[This post is mostly from one I made in the summer of 2007 - I was reminded of this proof last evening and think a reprise is needed. I've made a few alterations. By the way, I will be traveling to NYC - the Beast - this afternoon and staying there through Thursday evening. No post for Thursday.]
I might as well start some trouble ;-)
Here are three postulates about the quality of recorded music.
1. No excellent music has been written since December 31, 1947.
2. No excellent music has been recorded since December 31, 1954.
3. The principal class of exceptions to Rules #1 and #2 is for (a) Broadway productions, (b) Classical Music, or (c) from great singers who choose to perform in the old ways.
For now, Rule #1 is an axiom based on the general level of complexity and taste. I'm working on a proof. ;-) I'm going to sketch out the proof for #2 and then provide examples to adduce #3.
I think I can "prove" the postulates #2 and #3 for the whole class of recorded music [in the US] considered as an ensemble. Perhaps there are a "few" exceptions, but these are mere outliers - singularities - and don't represent any substantial class.
Consider the widely accepted and empirically proven economic principal of "division of labor" in creating a complex good. Recorded music is a complex good, requiring skilled labor in four different skills: writing music, lyrics, instrumentals and singing. Few individual people have all four skills at any high level, even when an entire population is the source.
Assume the quality "Q" of any recorded music can be represented as the product of a normalized "skill" number [cf. an "IQ" in the skill] of the contributor in each skill, which are symbolized by M, L, I, and S for skills in music, lyrics, instrumentals and singing.
Q = M x L x I x S
The quality of "written music with lyrics" is M x L as each skill is required. For a big band jazz, lyrics are not required, BUT the performance requires many individual performances - at least 10 for a "big band". Hence its Q included I^n where n is at least 10. A "band" would require more than one I - perhaps 3 or 4.
Now assuming the likelihood of each skill being present in any single individual is independent, clearly the highest Q can be reached by selecting four individuals [more for bands]: one each with high M, L, I and S. And just as clearly, if we are required to choose only one individual, the probability of a large product of the single person's levels of M, L, I and S is exceedingly small. I think I could prove this mathematically, but I haven't done much applied math for a few years. But it does seem evident visualizing the distributions.
In 1947, Les Paul and Capital Records created the first multi-track recording where Les Paul played each of eight tracks with his electric guitar. This invention broke the requirement for the selection of many individual performers to create the sound of a "band" on a recording.
In the early 1950s, Les Paul and Mary Ford created revolutionary recordings where Paul's multi-track guitar playing was combined with Mary Ford's singing and rhythm guitar playing were records on separate track and overdubbing. This invention broke the requirement for separate performers for I and S.
In 1954, the eight track tape recorder was developed, which was the core technology for multi-track recording for the next 30 years until the digital age commence. This invention broke the requirement for the selection of many individual performers to create the sound of a "band" on a recording. This invention massively reduced the time and cost for creating complex sounds from very few performers.In 1953-4, the rock & roll era began, producing growing demand for a performer to write his/her own music and lyrics - for some unknown reason, perhaps part of the "idol" phenomena. This greatly reduced the likelihood of high M and L numbers in a recorded performance.
So by 1955, the economics of creating recorded music at low cost [necessary to maximize profit] required finding a few artists of simply above average skills and using technology to create complex sounds for a band and a song. No longer were separate EXCELLENT performers combined, but merely "GOOD" performances were combined from a few people. Almost no one was excellent in all the required skills necessary for recorded music. Combining several "good" quality skills of a person with perhaps one "excellent skill of those persons creates merely a slightly above average "good" recording.
Hence nothing excellent has been recorded since December 31, 1954. QED ;-)
Rule #3 provides examples that arise when the recording does NOT follows "modern" creation methods and hence adduce support for the proof.
Exception (a) follows immediately when the distinctions of the economic of Broadway are considered. A relatively few number of very high priced tickets are sold. And all the artists MUST perform separately live. There is NO value added for having the same person write the musics and lyrics. All performers are excellent and all music and lyrics are selected from the best available. So this class of music is a clear exception to Rule #2.
Similarly for (b) , recordings produced by orchestras of classical music have no division of labor loss of quality.
Finally, examples for (c) are Julie Andrews and Judy Garland - both simply sang great songs in their fine styles with music and lyrics written by others and accompanied by others, so their songs are excellent overall.
That proves Rule #3. QED ;-)
So a Julie Andrews performance of a Broadway hit show is still excellent. But a Bob Dylan performance of a song is merely good. The lyrics might be good, but the singing is ... horrible. ;-)
That should start some trouble :-)))))))
PS: Remember George M. Cohan of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" fame - that's a great movie. And although he wrote the lyrics and musics and danced in his Broadway productions, not even such a star deigned to perform the instruments for the orchestra of the productions.
PPS: I've been thinking about this for quite awhile. Some of the dates were chosen with the help of my father-in-law, who was listening to music during the key dates. I figured I needed to post this on the Internet to claim "precedence" for my proof ;-)
Addendum: I made a few changes, but the proof still holds up well, combining historical facts in technique and style, and the economic force of "division of labor"
Word of the Day
"Cogent" - adjective [$10]
Cogent means 1. having power to compel or constrain; 2. appealing forcibly to the mind of reason: convincing.
Sentence: Tim Geitner yesterday did not deliver a cogent speech to add to buyers' confidence, so when all the traders' bailed out en mass as usual, no buyers were bidding for stocks..
Le Mot du Jour
"S'enivrer" - verb - regular -er conjugation.
S'enivrer means to get drunk; to become intoxicated ('de' with)
La Phrase: Les baissiers s'ont enivré de joie hier quand Geitner a fait un flop.
Sentence: The bears got drunk with joy yesterday when Geitner flopped.