of the room, so you can see the "catch 22's" introduced by the convenience or economy of pre-recording.
    These are factors that are responsible for pre-recorded sound to almost always sound "canned."
    With all the marvelous technology of today's reproducing pianos, this problem hasn't been solved there either. As you record in one environment, you are adjusting to it, when you play back in an environment changed in any way, the sound is a "canned" sound.

    Aug. 13 2010 05:33 PM

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