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The Negative Spaces of Technology


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Photo copyright (c) 1998 Keith Bramich

Dickinson wrote that, 'The supper of the heart is when the guest is gone.' Unfortunately we today have not had a visit from the guest (live music) apart from her various ghost-like apparitions (recorded music). It is hard to miss what we have never experienced fully and solely. The negative space of recording technology has created a void of emotional impact that was available to the listener, in former eras, only via live music performance. This pure, unalloyed sensual experience is now virtually non-existent, degraded, diluted by the sense-numbing quantity of recorded music and sound, the fodder of modern silence, that surrounds us.

As technology has perhaps stripped us of a certain sensual involvement, it has also made much available to us, and this is surely the other side of the negative space. There is simply a much larger world of possibilities available. Any type of music, including that of tribal peoples unfamiliar with the products of recording technology, is available. There is a virtual garden of sound, with increasing fidelity, available on demand. As technology improves, these documents will continually approach actual performance fidelity. In fact a recent 'local performance recording and reproduction technique' (LPR/R) developed by Dr. William M. Hartmann, a physicist at Michigan State University, promises much along these lines.

Hartmann recorded a live string quartet with two contact microphones and two audio channels devoted independently to each instrument. There was no microphone cross-talk. No reverb was added. The actual acoustic properties of the particular space in which playback occurred, wherever that might be, would provide the appropriate natural reverb. Four speaker cabinets each designed to replicate the approximate sonic radiation patterns of each instrument were assigned the two audio channels from their corresponding instrument. The speaker cabinets were positioned on stage as a string quartet would be positioned.

Mozart's 'The Hunt' quartet, K. 458 and the new technology packed the house, standing room only in Columbus, Ohio, USA, during a conference of the Acoustical Society of America in November, 1999. Acoustics experts gave the positive nod to the technology. 'It was so convincing. You moved around and the instruments seemed to be coming from a live group...' said architectural acoustician Dr. Leo L. Beranek. For more information on this technology see:


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Copyright © 15 January 2000 by Jeff Talman, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA


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