Monday, April 21, 2008

I Guess BTSOOI* Is Out of the Question, Then?

Sunday's New York Times has an interesting article about an odd intersection of workplace regulation and art. Seems that EU workplace regs limit the amount of noise to which a worker can be exposed and that's causing a problem for various symphony orchestras:

The cancellation is, so far, probably the most extreme consequence of the new law, which requires employers in Europe to limit workers’ exposure to potentially damaging noise and which took effect for the entertainment industry this month.

But across Europe, musicians are being asked to wear decibel-measuring devices and to sit behind see-through antinoise screens. Companies are altering their repertories. And conductors are reconsidering the definition of 'fortissimo.'

Alan Garner, an oboist and English horn player who is the chairman of the players’ committee at the Royal Opera House, said that he and his colleagues had been told that they would have to wear earplugs during entire three-hour rehearsals and performances.

'It’s like saying to a racing-car driver that they have to wear a blindfold,' he said.
The situation is causing some serious rifts:
Although Switzerland is outside the European Union, an extraordinary noise-related argument between the conductor and the Bern Symphony Orchestra disrupted the opening night of Alban Berg’s 'Wozzeck' in March.

The piece called for 30 string players and 30 wind and percussion players, all crammed into a too-small pit. When the stage director complained in rehearsals that the music was too loud, the conductor didn’t order the orchestra to play more softly, but instead asked for a cover over the orchestral pit to contain the noise, said Marianne Käch, the orchestra’s executive director.

That meant the noise bounced back at the musicians, bringing the level to 120 decibels in the brass section, similar to the levels in front of a speaker in a rock concert. The musicians complained. The conductor held firm. But when the piece began, 'the orchestra decided to play softer anyway in order to protect themselves,' Ms. Käch said.

That made the conductor so angry that he walked off after 10 minutes or so, Ms. Käch said. Told that there had been 'musical differences' between the conductor and the orchestra, the perplexed audience had to wait for the two sides to hash it out.

In the end, the orchestra agreed to return and finish the performance at the loud levels. For subsequent performances, a foam cover that absorbed instead of reflecting the sound was placed above the pit, and the conductor agreed to tone things down.
Surely, somewhere, some enterprising composer/performance artist is going to work that dispute into a new work!

Maia Sez: I think most "music" is too loud, especially the kind JDB likes!

* BTSOOI is a technical marching band/drum corps dynamic term ("Blow The Shit Out of It").

1 comment:

jedijawa said...

So no more amps that go to 11?