Silence, exile, cunning..in music

thu 28 may 2020

When all instruments stop, it’s silent. Sometimes that can lead to something magical, such as at the end of a symphony. You hear the last note, dying away in the acoustic. And then a sort of holy moment of emptiness. Every concertgoer has experienced such a moment. This phenomenon can also happen in the middle of a piece. Not only do I have an example, it’s also a confession. I don’t know what consequences it will have, it will probably be allright, as the conductor in question has passed away and the record label exists no more.

25 years ago I was editing for Philips Classics the Orchestral Suites by Bach in a performance by the Orchestra of the 18th Century with Frans Brüggen. As Music editor you couple the best takes in a tasteful way to each other. That has to be done with great precision without breaks and with nice continuous musical lines. It has to be correct rhythmically, no funny extra sounds, the acoustic must run perfectly etc. This way you create a perfect sound world.

So there I was, in an acoustically perfect sound studio, with the very best equipment of the time: B&W DM801 speakers with super amplifiers and superior A/D-convertors. It was most enjoyable because above all it is of course lovely music. After a few days I came to the famous Air. Even though I’d heard the piece hundreds of times I was in ecstasy. So stunningly beautiful, and what a lovely performance! I was already a fan of Brüggen, but now I knew for sure. But the loveliest of it all were the pauses between the repeats. It’s actually a dying note, not silence. But it sounded like attentive silence, as though you were falling and recovered just in time.

..and extend
So I extended all the dying sounds artificially, enormously. Like an ecstatic rebellious editor I intervened, without adding a single note. Scandalously over the top, but out of the best of intentions. I was intrigued to see if either the conductor or the producer would notice. Suppose Frans should spot it? Would he embrace it or would Philips Classics fire me? Nothing: they didn’t notice. Or maybe they did but they were happy with the result – I hope the latter.

Go to the CD prize question for this month !