Friday, August 05, 2005

Glenn Gould -- Mash-Up Artist

Just finished a recent biography of Glenn Gould -- Wondrous Strange by Kevin Bazzana. Glenn Gould is an endlessly fascinating character, only in part because of his unparalleled talent as a pianist. As Bazzana makes clear, Gould had ideas on a wide number of topics, musical and otherwise.

One of the more interesting sections concerned Gould's prescient views on the role of technology in the future of music -- particularly recorded music:
...we might call Gould the first postmodern performer of the Western classical canon.

He extended his postmodern belief in creative freedom to its logical limit, advocating the direct participation of the listener in the creative process, through the intercession of technology. He believed that the modern listener had the same right to tinker with the recording artist's work as the performer had to tinker with the composer's. ... (R)ecording, Gould said, "compels the performer to relinquish some control in favor of the listener, a state of affairs, by the way, which I happen to find both encouraging and charming, not to mention aesthetically appropriate and morally right." It is a pity that Gould did not live to explore the digital technologies of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, technologies, like the Internet, that democratize and decentralize the institutions of culture to a degree he never imagined..."
What he was really describing -- in 1968 -- were exactly the sorts of mash-ups and remixes that are such a part of music today. Given the right software, anyone can take anything recorded and change it, splice it, combine it with something else, and put the result back out for consumption. Gould would have hated "A Stroke Of Genie-us" as music, but he would have loved the concept.


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