The ability to innovate

by brian d foy

Related link: http://home.houston.rr.com/rohvicscientific/WenCarlos/ggsob.html



I was enjoying my morning, listening to Wendy Carlos's Bradenburg
Concertos
while the cats ran up and down the halls, and I was
half-heartedly flipping through the liner notes. I like her because I like Bach, and you may have already
heard her stuff as the soundtracks to href="http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0066921/soundtrack">Clockwork
Orange
and href="http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0084827/soundtrack">Tron.


Glenn Gould's name in the notes caught my eye. Included in the notes
was href="http://home.houston.rr.com/rohvicscientific/WenCarlos/ggsob.html
">short article on Wendy's efforts. If he is talking about Wendy,
he is talking about hacking. He liked to think that the artist should
be completely removed from market pressure (i.e. the audience). He
tended to see the world a lot like some open source software people do
today.



He takes a stab at the professional musicians when he points
out Carlos's technical kung-fu (indeed, she studied Physics as well as
music in college). The Moog synthesizer she used was not
some out-of-the-box, shiny thing---it looked a lot like the early
computers with all of its knobs and exposed wiring
.


And the "performer" for Switched-On Bach is no
professional virtuoso taking time out from the winter tour for a visit
to the recording studio, but a young audio engineer named Wendy
Carlos, who, over a period of many months, produced performed and
conceived the extraordinary revelations afforded by this disc in her
living room.



She was a hacker and beleived in her right to innovate. Her href="http://www.wendycarlos.com/biog.html">biography is more techie
and musical. She virtually sat in her living room with a Moog
synthesizer and electronics she created herself and re-interpreted
J.S. Bach, on her own and off the grid, so to speak. She took her
Moog and works not covered by copyright, and creating something fresh
and amazing. She was working in the middle of the creative commons,
and she beleived in what she was doing. She did it soup to nuts too.
She did not need somebody else's studio. If she had
an idea, she could just try it, just like a lot of open source
software people do. She could hack the innards, especially since
Bob Moog, the inventor of the device, did not have today's litigious,
proprietary mindset.


For the real revelation of the disc is its total
acceptance of the recording ethic---the belief in an end so
incontrovertibly convincing that any means, no matter how foreign to
the adjudicative process of the concert hall and even if the master is
white with splicing-tape as this one must have been, is justified.


The result of all this hacking and freedom to innovate? Glenn Gould
concludes [in the liner notes, not the essay]:


Carlos's realization of the Fourth Bradenburg Concerto
is, to put it bluntly, the finest performance of any of the
Bradenburgs---live, canned, or intuited---I've ever heard.





6 Comments

jameshowison1
2003-12-01 15:59:08
But can I reciprocate?
I'm intruiged. What licence is the work released under? If it is traditional copyright, what are her attitudes to requests for sampling and re-mixing?


Otherwise its kinda like proprietary software writers using BSD-style code ... and then taking it proprietary ...


J

brian_d_foy
2003-12-01 16:06:57
But can I reciprocate?
Remember that copyright is automatic in a lot of places. :)


I have not explored her attitudes on sampling (since I do not do that sort of stuff), but she does have a lot of stuff available for download on her website.

esinclai
2003-12-01 18:17:56
Life is not Art
Well, Carlos showed (and later settled, I believe) that she felt uncomfortable with her life being treated as art. See the Momus v Carlos issue, for example:


http://www.observer.com/pages/story.asp?ID=73

BobDuCharme
2003-12-03 06:57:26
The dark side of appropriation

By representing your first indented passage as a direct quote from Gould, you've unintentionally hit on one of the biggest potential problems of freewheeling appropriation: innaccurate attribution. The complete Gould essay you point to is great, but note the mention of "minor edits" by one Robert Austin at the top. I get the impression that Gould wrote the piece the year that Switched-On Bach came out, in which case the "young engineer named Wendy Carlos... in her living room" would not actually be named "Wendy" for over a decade, and it wasn't "her" living room. I don't mean to drag the more sensationalistic aspects of Carlos' career into this, but I have to wonder what else Austin changed, because I have too much respect for Gould (check out "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould") to see something from a a revised version of something Gould wrote passed off as a direct quote.


Of course, this problem isn't limited to the web; is Austin's version what is printed in the liner notes accompanying your CD?


brian_d_foy
2003-12-03 10:13:12
The dark side of appropriation
I prefer to leave the controversial aspects of her life out of her art (and Glenn Gould would say the same thing). What you think about her life decisions or other people's decisions to honor them (even retroactively) makes no difference in what she acheived, how she did it, or the quality of her music, and that was my only point.


I do not think gender should matter in the ability to innovate, and that's the dark side of your comment. If you truly have respect for Gould, you would have respect for Wendy's right to live her private life outside of audience concerns.

anonymous2
2003-12-09 23:09:12
creative freedom and worker control
Creative freedom is a subset of worker control: control over our own lives, without the direction of a boss. Many forms of production produce better results under worker control, and almost all activites are more enjoyable when self-motivated.


Free software is a fantastic example of worker control in action.