... through so many sieves, filters and other intermediaries as to be but a pale imitation of its former self.

Not everyone accepts this state of affairs, of course. When people started moving from records to compact discs, there remained - and remains to this day - a loyal core of vinyl lovers. From the first time I heard music on compact disc, I thought it had a rather "boxed in" sound to it. The sound was "cleaned up", but in cleaning it up and removing little scratches and other imperfections, the CD-makers also removed much of the dynamic range and much of the emotional impact.

Of course, the CDs that appeared in the 80s are not necessarily completely comparable to the ones being made today. In those days, they all had mysterious letters like AAA or ADD or AAD or DDD on them. Unlike in the academic world, D's were considered to be better than A's because they referred to digital rather than analog - a newer, though not necessarily better technology. Nowadays, many if not most of the CDs out there are "burned" on home computers or other in-home devices. It's an open question as to whether this results in better or worse quality than with commercially available CDs. What is certain is that not all playback devices "respect" or are compatible with homegrown CDs.

With the early commercial CDs, I often had problems with them "skipping". This could sometimes be repaired at home. If you didn't want to attempt that, you could usually take the disc back and get a replacement copy - which might or might not suffer from the same defect. It's been a long while since I bought a CD that was problematic in that way.

People are basically lazy. Some of us diehards invested in reel-to-reel tapedecks in the 1970s because the sound was so much better. But eventually it became virtually impossible to get reel-to-reel tapes for home use. Everyone wanted cassettes, which were much more portable and convenient. With cassette decks, you needed Dolby and other processes to clean up the sound, which homogenized it at the same time. People listened to these cassettes on their Walkmans and the like, through miserable scratchy little earphones. And don't even get me started on eight-tracks!

With the advent and ready availability of equally portable CDs (as well as digital dictaphones, answerphones and the like), cassettes began to fade into oblivion too. As did the mass-market popularity of record albums, now widely referred to as "vinyl".

Nowadays, young people typically satisfy their musical interests in piecemeal fashion, downloading a snippet here, a song there. One thing that has suffered as a result is the sound quality. But that's not necessarily an inevitable byproduct of the way music is delivered. For example, Neil Young in his recent bestselling autobiography "Waging Heavy Peace" touts the virtues of a high-resolution studio quality recording technology called PureTone, which he calls "the new gold standard". I've never heard it myself, but it sounds promising.

There are some other reservations I have about the way people these days absorb their music, though I won't comment on them at great length today. For one thing, when LPs gave way to CDs, cover art and liner notes took a nosedive. There simply wasn't as much surface area to catch your eye and do something dramatic with. The other major reservation I have relates to the integrity of the whole. Something like The Who's Tommy is a rock opera - it's designed to be listened to in a sequential way in its entirety, not to be splintered off into hit singles. And that's true to a great extent of other albums too, in all genres of music. Increasingly, we seem to be catering to the shortening attention span of today's youth ... and perhaps today's adults too.

Call me an audio-snob if you will, but I suspect there are some like-minded people out there!
I found Chamberfest this year to be much more interesting and innovative than it was last year. And it seems that they do actually listen to feedback given by previous years' festival-goers. For example, there were many more concerts held at the air-conditioned Dominion Chalmers church, and fewer of them at the uncomfortable and difficult-to-get-to St. Brigid's. They introduced a P2 pass, general admission for two adults to all concerts except the Festival Plus ones (of which there were only a few), at a cost of $299 for the full two-week period. And they seemed, in many ways, to be trying to emulate Music and Beyond in highlighting the overlap between music and the other arts. In particular, there were several programmes held right in the galleries at the National Art Gallery - the highlight for me was the "Ave Maria" presentation by Rob Kapilow and the Ottawa Bach Choir, showcasing three specific paintings of the Virgin Mary at key points in her life. "Chamber Elements", with a choir in the garden court and trumpeters and trombonists who wandered through the galleries while the audience got to follow them, was a little more experimental and we didn't always quite know what to make of them, but I'm still definitely glad we went. Another interesting concert was held at Dominion Chalmers and featured (in the first half) Gordon Pinsent narrating Tennyson's Enoch Arden with the accompaniment of Richard Strauss' music and (in the second half) Pinsent reading Ogden Nash poetry with Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals as the accompanying music.

Most days we attended one or two concerts; some days none; there was one day, the first Wednesday, where (somewhat insanely) we decided to attend three concerts, at noon, 3PM and 7 PM (the last two each consisting of Colin Carr playing three of the six Bach cello suites). Midway through Chamberfest, we managed to acquire a second grandchild - but in between several visits to Gatineau, we still managed to attend an impressive number of concerts during the second week.

Music and Beyond and Chamberfest were not the only musical treats of the summer. In between the two festivals, I went to Montreal to attend the annual conference of the International Association of Music Librarians. In addition to librarian-stuff, there was plenty of good music to be enjoyed. A particular highlight for me was the "organ crawl" field trip led by organist and composer Gilles Leclerc in which we got to visit three church organs in the Montreal area: the Casavant organ at Eglise St-Jean Baptiste; the Beckerath organ at the St. Joseph Oratory; and the organs in the Chapelle du Grand Séminaire de Montréal, including the new Guilbault-Thérien one (based on French pipe organs from the classical period) commissioned in 1990 to celebrate their 150th anniversary. I also went to several concerts, my favourite being the one by the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, held at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in Old Montreal.

Returning to Ottawa and the National Art Gallery, we've been enjoying the 40-part, 40-speaker Thomas Tallis motet (Spem in alium), arranged by Janet Cardiff and being played in the Rideau Chapel part of the Gallery; we went in to listen between Chamberfest concerts and went back today to hear it again, before it leaves for good on Aug. 25.

It's been a very music-filled summer so far!



October 2017



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