Do You Know How Much Classical Music Is Edited?
When we think of editing in music, we might think of quantizing lining up rhythm in an R&B song or autotune fixing the vocals of a pop singer. Many people don’t realize that editing exists in classical recordings as well.
- When you think of editing in music,
you might imagine auto-tuning the vocals of a pop singer
or modifying the rhythm of the drums.
Many people don't realize
that editing exists in classical recordings as well.
- For example, watch these two clips
of concert pianist Krystian Zimerman
playing Chopin's "Ballade No. 1."
Can you find evidence of an edit?
It's not in what you heard, but what you saw.
Notice the change in the bench he's sitting on,
implying that there were multiple takes.
Many listeners have been surprised to discover
that this performance wasn't recorded in a single take.
And one commenter wrote,
"Since the chair was a dead giveaway,
I wonder how many clips were actually used
to make this recording."
- Now listen to this track and see if you can find
any evidence of edits.
♪ Boy yeah right, yeah right, yeah right ♪
♪ Boy yeah right, yeah right, yeah right ♪
♪ Free something that's erased ♪
- [Narrator] In that clip,
everything from the auto-tune vocals
to the electronic drum kit is heavily processed.
But people are less critical of the editing
in electronic music.
- So why is there a double standard
and how much editing is acceptable in classical music?
First of all, why do musicians edit their recordings?
There are two distinct reasons why musicians edit.
Number one, to erase mistakes and strive for perfection,
and number two, for stylistic choices.
For example, auto-tune, which adjusts the pitch
of a recording to correct out of tune singing
is an example of editing to erase mistakes.
But sometimes, auto-tune is used
for the other type of editing
and is entirely a stylistic choice.
♪ I got money in the bank ♪
♪ Shawty, what you think 'bout that? ♪
♪ I'll be in the gray Cadillac ♪
♪ We in the bed ♪
Because this is somewhat of a subject of topic,
we invited a group of respected classical musicians
to discuss their opinions on editing.
So the basis of what we want to talk about today is
everything in relation to editing
in the context of classical music.
- I love being on panels because I feel like I learn
from everybody so much
and probably won't learn anything from me
but I will have a wonderful time hearing what all
of you have to say.
- Before we dive into the debate
on when editing goes too far,
let's cover the history
on how we got here in the first place.
In 1877, Thomas Edison created the first
reliable recording device, the phonograph.
Over the next 60 years,
music was stored on disks and wax cylinders
and couldn't be edited.
Errors were prevalent
because musicians had to record each piece in one take.
For example, listen for the mistake in Alfred Cortot's
1933 recording of a Chopin etude.
- Even without the ability to edit,
some classical musicians were critical of recording.
After one 1932 studio session,
pianist Arthur Schnabel said
that recording music was a surrender to evil,
a betrayal of life in which the human being,
the original, is forgotten.
In the 1940s,
the development of magnetic tape allowed musicians
to splice together different takes of the same piece.
This is around the time
that pianist Glenn Gould enters the picture.
Unlike some, Gould fully embraced recording.
He even retired from public performances
at the young age of 32 to focus on recording full time.
He thought recordings were the future of classical music
and claimed that the concert is dead.
But not everyone was as excited about the ability
to splice together different takes.
With each new innovation,
there is a period of resistance followed by acceptance.
Just like Schnabel criticized recording before,
other musicians shared their criticisms of editing.
Here's a book I discovered called
"Recording the Classical Guitar"
and it says Andres Segovia didn't like performances
to be spliced.
He always felt guilty when there was a certain amount
of splicing because he felt he should have been able
to play the pieces note perfect the first time.
Then it says here by the mid 1960s,
this attitude towards splicing began
to change as artists and producers recognized
that recorded performances were not obliged
to serve as reflections of live performance,
a development which coincided with a dramatic increase
in the facilities of studio technology for editing sound.
Just an open question to start off with.
How much editing do you think is an okay amount?
Is there such a thing in your personal practice
and your experience as a musician?
- My opinion on this topic is that, you know,
minor adjustments to just erase that little pimple
without changing the shape of, you know
all the other features on your face
- I mean, if I had my way there would be zero editing.
I mean, I have edited my stuff for sure, anyway,
but it's sort of like the effect of, sort of,
Instagram on photos.
That kind of playing can't be replicated live.
And that's also what we're expecting
because that's what we hear.
- It's a slippery slope when you try
to make something so perfect,
and then when somebody comes to your concert,
they're like, "Ooh," you know.
It didn't sound like that on the recording.
I think at some point you will have to figure out
what the line is for you personally.
I don't think you should be playing all 88 keys
and then just putting together a Beethoven sonata
from those tones.
I mean I think that's ridiculous but that's an extreme.
- Since the 1980s, digital recording methods
have taken over the music industry
- What is the process
of editing such a thing
for string musicians?
- In terms of what can be edited,
it could be timing, it could be intonation,
It can be sound quality.
It can be even placing in different notes,
bar by bar, note by note.
I mean, free master
and then you put it to this program called Melodine
and then it's polyphonic intonation algorithm.
Then you can adjust each note.
- The thing you have to make sure of,
the producer that you work with
knows what kind of performer you are
on stage and what kind of rendition you're trying
to get on the disc
so that that trust between, I think, the artist
and the producer is very important.
- Some advancements have been made,
but editing remains minimal
and splicing is still the primary tool.
Why is that?
Well, classical music usually isn't tied to a rhythmic grid
and the tempo is often bent.
For example, listen to the slight tempo changes
in Johannes Brahms's Hungarian Rhapsody Number Five.
(classical music plays)
Subtle shifts in tempo and phrasing make it impractical
to record and edit parts separately.
As a result, it's easier to run larger chunks
as a full ensemble and then use splicing
to get rid of mistakes.
So if editing happens less in classical music
than in pop music, why is it controversial?
- One reason is that pop music is often recorded first
and then performed later.
Classical music is flipped.
It was initially written to be performed
but is now also recorded.
For the audience, the classical recording is secondary
and it's just a representation of what they would hear
if they saw the performance live.
That means editing out mistakes made
inaccurately enhance the performance actual ability.
For example, one editor
on the Audio Asylum music board claimed he knew
of a classical album that had as many as 900 edits
or once every four to five seconds.
- I've helped produce albums which have
over a thousand of edits,
So there is this wide range, you know
five edits for one person and thousands for another, so.
- Even more dishonest is the practice
of editing quote, unquote, live concerts.
Often they are multiple live performances stitched together,
and additional audience free recording sessions.
Sometimes whole movements from a classical music CD
were never even performed live.
So how does editing affect music listeners?
Around 50% of people who stream classical music
listen to it in the background.
However, serious listeners might dislike
that current recording methods
capture a limited volume range.
This is fine for pop music
but classical music usually has wider dynamic swings.
Listen for how the quiet French horn transforms
into the massive coral theme in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
in a matter of seconds.
(classical music plays)
Naxos, the largest classical music label
has considered using different forms of audio compression
to better capture the dynamic range of classical music.
- What about aspiring classical musicians?
In classical music,
there is a culture around reaching unattainable perfection.
With the advancement in editing technology,
that standard has been raised even higher.
Mental health is a common issue among young musicians.
One recent study found that one-third
of Spanish music students have used substances
to cope with performance anxiety.
An increased standard of perfection puts more
and more pressure on an already competitive field of study.
- And I don't think it's affecting our industry positively
because it's changing what is normal,
'cause again the most normal thing
is to put on a recording, not go to a concert.
That's an event for everybody.
- On the other hand, the prevalence
of high quality recordings allows music students to learn
from the greatest performers
with the click of a button.
Compare this to the 20 year old JS Bach,
who traveled 250 miles on foot,
to listen to the brilliant organist Dieterich Buxtehude.
The expectation for mistake free recordings
also puts a lot of pressure on recording musicians.
It's rumored that pianist Krystian Zimerman took 76 takes
of Liszt's B minor Sonata before he was satisfied.
However, editing allows artists
to better capture their vision for a composition.
Glenn Gould likened himself to a film producer,
meticulously combining his takes into unique interpretation.
Maybe transparency is key.
By openly sharing the extent of their edits,
classical musicians can embrace the new opportunities
of modern editing.
At the same time, they acknowledge
that the recording has less mistakes
than what they would realistically create
in a public performance.
- I think it's also good to remind, at least myself, right?
Our main audience is not some studio class at Julliard.
It's the general public.
When we put out things and we have really tiny mistakes,
it's like sometimes I'm like, "Oh, we made a tiny mistake.
Everybody will know about it."
That's just not true.
Our main audience is the general public.
- As technology improves, editing in classical music
may become more sophisticated.
One composer wrote a piece that was faster
than one Boston ensemble could humanly perform.
So he had the orchestra record the piece at half tempo
and later doubled the speed with editing software.
The final recording was convincing enough
that a New York ensemble couldn't tell
that edits had been made.
- Some may argue that with editing like this
we cut out the imperfections that make art human.
With AI generated art,
the human element is removed completely.
Some AI art pieces are very convincing.
Recently editors at The Archive
at Duke University Literary Journal
accepted an AI generated poem.
Or consider this AI generated piece that mimics Bach.
In one survey, 50% of people,
most of whom were classical music enthusiasts,
couldn't tell the difference between the Bach and the AI.
(classical music playing)
Another advancement in editing technology are VSTs
or virtual instruments.
These virtual instruments aren't commonly used
in classical music today
but maybe there'll be more accepted in the future.
Some VSTs sounds so realistic that it's hard
to tell them apart from real instruments.
And to put this to the test,
Arthur and I faced off in a quiz
to see who could guess which instruments were real
and which were virtual.
- Let's, let's, let's start with Piano G chord.
- I'm playing mine. (piano chord plays)
- They both sound fake.
Okay, I'm ready, I'm ready.
Are you ready? - Here we go.
- [Both] One, two, three.
- Okay. I think we on the same page.
- Oh we got it right. - Good, good, good, good.
- Drums one and two.
- When I get this wrong, Imma be ashamed
that you can't tell what's a real drum like.
- I hear this shh sound that is just way to perfect
- The China cymbal, yeah the China.
- Okay, lets do this.
One, two, three. - Two, three.
I knew I was gonna get that wrong, that's crazy.
- Let's see orchestra.
- Naw, it's like...
- This might be a trap.
- I'm analyzing, hold on a second.
- Two, three.
What? Wait, no way. (laughing)
This is the absolute nonsense.
This is so, what?
- Should we do cymbal one, cymbal two?
- Yes. - I think this one
might be low key easy.
(cymbals clanging) (chuckling)
At this point I'm literally like, swinging in the dark.
I do not know.
- I want to know.
Okay, two, three.
- Okay, what we on?
This is the first time we agree.
- We got it wrong.
No way, why?
- This game is cheating.
- No, no, let's do piano, piano.
- All right, all right, hey, no pressure.
No pressure, but you're making history here.
Aw, come on, come on.
- Why is it "Fur Elise?"
- Right? Right?
This one was easy.
- Two, Three.
One real, no.
- Nori, I got drums wrong.
You got orchestra, classical music wrong.
What are we doing?
So, Nori, what made you want to do an episode
on editing in classical music?
What really pushed your button
to make this whole episode go?
- What's interesting to me is that if you're recording,
you're in a completely different environment
and you're performing in a different way.
First of all, you're entitled to do many takes.
You're not just gonna go in there,
play one take and then leave.
- And keep it.
- That in and of itself is editing
because you're doing, I dunno,
10, 20, 30, 40 takes, whatever it is,
then that's a form of editing already.
So if we're doing that,
and it's a completely different form of art,
why be so shy about other edits?
But at the same time, I recognize that this process
has some consequences as well
because now we're pushing what perfection is.
So later on, when you're on the stage,
you have two standards that you're up against,
the recorded standard and the stage standard.
And that kind of plays with your head
and I feel like that's an interesting,
yet at times, disturbing part of being a musician
in the studio or on stage.
So that's why I was drawn to this episode.
A huge shout out to The Cliburn,
whose mission is to advance classical piano music
throughout the world
for partnering with us on this video.
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