Glenn Gould Predicts Mash-up Culture in 1969 Documentary

Like the Bea­t­les, Cana­di­an piano vir­tu­oso Glenn Gould gave up live per­for­mance in the mid-1960s and focused his cre­ative ener­gies on record­ing. “At live con­certs,” he told an inter­view­er, “I feel demeaned, like a vaude­vil­lian.” Gould ruf­fled quite a few feath­ers in the clas­si­cal music estab­lish­ment when he pub­licly embraced the prac­tice of splic­ing togeth­er pieces of tape from dif­fer­ent record­ings to cre­ate a new per­for­mance. In effect, he pro­voked a re-eval­u­a­tion of the word “per­for­mance.” In this short 1969 doc­u­men­tary from the Cana­di­an Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion’s Tele­scope series, Gould talks about the rea­sons for his dis­like of play­ing con­certs and his phi­los­o­phy of art in the age of elec­tron­ic record­ing. In the pro­logue, he more or less pre­dicts today’s mash-up cul­ture:

I have a feel­ing that the end result of all our labors in the record­ing stu­dio is not going to become some kind of auto­crat­ic fin­ished prod­uct such as we turn out now with rel­a­tive ease, with the help of splice-mak­ing which we do or which engi­neers do for us, but is going to be a rather more demo­c­ra­t­ic assem­blage. I think we’re going to make kits, and I think we’re going to send out these kits to lis­ten­ers, per­haps to view­ers also, as video­tape car­tridge gets into the act, as I think it will, and we’re going to say, Do it your­self. Take the assem­bled com­po­nents and make of those com­po­nents some­thing that you gen­uine­ly appre­ci­ate. If you don’t like the result as you put togeth­er the first time, put it togeth­er a sec­ond time. Be in fact your own edi­tor. Be, in a sense, your own per­former.

Vari­a­tions on Glenn Gould offers a fas­ci­nat­ing take–or, as the title sug­gests, sev­er­al dif­fer­ent takes–on Gould’s world-view. There is a short musi­cal inter­lude, in which he plays an excerpt from the first move­ment, “Alle­gro ma non trop­po,” of Beethoven’s Sym­pho­ny No. 6 in F Major. And with­in the 24-minute time frame, the film­mak­ers allow Gould to devel­op his idio­syn­crat­ic thoughts on sev­er­al sub­jects, includ­ing his “con­tra­pun­tal radio doc­u­men­taries’ and his sense of iso­la­tion from soci­ety. “I absolute­ly enjoy being sur­round­ed by a sort of elec­tron­ic wall­pa­per, hav­ing music every­where about me,” says Gould. “I think that it gives a cer­tain shel­ter, and sets you apart. And I think that the only val­ue I have as an artist–the only val­ue most artists have, whether they real­ize it or not– is their par­tic­u­lar iso­la­tion from the world about which they write, and to which they hope to con­tribute.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Young Glenn Gould Plays Bach

Glenn Gould and Leonard Bern­stein Play Bach

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