Switched-On Bach 2000
25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition!
This newly remastered sequel CD commemorates the original S-OB, in vivid surround realizations, plus new bonus tracks. Bach's original tunings are heard, for a much smoother sound than we are accustomed to today. Compare with the original S-OB 1, and enjoy the timbral and tuning progress of over 25 years.
Deluxe New Edition Liner Notes:
In the early 90's I began work on a
new album to mark the 25th Anniversary of my famous (or should
be: infamous?) first album. At the same time the new project would
provide an excellent vehicle in which to demonstrate over a
century of electro-acoustic musical progress, from Moog to MIDI.
Much had changed when I began a fresh attack on these beloved favorites by Papa Bach. During the realizing of works I knew so intimately, I found myself constantly reflecting on how much the tools had matured since 1968. Striking differences outweighed the similarities of producing both albums to such an extent that only in my memory did I feel much continuity.
No longer was I directly playing Moog synthesizer onto multitrack tape, inventing new sounds and timbres at the same time as recording each line, layer by layer. Now the notes I performed, the intuitive expression gestures, were coded into MIDI, passed into my Mac computer, and there assembled within Digital Performer. It was still an overdubbing environment&emdash;you played each part on top of all prior parts, usually following a custom click track built as the first step. This stage wasn't all that different from working with the Moog on tape, but now it had been streamlined.
It's like that now: I can go back and edit, polish what I just played, giving up nothing of the initial freshness of early takes (one becomes quite stale repeating lines over and over to achieve note- accuracy with Moog on tape). This delightful advantage is often taken for granted today, but not by old timers like me. It allows these re-performances to exhibit greater authority with more refined polish than the earlier albums.
On the downside, MIDI tended to separate the act of synthesizer performance from sound design. You didn't in general hear final timbres while playing your heart out. That remains disconcerting. The final marriage happens later, as the MIDI data from the computer is played into a bank of digital synthesizers, and recorded line by line onto digital multitrack, then mixed into surround sound. Most recently you can use virtual sound emulators within the computer, but the principle's the same.
While assembling the Bach 2000 album I took advantage of a recent synth advance to sweeten the Baroque ensemble, subtlety re- tuning each instrument. Instead of following the ubiquitous 12-note Equal Temperament, I chose the same scales and temperaments Bach most preferred. The first S-OB was "supposedly in ET", but the early instrument always overruled us, with random pitch variations of its own&emdash;quite maddening.
By 1990 I had learned how to create complex timbres, many based on fine acoustic instruments. You can follow that thread through my score to TRON, into Digital Moonscapes and then Beauty in the Beast. So this 25th Anniversary CD features a great many natural or "concrete" sounding elements, rep-licas of woodwinds, brass, strings, and tuned percussions well beyond the means of a simple analog synth. The ensembles are richer as a result, in addition to the smoother tunings.
It was a lot of fun to revisit these works and explore the latest synth breakthroughs. In the dozen years since S-OB2K (as I like to abbreviate it) first came out, this eclecticism of musical sound has made its way into most recorded music and live performance. During the making of S-OB2K, I deliberately avoided listening to the earlier recording, to avoid becoming influenced in matters of timbre, phrasing, and tempo. I allowed the new realizations to head in whatever directions they took me. Since then I've compared the two versions. The new album sounds darker, richer, and more confident, as it sweeps over the listener (especially in surround sound). On the other hand, the brighter and at times slightly sloppy original album retains a spontaneity of doing something exciting for the first time, more happy puppy than experienced artist in control.
The cover for this new remastering
has changed since 1992. The concept Telarc came up with was
apt in its homage to the well known CBS cover (photographed with
panache by the legendary team of Horn/Griner), but updated with a
"computerized harpsichord." The result, unfortunately, is dark and
murky, gracelessly chopped-off at the bottom, to allow for several
lines of type at the top. And sheet music blowing away wouldn't
quite like that. It simply never worked for me.
We can do better for this special edition, while matching the "look and feel" of the rest of our Switched-On collection. The new cover began with original H/G elements, and features music tools I actually used in 1992 (Mac computer and monitors, a Kurzweil MIDIBoard), to replace that 1968 portable Moog. Notice a few sly other differences, such as updating the cat with a new Siamese model. Since the first cover showed not a single synth patch cord, no sound could have be made or heard. Our new cover captures the equipment powered up and ready to go, as it was while creating the album.
First-time listeners also should note that there are two bonus tracks on S-OB2K not present on the first S-OB. A short Happy Birthday parody greeting begins the proceedings, and we end with an encore, that forceful epitome of Baroque organ music, the Toccata and Fugue in d, played with as much spirit and drama as I could conjure. Also the middle movement in the 3rd Brandenburg is new and insinuates itself nicely, my best attempt yet to compose within the style and idiom of dear J.S. Bach. You will find a complete track-by-track description of all the music included in the New Edition's Booklet. Finally, rest assured the audio on this CD has been newly tweaked and polished, and has never sounded better.
New York City, September 2004
Excerpts from the First Edition Liner Notes:
The Enhanced-CD Original Notes for the New ESD Deluxe Edition contain a comprehensive story of how the Switched-On albums came to be, including the 25th Anniversary sequel itself. After twenty-five years there were quite a few things I'd saved up and wanted to say, many questions to answer for fans and musicians who'd been asking about my most famous performances. To give you a better idea of some of the topics discussed at length, you can read here a selection of excerpts from the full notes:
It seems impossible to believe that almost 25 years have elapsed since Switched-On Bach was produced. Multiply that time by four and you have a century, which always sounds like such a long time. Obviously a lot has happened in this quarter of a century. Even if we look only at the music world, a lot has happened. To paraphrase Dickens, some of it is the best thing that could have happened, and some of it is the worst.
By the late 70's I had done what I thought would be my final Bach album, a collection of the six Brandenburgs, which was about all I had to say on the subject. Those were about the best I could do with the state-of-the-art as it then was.
So why this all-new album? I've had people asking me for years now, by mail and in person, to do some more electronic Bach. And lately some of you have wondered out loud how the new technology of music making, digital this and that and MIDI, might change or help things. Rather like Einstein's famous thought-experiments I've been asked how a MIDI sequencer or new digital sounds and recording methods might have improved Switched-On Bach. But I was strong. Until now.
Yet nothing sounds strange about von Karajan having recorded and rerecorded Beethoven's 9th Symphony about a dozen times in his lifetime. Even Glenn Gould returned to the Goldberg Variations, where he started, and recorded his mature impressions of that masterpiece at the end of his brief life. An artist brings a very different point of view to a work in midlife than was possible in youth. Perhaps some intrepid spark or flash of enthusiasm is the hallmark of a young interpretation, and this may not be as true when one is older. But the balanced perspective and security of one's technique, and an understanding of what has come before and why, must add at least as much as whatever may be diminished.
Then after Beauty In The Beast was released, my first excursion into the terra incognita of non-equal temperament, I began to hear murmurings like, "Gosh, think of how your Bach realizations would have sounded if you had been able to use Bach's own tunings!" Enough! I became hooked to the idea that perhaps indeed it was time to venture into that well known and loved spot again. Just how WOULD I do Switched-On Bach today?
(In this CD's complete notes we next focus on many of the important changes and development of the tools for electronic music, and synthesizers in general.)
Once Again with Feeling
The only sane way I could approach this all-new realization of the music I had done earlier, was to ignore the older version. It's been over seven years since I last heard it, and even then it was just to check the quality of the CD reissue. The performances seemed to hold up pretty well, as I remember. Some of the tempos seemed a little uncomfortable. There were a few small stumbles I had let go by as the lesser of two evils.
But I had to find my way through the familiar repertoire all anew. I could play the music into my computer at the most comfortable tempo. The horrors of either full speed or half speed, the only two options (or suffer a key change) was gone. No longer must each take be letter--ahem, note-perfect. So I could go for a complete take of each passage and stop when I got one that felt absolutely good, even if there was a clinker in it that I could edit out later. I could save it, and try again. Or come back another time and save the best of that one, and then decide between several of such when all the parts were done and there was a good context with which to make these important decisions.
So I ended up using a lot of earlier takes on these new recordings, say take 4 or 5, instead of the old days when take 30 or yes, even take 40 might be necessary. If any spontaneity was left by that time, it was purely gratuitous and unexpected. From a point of view of having MUSICAL performances, there is simply no argument: the new way wins hands down.
For this recording I could go in and fine-tune my performances, moving notes about, adjusting the level of one which may have stuck out as too loud in an otherwise good phrasing. Timings could be stretched here and there to fit better with one another, allowing the tyranny of the click track of all my earlier performances to be gotten around. It's the way painters, graphic artists, writers and poets, can go for the broad gestures initially, and then polish and work on the details at a later pass. Great!
Particularly helpful for making these unquantized performances sound "right" was: tempo came last. I didn't have to use the think method of trying to hear the music in my head first, while laying down a rigid click tempo track. Those places in my first album where the tempo sounds wrong are just that--wrong. I would have fixed it then, if it hadn't meant redoing the entire thing all over again, with no guarantee that the new one would be correct, or indeed any better at all!
Now the tempo can be adjusted when the whole thing is assembled, even doing small adjustments on certain beats to recapture my human rubato. It really improved the whole thing such that going back to a flat metronome was painful.
All these editing session took time, lots of it. The process is very much like Disney animation, with the rough pencil tests first, and corrections to smooth out awkward bits, and all the sleight of hand that this kind of art form permits to capture an idealized concept that belies the effort involved.
(In the complete notes each musical selection and realization is next described in detail, track by track.)
In the early 60's it was difficult to get people to listen to, never mind take seriously, any music that was made electronically. Be it the French Musique Concrétè (manipulated recorded acoustic sounds), the German Pure Electronic Music (sounds generated electronically), or American Tape Music (sounds from both of the above, manipulated on magnetic tape), the general public considered it to be avant garde in the worst sense, completely without redeeming value or commercial interest.
In truth, nearly all of the music made with electronic means at that time had been original contemporary classical music. It was the dissonance, dodecaphony, aleatory, avoidance of melody, harmony, and all other such features of modern music that made it such an alien, hostile listening experience for many. Electronic music with the same properties was certainly no better, but also no worse. But here the electronic medium was blamed. Yes, it was then more primitive then most other musical methods, but that may have helped give it a charm that was ironically not usually intended.
So I began my young experience as a composer realizing that what I had to offer was generally hated. But I thought that if I offered people a little bit of traditional music, and they could clearly hear the melody, harmony, rhythm and all the older values, they'd finally see that this was really a pretty neat new medium, and would then be less antipathetic to my more adventurous efforts.
(In the complete notes we turn to the fascinating history of the Moog analog instruments, and the way we used a large custom version to produced our pioneering Bach & Baroque albums.)
Authentic Bach Tunings
The smooth sounds you may notice in this recording are to a large degree the result of the tunings used. None of them is our standard equal temperament, a compromise that allows modulation into all keys, and requires only twelve notes in an octave. But along the way a lot was sacrificed. Musicians have remained rather timid about trying out the alternatives, probably believing the myths that anything microtonal sounds weird and out-of-tune. The few pioneers who do venture into these waters get treated with disdain by a majority who exhibit surprisingly little tolerance or curiosity in this area. What is everyone so afraid of?
Until recently it was certainly difficult to sample any of the many alternatives. Everything was built or pretuned to fit the sole standard. Physical instruments drift in pitch, too, so finer nuances are hard to maintain. In the last several years that's changed to a large degree. The majority of the newer, digitally driven musical instruments can be quickly tuned into anything you want to try, and will dependably stay that way. Or you can call it up quickly at a later date. The computer inside doesn't care, it's just as easy as equal temperament, just one set of numbers versus any other set.
There are magazines, newsletters and clubs of people who are interested in the adventure of exploring alternative tunings, feeling perhaps that the standard path is so well worn as to have little new and wonderful to discover. I hope that listening to the unusually pure harmonies herein will stimulate many of you to take a first step along some road less well trodden.
(In the complete notes we investigate several basic tunings, and which are used where on the album.)
About the Dolby Surround on S-OB 2000
Ever since 1970 I've usually mixed my music onto four tracks, later reduced to an optimal two-track stereo. Aside from a flurry of quadraphonic systems in the early 70's, there has been no way to release four channels in an excellent consumer format (note: that is, until the recent new "DVD-A" format; see our new surround site). Fortunately, in the last few years there has been increasing interest in the Dolby Surround format, originally developed for films by Ioan Allen and his group at Dolby Labs. While this isn't a true four channel format, it is a very practical compatible method of producing a wrap-around sound field, while we wait for the real thing.
With that in mind, I mastered this recording onto four discrete channels in a left, center, right, surround configuration, and then encoded that digital master using the latest Dolby equipment. Masters made according to the rigid Dolby specifications naturally provide a wonderful regular stereo playback, with nothing lost or compromised. When played through a Dolby Pro-logic decoder, the results approach true four channels, and you can enjoy a heightened breadth and perspective, as the music dances around the room, exposing with clarity Bach's brilliant counterpoint.
(Tip: with a Pro-logic system and center speaker, try placing the left and right speakers out fairly wide, and a bit towards the sides, for an improved wrap-around effect.)
A Note on One Note
There's not a single Moog synthesizer sound on this 25th Anniversary recording. Well, that's not completely true; there's exactly one, and it's plainly audible, not particularly buried. But I leave it as an exercise for the curious to locate (heh, heh, heh...)
(Postscript: Those who have correctly identified that one Moog note have been named with "Green Leaf Awards" in the Open Letters section. And the deal is still on, for those who identify the note correctly, to be added to the web site's Living Page. Many have tried, and most have made it -- HEY!)
© 1998-2012 Serendip. All rights reserved