Except in the sense of learning a lot of rather complicated repertoire very early in life, I was not a prodigy. I was not in the Yehudi Menuhin mold, traveling from town to town. That didn’t occur to me—and fortunately didn’t occur to my parents either as something that would be advantageous. But one of the results of not traveling is that, by the time I was in my late teens, I had decided that there was something just a little bit degrading about giving concerts. The process was essentially distasteful. I did realize, however, that it was the most convenient way to make some money. And I was not immune to the prospect of making money. So, by the time I was in my early twenties, I thought I’d give concerts for a decade, and by that time I’d be thirty and retire. Well, at least I came close! I retired at thirty-two! Retired, that is, from giving concerts.
From the moment I began broadcasting, that medium seemed like another world, as indeed it is. The moment I began to experience the studio environment, my whole reaction to what I could do with music under the proper circumstances changed totally. From then on, concerts were less than second best—they were merely something to be gotten through. They were a very poor substitute for a real artistic experience.
I was immediately attracted to the whole electronic experience. For example, my first nationwide network broadcast was in 1950, when I was seventeen. I remember, among other things, playing the Mozart Sonata, K. 281. The studio piano actually had a rather nice sound, but a rotten action and a very thick bass; and I was very depressed about the result, because I knew what I wanted from that sonata, and I wasn’t able to get it on that instrument. However, I took an acetate home the same day, put it on the turntable, and began to fiddle with the treble-bass control, which, of course, was very primitive in those days. Nevertheless, I was able to minimize that thick bass by emphasizing the upper frequencies, and so that piano became electronically altered after the fact, if you will. It now had an altogether more appealing sound than that which I was able to achieve under “real, live” conditions. And that experiment is just one rather obvious example of many possibilities that occurred to me during those early years as a result of my radio experience, but it’s an example that suggests not only a fondness for working in the studio per se but also something of the ongoing nature of the electronic experience—that one’s responsibility to a performance is not finished simply because one has given the performance.
And the result was that I fell in love with microphones; they became friends, as opposed to the hostile, clinical inspiration-sappers that many people think they are. One hears charges like that so often nowadays; one used to hear it mainly from the older generation of artists, such as Arthur Rubinstein perhaps. But nowadays one hears the same thing from these twenty-year-old whippersnappers; for example, “The microphone really is depersonalizing, an instrument that doesn’t respond, gives no feedback.”
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