I’ve noted this before, and I’ve been surprised that more people don’t agree with me: some pieces are more vivid in live performance, others work better on recording. I don’t see this as a positive or a negative either way, just as a fact. I always decide at the outset when a piece I am working on will be better served in one medium than the other.
I decided early on that Singing silver, with its mix of amplified and acoustic elements, would fare a bit better on recording than live, and composed it accordingly. Not to say it can’t be performed live – after all, I just performed it — but the intimacy of a recording will bring all of the details home in a way that is very difficult to match on stage. I’ve scheduled two more performances of the piece, but its ultimate destiny is on a set of speakers.
Why, if I’m planning to have a piece exist primarily through recording, do I schedule live performances? Because live performances give me the opportunity to reach a complete understanding of the piece, without which a recording is bound to sound a bit sterile. I wish I could explain it more clearly than that, but I don’t think I can, at least not yet.
Ironically, the pieces of mine that get the most live performances are often the ones that fare better on recording. Performers hear a recording of something that sounds fantastic and decide to program it, ending up a bit disappointed by the results on stage. Conversely, I have pieces that don’t get performed much even though they are really killer in a live performance, simply because people can’t fully grasp their impact through sample recordings. I’m having a harder and harder time finding people who will actually look at a score and make decisions about how a piece is going to sound. Everyone seems to want a recording, and nobody is giving enough attention to the disparity between the experience of listening to a recording and the experience of attending a concert.