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4.11.05 Less than human  

Charles Rosen, brilliant author of The Classical Style, applauds Robert Philip's Performing Music in the Age of Recording for the NYRB. Philip's thrust: recording has driven performance style to seek cold precision, sacrificing warmth & spontaneity--its human traits. The performer's old resources of expression--"portamento," dislocation, arpeggiating chords & flexibility of tempo--are now verboten. Perhaps, Rosen thinks,

the best thing about his book is the way it makes us appreciate the heritage that recording has given us and forces us to recognize the limitations of our taste by an understanding of what has gone out of fashion. He allows us to estimate how much we have lost in our rejections.

Outside the classical realm, it seems that in much of today's music, both underground & above-, this sense of loss has permeated studios on both sides of the Atlantic. For retro-minded indie rockers, vintage amps are in demand. For electronic artists in search of (in a way) new sounds, recording software companies are straining to recreate the imperfections of analog recording. It all comes down to a fear of dehumanizing music.

Ab ovo