Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Secret of Golden Age Tango Music

BandoneonesPhoto by Alex.Tango.Fuego

There is some dialog going on right now on the Tango DJ group about "We need new danceable music!" and "If you must play alternative..."

Reading the various posts, I was reminded of something I posted to El Tango back in January of this year, more or less on topic with the Tango DJ topics. It's about the crucial elements that make Golden Age Tango sound the way it does, and why it is so difficult/impossible for contemporary orchestras/musicians/groups to reproduce that sound we all love so much.

I've been wondering lately what it is that makes so many people "not" love the sounds of Golden Age Tango - perhaps the subject of another post.

As the first paragraph states, I was simply recapping others' posts, and expanding on the subject a bit...that's what the names are about...

Here it is:

To Pat's question about crucial elements that may be required to achieve the character and quality of Golden Age tango sound...recapping prior posts to help gel my own understanding...note that I am not a musician, nor have any special technical knowledge...I just know what sounds good, what moves me, and what doesn't sound good...

Critical Elements :: Interesting points made by posters [paraphrasing]

1] Zeitgeist - World/Social Context :: The time period during which the music was played...[Ron] 'Inflected' by world events and social mores of the time ... this cannot be reproduced...ever...

2] Space/Suspense :: Golden Age orchestras/musicians deliberately or unconsciously allowed for space, suspense, suspension, openness in the arrangements...versus modern orchestras/musicians (in general) not recognizing this, and hurrying the music, just as many/most dancers hurry their dance... [Tom]

3] Orchestra Dynamics :: The smaller size of orchestras today versus in the Golden Age, the larger size of orchestras and the increased number of violins and bandoneons provided a richness and depth to the sound...[Christopher, Myk] Inexperienced musicians without sufficient practice time and not enough emphasis on ensemble playing...[Christopher]

4] Subconscious Awareness :: The fact that the human mind 'knows' that this is no longer the Golden Age, and may impact how we 'hear' Golden Age vs. Modern Age tango... [Bruno] Were the listeners of the Golden Age as moved by the music then, as we are today? Who knows?

5] The Fifth Element :: Whether you ascribe to Ilene's 'magic' quality, an intangible that simply cannot be reproduced, or believe that there may be some other quintessential element, possibly metaphysical energy, which takes this 'magic' quality, and pulls in the Zeitgeist of that time. Add to the mix the emotional energy of the composers, orchestra leaders, and individual musicians - more musicians, more energy. Finally, top it off with the emotional energy of the dancers and listeners they were composing and playing for at that time. Let's just call it 'energy'. This had to be a profound influence, in my view.

I doubt that the sound and emotion of that music, from that time, can ever be reproduced. More importantly, why? Why even attempt to reproduce it? Not that Pat suggested this in the originating post, but there does seem to be a gentle undercurrent of a desire to somehow reproduce the sound. It's interesting to discuss and ponder, which I'm sure we all have, and will continue to do.

My feeling is to leave it alone. I'm not saying not to discuss or ponder it, but to let the music be what it is. Let the musicians of today create their own music - free in their own creative juices. They say "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", but I think in this case, it is not. There is something very beautiful about spontaneous, unhindered, free flowing creativity. Let ColorTango be, and sound like, ColorTango. Let the others be and sound like themselves. When a painter today is commissioned for a work, hopefully the patron doesn't say "make it look like a Matisse..." - the patron wants the artist to create a uniquely individual, one-of-a-kind, work of art.

One of my favorite tango quotes is by Jorge Luis Borges. He said "The tango can be debated...but it still encloses, as does all which is truthful, a secret."

Let's keep that magic, that energy, that secret...let's keep it secret...

Or, you may ascribe to the philosophy that tango is "just a dance..."

Ilene also added a comment after my post about the recording technology of the time. No doubt that played a role as well - as compared to the digital recording technology in use today. There is good, skillful, highly crafted digital recording going on today, resulting in very rich sounding recordings and then there is the not-so-good.

1 comment:

Janis said...

Excellent and informative post.

There will never be another Beethoven to compose as he did; it's the same for tango. New tango music will be written, but it won't be like the golden era. That time is gone.

The old recordings will be preserved by the High Definition Tango archive project in the works by Tango will be safe and secure for a long time.