October 19, 2005
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Remediation: an important essay

Bolter and Grusin recoined the term "remediation " to describe the recreation of a work in a new medium. Remediation is important in the growth of all new media.

One of the best essays I've seen about remediation is Charles Rosen's "Playing Music: The Lost Freedom", which just appeared in the New York Review of Books. It's a review -- or, rather. a response and elaboration, of Robert Philip's study of Performing Music in the Age of Recording , an examination of the way that recording has changed the performance of music in the last century.

The challenge here is to disentangle fashion from the impact of technology. Musicians today play more precisely, in part, because a mistake in the concert hall is inconsequential while we might hear a recorded mistake dozens of times. For the same reason, recording favors more cautious tempi: a daringly-fast movement or a startling, dramatic ritardando works better in performance, where it may surprise and delight, than frozen in the archives.

Occasional mistakes in performance do not matter that much in the concert hall, but they are always hard to stomach on a record when one is listening to it for the tenth time. I wince in advance at the very few wrong notes in the scherzo of Rachmaninoff's magnificent performance of Chopin's B-flat minor Sonata, or at the place in Horowitz's first recording of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto where he skips two bars and has to keep repeating a figure until the orchestra catches up.