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Author Topic: Perfection... really?  (Read 4362 times)

Josh Tidsbury

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Perfection... really?
« on: May 03, 2004, 09:50:47 pm »

A philosophical post... I hope it fits well in this forum...

I recently had a discussion with a fellow engineer about the desire for perfection in today's audio.  I am sure that this topic has been addressed before in other forums, but I would like to hear everyone's thoughts on this matter.

The example that brought this debate to the table was a 60-minute classical performance that involved nearly 1500 edits to make it "perfect" (mostly cross-fades between takes, among other edits).  The final result was "perfect".  Every note in perfect time, in perfect tune... a perfect performance that could never occur...

Many would agree that one likely goal of a studio recording is to present an experience to the listener that could not necessarily be achieved on the live stage.  However, to what extent should we really go in striving for this degree of perfection.  May raise some ethical questions as well...

Perhaps that will be enough to stir the pot... any thoughts?

Take care,
Josh
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Josh Tidsbury
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LBHS Studios

grock5

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2004, 10:47:35 pm »

As an audio engineer, I try to keep a rounded perspective on the song, and respect it as the ultimate guidline in my work. An "off" beat with a good, or contributing feel may fit right in. A technically "bad" sound may convey the entire song. Or it may kill it. And vice-versa. It's validity has to do with whether such a thing contributes to the point trying to be put across with the song.

Regardless, As a listener in this digital age of tempo maps and computer generated music, I enjoy hearing the human factor in a recording. It's becoming something of an oddity these days.

I suppose it's like movies and books; to hold my interest, there must be some dynamic in the content and delivery, some bad stuff, some good stuff. Just like real life. Without these, the story seems unbelievable and dis-honest. Of course, unbelievability may very well be the point of a song.

If there was only one right way to do art, how interesting could it ever really be?

-- Gary
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ted nightshade

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2004, 10:59:30 pm »

Slipperman said (can't give his real name, sorry, don't know it...): Perfection and uniformity are mutually exclusive.

Perfection for me is when I am there hearing the real thing, warts and all. To the extent that recording can approach perfection, it approaches the real thing.

Of course there are other takes on what "perfection" is, but that's the bottom line for me... it can be "mistake-free" without approaching perfection, or even quality, in a variety of other crucial artistic aspects...

Um, are we talking art here, or commerce?
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Ted Nightshade aka Cowan

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xAm

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2004, 11:08:13 pm »

Josh Tidsbury wrote on Mon, 03 May 2004 21:50

A philosophical post... I hope it fits well in this forum...
<SNIP Happens>
Many would agree that one likely goal of a studio recording is to present an experience to the listener that could not necessarily be achieved on the live stage.  However, to what extent should we really go in striving for this degree of perfection.  May raise some ethical questions as well...

Perhaps that will be enough to stir the pot... any thoughts?

Take care,
Josh


OK, I'll bite...

Ultimately it's up to the studio/producer/footer of the bill.

While it is "un-natural" to create a "perfect" performance, and IMO somewhat immoral, I just can't think about say, Pink Floyd NOT being a major production based upon "creating" a perfect performance.

At the same time, I realize that there are certain aspects of any Floyd album that are a duality in/of the chaos of the imperfect performance. Dark Side's "Great Gig" comes to mind as an example. The little things that ain't perfect make it perfect.

It's been my goal to go for the live feel in my sessions. I try to push artists to do whole takes... and keep em'. Only punching the really nasty goofs in otherwise perfectly good performances. (pun intended) To me, it's the nuances of the subtle imperfections that let you know that the music was created by a real human being, playing a real instrument.

I prefer live... thus the mobile rig... and to autotune and pitch shift every note is to be dishonest to a degree that I'm not willing to accept.

If an artist wants to remote record in a conventional sense, I don't have a problem with some of the "magic black box" stuff, but certainly not to a point that it's every single measure that's tweaked. If you gotta go that far, just find someone else to play it. That, or go find someone else who is willing to be a part of cheating the listener out of actually paying good money to hear a sequencer/sampler run by a programmer and pass it off as conventional musicianship.

My .02
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natpub

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2004, 11:08:44 pm »

To me, part of the delight I take in Classical performances, any performance for that matter, but Classical in particular, is thrilling to each player's attempt to master and interpret the composition. The challenge for them to get so close to the written page, and then interpret it, is what makes it exciting. The small stumbles and glitches is what makes it so great.

In addition, what one person may call perfecting the piece is a travesty as far as using cross fades and such to make accents and such "perfect." In most Classical performance, expression is, in fact, a degree of variance away "from" such ridgid adherence to tempo, meter, etc.

It reminds me of when I listen to the old programed MIDI versions of Mozart or Chopin. It always makes me laugh because it sounds so mechanical. True, there are now MIDI artists who can program entire symponic works veryconvincingly. However, that convincing is usually done by intruducing human-like artifacts into the programming, and in fact merely results in the MIDI artist attempting to play or mimic the part of each member of the given ensemble.


Regards,
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Kurt Thompson
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Eric Rudd

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2004, 11:50:12 pm »

The first and perhaps easiest response is also the most quoted....There is no such thing as perfection.

But I guess that doesn't lead to very interesting internet board discussions.

I equate perfection with effective communication.

How well does our work convey and/or conduct the emotion of a piece of music? Emotion is rarely about having the right notes in tune or in time.

How well does our work convey the sonics at the time of the performance? Two possible areas of perfection come to mind here.... did we accurately and purely capture the sound at the time of performance. Or, if this isn't our goal, did we make the sound "bigger" than the original, or tailor it to make something unique?

There's the perfection of doing our homework and being prepared, allowing us to capture a musical event that we know was once in a lifetime. We feel honored to be privy to a moment that comes from "somewhere else."

Then there is the perfection that comes with executing the job so that the recording experience is particularly enjoyable for the participants.

As a side note...George, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to moderate this board. Your knowledge, experience, and friendship is greatly treasured.

Best,
Eric Rudd
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ted nightshade

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2004, 12:34:26 am »

Damn, Mr. Rudd is really on the money!

And the fact that classical folks are getting into these heavy editing things makes me nauseous- it's a fear response I think... if those people I think of as hardcore purists who will do what it takes for a great performance, are into the heavy edit route, where does that leave me, a nutso case who is totally dedicated to getting it for real in the performance? I guess it leaves me further up art creek than ever, with less and less people nuts enough about the real deal to hack it out the hard way, the only way I can get really enthusiastic about working...
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Ted Nightshade aka Cowan

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Josh Tidsbury

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2004, 01:56:33 am »

Wow... I wasn't expecting quite that quick a response!

Eric Rudd, you really hit the mark with me with the comment:

Quote:

How well does our work convey and/or conduct the emotion of a piece of music? Emotion is rarely about having the right notes in tune or in time.



One of the big issues we were discussing with this... hmm... shall I call it... synthesis of a classical work was that the level of emotion being expressed was different from take to take.  It truly went to show how the human element in music is so very prominent, and the loss of this can destroy the music so very quickly.  After all of the edits were done (which were apparently insisted upon by the producer and performer), the piece simply did not make any sense.  Even though the little bits were coherent, the big picture was lost.  To me, that is a most distressing way to ruin a classical work, where the bigger picture is so very important in conveying the meaning of the piece.

On a side note, please allow me to echo Eric by thanking George for moderating this forum.  Just found it today, and I am very excited about what is going on in here!

Take care,
Josh
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Josh Tidsbury
Recording Engineer & Instructor
LBHS Studios

Fletcher

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2004, 08:40:55 am »

I worked with a producer named Jimmy Miller for a few years... he said something once that really stuck with me.  He said "there are two parallel universes, greatness and perfection... and while they sometimes touch, I'll take greatness over perfection every time".

He's also the guy explained to me to 'roll red' on everything because we could always erase it but if we didn't record it, we could never get it back.

I miss him greatly.
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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch.  
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

Josh Tidsbury

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2004, 10:07:56 am »

Thanks Fletcher... those really are thoughts to live by... so very true...

Josh
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Josh Tidsbury
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LBHS Studios

Kendrix

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2004, 10:24:54 am »

I clearly recognize two schools of thought here:

One: music is organic and recording a musical performace "as is" is the intent/job of the producer.

Two: recorded music is its own medium with its own tools and capabilities that are meant to be used to optimize the experience of listenting to the recording.

Most commercial music today clearly conforms to philosophy #2.

I see no moral issues here at all - unless someone is explicitly advertising a piece to be something it is not.

If comping sections of  a classical piece via crossfades results in incongruities in the mood/feel... then neither objective has been acomplished and thats just bad production.
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Ken Favata

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2004, 12:39:48 pm »

It's important to remember as well that technical accuracy by itself doesn't make a performance or recording sterile, just as intellectual or technical complexity on its own doesn't strip a piece of music of emotional force.  There's a lot more at play than these black and white distinctions and I think that that is overlooked all too often.

This whole question becomes especially thorny with contemporary classical music where the performers often don't have the time or budget or experience to really master a new work. I very recently found myself in the position of editing a recording of my own work.  I write somewhat thorny and complicated stuff and it's rare that performers have had enough time with it to "dig in" and elevate it beyond the material on the page.  Indeed, most composers today (certainly including myself!) never really hear all the right notes in performances of their music, let alone a really expressive and great interpretation...there's simply not enough time and too much going against the work that would be required for performers to get beyond the nuts-and-bolts level of notes, dynamics, tempi, rhythm, articulation, etc.

So in editing my own work, I have to decide upon whether to use a take which is exciting and expressive but gets the actual composition wrong (i.e. missed notes, rhythms, articulation, etc.) or a take which is accurate but too clinical or dull.  Now, a recording of a piece of new music is, for all intents and purposes, the piece itself...very few people if any actually look at the score and see what the original musical idea was.  It all depends on the performers.  So this problem descends to a more basic level than perfection vs. greatness or whatever - it's really "is this the piece that the composer wrote or is it the accidental product of an under-rehearsed performance?"  

Now, despite the amount of effort and care I put into the choices I make as a composer, I often prefer a performance that gets a bunch of stuff wrong but is daring and exciting.  But what does that say about the importance of what's on the page?  I'm not really sure, and I know there are comosers who would have a very different set of imperatives when producing or editing a recording of their own work.  And even the performers involved in my recent recording objected to some of the takes that I (the composer!) chose because they contained some sloppy playing.

On a larger scale, it's interesting to note the popularity of older classical recordings and the public's tolerance for wrong notes in, say a Schnabel Beethoven, and at the same time the absolute unacceptability of even a teenager missing a note in a recital.  It's certainly a cultural thing, and I'm not sure if it's a sign of progress...

The same could definitely be said for a lot of non-classical music as well.



my 2 cents anyway...
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Fibes

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2004, 01:00:19 pm »

CAN- The now defunct expermental Kraut rockers used to have an expression/philosophy that "man is imperfect, therefore, man can only achieve pefection by accident." As a result of this concept, the majority of the work they produced was improvised rather than practiced.

It would seem to me that someone fixing/perfecting tracks after the fact gets further away from perfection with every human intervention.

Waht Jimmy Miller said...
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Fibes
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ted nightshade

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2004, 04:23:07 pm »

Fibes wrote on Tue, 04 May 2004 10:00

CAN- The now defunct expermental Kraut rockers used to have an expression/philosophy that "man is imperfect, therefore, man can only achieve pefection by accident." As a result of this concept, the majority of the work they produced was improvised rather than practiced.

It would seem to me that someone fixing/perfecting tracks after the fact gets further away from perfection with every human intervention.

Waht Jimmy Miller said...


For me it's all about those magic moments- things come together, the whole becomes more than the parts. Hopefully the gear/techie side of things is ready to capture that moment, and the performers, instruments, etc. are able to ride the magic while putting in a presentable performance in more objective terms- i.e., no screw-ups so clunky as to spoil the magic moment.

The idea that the magic can be purposely manipulated in a methodical way may be sheer hubris! I certainly can't do it- the idea for me is to get everything ready in case it happens, and get the hell out of the way and let it do it's thing... then frame it in a way that doesn't call too much attention to the frame and distract from the picture.
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Ted Nightshade aka Cowan

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Eric Rudd

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Re: Perfection... really?
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2004, 10:47:50 am »

Fletcher wrote on Tue, 04 May 2004 13:40


He's also the guy explained to me to 'roll red' on everything because we could always erase it but if we didn't record it, we could never get it back.

I miss him greatly.


When asked by a client, "Wow, that was awesome, did we record that?" I reply..."This is a *recording* studio...not a "listen in input" studio.

While I sometimes get caught with my proverbial pants down, it's a good idea (at least when working with bands) to have *something* in record...even if it's a DAT machine (remember those???) on the 2 buss.

Eric
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Eric Rudd
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For an engineering discography, please see www.allmusic.com
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