Saturday, October 30, 2010

Whither liner notes?

I rarely buy anything resembling a pop recording, but, after hearing a radio broadcast of a concert of popular songs that Nathan Gunn and his wife Julie Gunn performed this summer in Urbana, I just had to buy Gunn's recording of this repertoire. I had a pile of listening obligations to run through before being able to crack open this recording, but today I did.

I was very excited to see that my old violinist-friend Joyce Hammann featured on the Amazon listing (I haven't seen Joyce for 30 years), but was terribly disappointed not to see her listed on the printed material that came with the recording. The name of Gene Scheer appears Nathan Gunn's four-paragraph essay about life in New York (written in English and translated into French and German), which could lead someone to believe that Scheer composed all the music on the CD, or that he might be playing piano on the CD. None of the other composers' names appear, none of the arrangers' names appear, and none of the accompanying musicians' names appear.

The poorly-designed booklet is printed on cheap paper, with a centerfold of the Sony Music logo sitting in the middle of two pages of white space. There are five poorly-printed head-shot photos of Nathan Gunn, and a page about Legacy, which prompts me to imagine that this might be a reissue of an older recording (but from when?) I'll never know. Nobody will ever know.

The liner notes are truly designed to be thrown away. Perhaps the CD is too. I loaded it into my ipod (where the composers of the songs are displayed, and I learned that Scheer wrote three of the songs. The other information I want to know (like the recording date(s), the specific arrangers, and the performing musicians) will never be known by anybody except for the musicians themselves, and the people at Sony who are withholding the information.

Couldn't Sony have used the vast amount of white space on that centerfold to provide information for people who might think of the music they listen to as more than just the utterings of a pretty voice? It couldn't have anything to do with money, because it doesn't cost that much to print black text on paper that is already white.

Humph! I hope that I enjoy listening to this recording.

UPDATE: I did enjoy the recording: the arrangements for various combinations of (superbly-played) flute, clarinet, horn, string quintet (with many solos), harp, piano, and a moment of recorder are great, and they really help hold interest in this group of mostly mournful songs about the endings of relationships. There are two more sprightly pieces tacked on from what sound like recordings made at different times (with music arranged by different arrangers and performed by different ensembles). I love Nathan Gunn's voice, but after this I want is to hear him sing Schubert again.

1 comment:

Allen Garvin said...

Since I rarely purchase any physical media anymore, I mostly have to bypass liner notes altogether. It's something I miss, but the price differential is substantial.

A few labels do make the information available: Naxos includes pretty much all the information on their website, though their budget format means the information is often scanty. Chandos has PDFs available for a moderate number of their recordings. Archiv sometimes has notes if you purchase the MP3s directly from them.

It would be helpful if all classical labels would make their liner notes available. For future recordings, it would certainly let them fit far more content than was possible for most CD productions. What I'd really like to see are the performing musicians on every track, the manuscript or print sources consulted, with the folios (when appropriate), the instrumentation, recording dates and venues. Making the notes freely available would also serve as advertisements for the recordings.