|Michael Caine and Shelley Winters in "Alfie" ~ 1966|
Recent posts (and the discussions that followed them) have prompted more thought about the changes in technology we've experienced in the past few years. We've come light years from just two decades ago, when the word "digital" wasn't even in our vocabulary. Technology has given us tools of communication that we never dreamed possible, and those developments have spilled over into other areas of our lives, as well.
Today, technology affords music producers the ability to create a virtual orchestra from one keyboard. It can remove noise distortion and even correct the pitch of the human voice. It can consolidate separate sound tracks into one and allow a level of perfection never before attained in music recording. I'm sure that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's evident now that there is a very real difference between the digital world of music production and the world of live performances. As I learned yesterday, this fact is neither good nor bad. There is plenty of room in the world today for expertly crafted music, whether it be the "digital" product, or the "real" one.
Have you seen the amazing and beautiful "Lux Aurumque" by Eric Whitacre and his Virtual Choir? Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7o7BrlbaDs . No one can argue that this composition isn't original, beautifully executed, and well performed.
It's thrilling to see today's technology being used so artistically. Yet, as wistfully as I wish for actual books to stay in the world, I wish the same for real music. Sometimes recorded, but sometimes lost to the world forever, live performances carry with them the element of surprise and improvisation that's just not present in the electronically perfected versions.
I recently saw a gorgeous little video snippet of British singer Cilla Black recording the song "Alfie" and was mesmerized. A little bird-like wisp of a woman, standing gamely, confidently, in front of a studio filled with musicians, as well as a conductor who was also the composer of the music. Her performance, and that of every other musician in the studio, was inspiring. The energy in the studio was palpable, with each participant playing off the other's contribution to that energy. It was authentic. Real. It was special, and it made an impression on me because it was real.
[Tracking down information on "Alfie" proved to be interesting and a bit insane, as most worthwhile British entertainment is. Most recently (2004), it became a movie starring Jude Law as Alfie, but the movie itself is such a diluted version of the first movie version (1966) that it's just not worth seeing...and I'm usually up for anything with Jude Law in it. Please, take my word for it and skip this one. Go back in time to the 1966 version with Michael Caine and Shelley Winters.
Actually, the story exists in novel form too, but it was written by Alfie's creator, Bill Naughton, only after the 1966 movie was produced. Not only that, but, working backward on the timeline, we find that before the movie came two stage productions, first in Great Britain, then briefly on Broadway in the U.S. Finally, we can see that "Alfie" originally dates back to 1962, when it was a program on BBC radio called "Alfie Elkins and His Little Life." Who knew?]
"Alfie"--the radio show, the stage production, the movies or the novel, has fallen far short of masterpiece status. It is, at best, a provocative little film full of promiscuity and pathos. At the end of the story, a crestfallen Alfie is simply left wondering, "What's it all about?"
Enter Burt Bacharach.
With painfully poignant lyrics by Hal David, Bacharach's music transformed this minor movie into something significant. With vocals by Cilla Black, it became an icon.
[Politicians, busines owners, parents, teachers, doctors...we all would do well to listen closely to these lyrics...Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind?]
"What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?"
This is the rare footage of the title song to "Alfie" being recorded in 1965 at Abbey Road studios in London. It's a perfect example of the extraordinary magic that can happen when a group of people perform together as one. This live element is what elevates a performance from great to sublime. In this video, it's incredible to see Bacharach conducting, absolutely inhabited by his music. You can hear the tiny scratches in the audio recording. This audio was digitally remastered in 2003, but I prefer the less-than-perfect original. The final shot showing the entire orchestra, including the huge harp on the left, is fascinating. What a collaboration. Enjoy.
Today I wish for you the thrill of a live performance.