Wise after the event

April 24, 2007

I turned in my review of the i and e festival for ParisTransatlantic at the weekend after my usual struggle to get the thing finished. As I mentioned somewhere below my experience of the first night of music was affected by exhaustion, and so I listened back to some nice quality recordings of the shows to be able to refresh my memory and check whether events were as good as I remembered.

The music was all very strong, but one set in particular struck me as sounding very different on CDr than it did on the evening in question. I’ve noticed before on quite a few occasions that my experiences listening to music live differ greatly from audio recordings of the same shows. There are a few notable examples, one being the Sakada 3″ CD that was released on the Antiopic label a few years back, that is made up of a recording made at the Freedom of the City festival in London in 2003. On the night in the hall the music was very quiet, very quiet indeed. On the released CD though everything sounds so much louder, brighter. Of course quiet music gets lost in a big hall whereas an up close microphone will capture much more, but its not as if the CD contains anything I had missed in the live setting, its just louder. I’m not even arguing that this is wrong in any way, (I probably even prefer the released recording) just that its overall feel is very different.

Clearly someone (on this occasion Tiim Barnes at Quakebasket) just boosted up the recording at the mastering stage, so no great mystery, but on other occasions live shows have sounded very different indeed to my recollection of them. Another easily explained example would be the four hour long MIMEO performance that took place at London’s Serpentine Gallery and later became the Lifing Concrete Lightly multi CD release. On this occasion the audience were free to walk about the performance space, and outside of it into Hyde Park, where speakers were set up in various locations. Depending where you were stood at any particular time the music sounded quite different, so one mixed down recording taken from the desk would quite possibly sound very different. However my memory of the show bares absolutley no resemblance ot the live show at all. there are whole sections to be heard in the music I don’t remember being there, the recordings might as well have been of a different concert altogether.

One I find less easy to explain is the Cosmos show at The Spitz back in 2002. On the night I was really taken with this performance. I found it beautifully balanced, enchanting music. Perhaps beacuse this was my first experience of Cosmos as a duo I left feeling I had really heard something amazing. Of course history has gone on to show just how good Cosmos can be, and the CD that appeared a year or so later of this perfomance (the Astro Twin / Cosmos 2CD set on FMN) isn’t bad at all, but it sounds nothing like I remember. Sachiko sounds far more minimal than my memory of the show, far quieter and much less busy. i guess this one could be the reverse scenario of the Sakada disc and the mikes may have failed to pick up some of the detail, but again its just different.

The recording from the Dublin festival I mentioned at the start of this post was of Joe Colley’s solo set. I wrote a glowing review of his performance, picking out how animated he was, writhing about in his chair, eyes closed, head swaying about. Not dissimilar to the time I saw him play solo in New York where he was equally animated. The recording just sounds very different. In truth I probably am just paying more attention to the actual music and far less to Mr Colley’s stage presence, but shorn of the visual spectacle the music sounds flatter, less impassioned, and my enjoyment is somewhat lessened.

For me, live concerts and CD releases are very different things that serve different purposes and I don’t expect one to be a precise replica of the other, it just always amazes me how different something often sounds when taken out of its original environment and atmosphere and played back aagin.

Pics: MIMEO’s Lifting Concrete Lightly sleeve (complete with a shot of me looking wistful!) and Joe Colley in Dublin courtesy of Fergus Kelly

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