In the middle of 2005, I reviewed Philip Glass's ablum North Star on amazon.com. The album, consisting of short pieces with keyborads, winds, and voice, was recorded in the late 1970's and as such, the recording is quite dated. The lack of a sync track, in particular, made for a very discombobulated recording (particularly with as many syncopated rythms as the pieces have). Because of this, I gave the CD a mixed review (3 of 5 stars).
Recently, an amazon shopper has left an interesting comment on my review. He suggests that I, and other listeners, should "prefer the magic of being fully engaged in the listening experience instead of merely critiquing a performance." His suggests that " inspiration and creativity should trump a less than perfect performance," because an overperfect execution may well result in music that is sterile and less-than-human.
Let me be the first (maybe not the first, but certainly not the last) to say that I agree with much that this critic says. I would much rather hear a flawed but beautifully soulful piece of music than a perfectly crafted piece by John Cage or Arnold Schoenberg. I could not imagine Tom Waits sounding as good if he were over-produced and lost the soulful grit in his voice.
But I do think that this critic takes things too far. First off, inspiration and creativity do not AWLAYS trump musicianship and technicality. No matter how creative the tune or original the melody, it can be performe4d well and it can be performed poorly. I could not imagine hearing Allen Hovanhess's Guitar Concerto's (a recent favorite) performed by a high-school band...and saying that Hovanhess's originality and creativity were able to overcome a dismal execution. And I have heard some great jazz tunes positively botched by inept soloists and accompanists. Thus, I have to say that while originality DOES often trump poor execution, to say that it ALWAYS does is an overstatement (as are so many things that use the word "always").
The main thing that struck me about this critic's crtiticism is his thought that by "merely critiquing a performance," I somehow could not have been "fully engaged in the listening experience."
I never realized that these two things - listening to a performance and critiquing the performance - were mutually exclusive things. In fact, I cannot see how paying attention to musical execution does anything but ENHANCE the listening experience. Look at any liner notes to any classical or jazz CD in existence and you will see not only a rundown of the compositions, but detailed attention to the performance. And as any music composer knows (I was a songwriting major at Berklee College of Music in my younger days), a composition is absolutely only as good as the performance of it. If it is played poorly, then for purposes of that performance, it IS poor.
So, while I see the author's point that one does not want to OVERanalyze a peformance - that can certainly get in the way of appreciating the music holistically - I don't see how one can be "fully engaged in the listening experience" while not paying good attention to the performance. In the case of Philip Glass's North Star CD, the music definitely suffered because of performance-based things like the lack of a click-track and some less-than-stellar vocals. Were I only judging Glass's score, I would say that critiquing the performance is besides the point. Since I was listening to a sound recording, I felt that I must appraise not only the score, but the recording of the sounds.
So to anyone who might suggest that the "listening experience" should not include appraising the performance of the music, I would suggest that this is much like trying to think about the "reading experience" with a blind eye to an author's ability to write.