The Idea of Classical Rock

Classical Rock

ClassicalRock is born out of the idea that classical and rock share a great deal in common. Recordings once changed the evolution of music. ClassicalRock can now revolutionize the recording.

Phonograph records of the 20's, to radio and television, to the CD, to the MP3 technology of today offer a fascinating look at the evolution of monoaural analog recordings to stereo digital. And how those recording techniques influenced classical music and classic rock recordings.

Among the pioneers in orchestral recording were the conductors Arturo Toscanini and his NBC Orchestra; Réne Leibowitz, whose acoustic soundscape reached nearly distorted levels; Herbert von Karajan, and Walter Legge, who widened the spectrum of classical recordings creating a wall of sound; and Otto Klemperer, another advocate of "in your face" acoustics. Compressed sound was the only option due to the limitations of broadcast and speaker quality. To compensate and create realistic recordings, FFRR, full frequency range recording, became the standard among Decca producers like Ken Wilkinson and Charles Gephardt. The impact of these recordings was enormous, not only in its success on radio and television and sales, but also by allowing a greater articulation and intensity of sound to be experienced.

This articulation and intensity was taken to an extreme in the early recordings of rock. Compression became the norm in rock recording technique, and the acoustic isolation of instruments and vocals with inspired ensemble playing resulted in a new paradigm of sound for popular music. The Beatles and George Martin had already begun to advance arrangements and acoustics with classical music instruments. Phil Spector borrowed Karajan's wall of sound, and Roy Thomas Baker in the 70's defined the overdubbed vocal to create a choral effect. From the art rock arrangements and productions of Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes, to the operatic works of the Who and Queen, to early metal leaders Led Zepellin and Black Sabbath, Classic Rock was deeply influenced by classical music and opera harmonies and melodies. Songs were compositions lasting 20 minutes, solos became virtuosic performances and recordings became programmatically themed symphonies. Whether on the radio or the record player, the music of classic rock was classical, and also "in your face."

With the arrival of large hall reverberated sound in the recording studio during the 60's, however, classical music did an about-face. FFRR became FFSS-Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound. Engineers improved mics, soundboards, electronic processing and computer technology to allow for a more "live sound", one that is heard in the concert hall, with less isolation and more ambience. Digital CD technology in the 1980's allowed for cleaner sounds, and greater degrees of dynamic contrasts. Karajan benefitted well with this sonic structure, creating amplitudes not heard on tape before. The audiophile age of the stereophonic speaker and record collector was born. Gone was the compression of earlier acoustics to a more wide-open reverberation. Ears were acclimated to a deeper, directional dimension of sound. Bigger became better.

Indeed, for the next 30 years, rock and classical music had never sounded so big, but so different in purpose. While rock expanded, the audience for classical music detracted. The result of the big hall/big speaker sound, while an inevitable reaction to mono/analog sound, is that the concert hall or church acoustic evolved in parallel with the alienation of the concert public. The distance in acoustic presence mirrored the distance of the public to the orchestra. Volume levels would have to be turned up to hear pianissimi. Levels turned down on Fortissimi. Some people just tuned out. By the end of the 20th century, the concert going public was getting older with earpieces. The new public was not coming. Rock was doing well. Classical Music not. Where does that bring us in the 21st century?

The distribution of music has changed dramatically. Websites have replaced record stores. Videos are available for free. Classical and rock music are played through virtually identical speakers: earphones for ipods, iphones and ipads. Headphones in airplanes, car stereo speakers, computer speakers and small portable speakers. Music on the go, no more in the living room. While Classical music listening was going up in the internet age, mainly due to video websites like YouTube and shared social network sites like Facebook, attendance in concert halls went down, and remains classical music's greatest challenge.

Have we come full circle? Should classical music return to a more direct experience relevant to the technology of today, similar to what happened during other sonic revolutions in history: the radio and the TV? Is a middle ground between compression and reverberation possible to still sound competitive among the many sonic forces available today?

ClassicalRock comes from this idea: That Classical Music can help itself by introducing in this new soundscape some of its best hits in parallel with some of the best hits of classic rock.

Why? Because it is all good music. Muzak is not our interest. The integrity of classical music is presented at the highest level of performance. The orchestral arrangements of classic rock hits are unique and musical. The sonic levels remain consistent between the two worlds. We join in one universe. That is ClassicalRock.

We can appreciate the purist in the classical music industry who considers such a project at best a novelty and at worst classical-crossover. For some, the return to compressed sound is blasphemous to the idea that the listener must be still while the sound must travel to be well experienced. We believe the listener and the music can ride together on this magical, mystery tour.

This project may appeal more to audiences more familiar with the rock music than the classical repertoire. But the hope is that those new audiences will hear the music in a new way and appreciate the recording and concert enough to come to more orchestral concerts.

Indeed, the real mission for ClassicalRock, and for many musicians, is not simply developing audiences for classical music. It is in developing audiences to come hear live the instrument that plays the repertoire: the orchestra. Without this instrument, much of the great classical hits would never have been composed. And much of classic rock would have lost its most inspired influence.