You are here:   Auto-tuning > The Other Spin-Doctors

Some called it the operatic event of the TV era: the broadcast of Rigoletto from Mantua, where Verdi's opera is set, with Plácido Domingo in the title role. It took place over the first weekend of September, but some of the team had been in Italy since June making preparations. Each act was painstakingly staged in the location appropriate to the story and at the right time — early evening, early afternoon and late night — while the orchestra and conductor were piped in from the local theatre. Crucially, each act was broadcast live. The logistics of it were unimaginable and the response was suitably massive: fans in 148 countries set their alarm clocks for the next act and Domingo gave one of the great performances of his life. 

Keep music live: Vittorio Grigola as Duca and Plácido Domingo as Rigoletto 

It was the live filming that really made the difference. Without that, it would have been as beautiful and powerful; perhaps even more so-no moments of dodgy ensemble, for instance. But it seems there's an extra buzz of excitement about live music, even live on TV, and it's not just about how much can go wrong. That's why so many musicians increasingly utter the platitude that they prefer live recordings to studio ones.

Try the other side of the coin, though. The whole point of recording used to be perfection. Glenn Gould regarded recording as an art form in itself. He withdrew from the concert platform and devoted himself to recording so that he could achieve musical results which satisfied him more deeply than any one-off performance could. 

Musicians and their producers have been editing recordings ever since the process was invented. Precisely because a recording is not live, perfection can seem within reach. In the hands of a visionary like Gould, who was upfront about what he wanted to achieve, that's fine. And think of the giant pop bands and their recording engineers: would the Beatles have been the same without George Martin? Equally, Brian Eno was crucial to U2 and Quincy Jones to Michael Jackson. The best classical producers are actually among the finest artists in the industry.

But there comes a tipping point at which wool can start being pulled: it's when companies start to pass things off as something they aren't.

The case of Joyce Hatto, which exploded across the press early in 2007, was a sad business: ageing record producer makes small technical adjustments to other artists' existing piano recordings to disguise them, then issues them as the work of his dying wife. He is believed, until his cover is blown by canny experts with clever machines. Musicians are shocked, critics are shamed; film, radio and TV writers queue up for the story. 

The implications of the Joyce Hatto affair were far-reaching, for it revealed that much of the industry, never mind the poor old public, can be easily duped. Pianists' copyright was violated, critics had declared Hatto the greatest pianist we'd never heard of, and probably no one would have known the truth without the technology to test it. The only comfort was that so few discs had been sold that those whose intellectual property had been swiped hadn't lost out too much. At that time, stories began to filter through that this was not the first time such things had happened, nor was it likely to be the last. 

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.