I had a huge number of problems with Audacity, a free music recording and sequence program since I first started using it last March, but last night I came upon a new and improved beta version of the program that really works.
Not only does it really work, it does things to recorded performances that are almost obscene. If I play a note that is out of tune (as long as it is a solo piece or passage), Audacity has a feature that allows you to adjust the pitch of the note without altering its time value. Likewise, if a performance is just not fast enough, Audacity has a feature that will speed up a performance without changing the pitch. I can sound, to all the world, like a virtuoso without playing like one. There is also the usual array of echo effects that can be very carefully controlled, a compression effect that will boost up the sound of a distantly-recorded performance, and sound envelope tools that I have yet to try. There is also a tool that will reverse a passage or a whole piece. And this version of Audacity spits out mp3 files!
Now that more people listen to recorded performances of music than live performances (a claim I believe I can make without doing any research--but I welcome anyone to prove me wrong), I realize that anyone can doctor and sculpt what is captured on a microphone to suit the desires of the performer. So if a string quartet can't quite play a movement of a Schumann quartet up to speed with clean articulation, it can be fixed by the computer (any computer, and for free) and nobody would be able to tell.
There is something disturbing to me about this. I hear (and review) stellar recordings all the time. I usually attribute the high quality of the playing to an over abundance of musical technique, but now I need to consider the possibility of the addition of recording techniques to the mix, which is something I do not like to do because I do not have the ability to hear any kind of alternation because the editing is so precise.
I always knew that recordings were edited, but I never knew that it could be so easy to do. From now on I will only give my total trust to performances that I hear in real time and in real space or recordings of peformances that I know are recorded in real time and space. People (especially musicians) are imperfect. It is what makes us human. Music is a celebration of our humanity, and by extension our imperfections.