"Radio as Music"
December 31, 2014 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Glenn Gould's North is an essay about the radio documentaries composed by Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould. The most famous are the three "contrapuntal" documentaries which comprise The Solitude Trilogy [available on Spotify and can be purchased on iTunes]. What is contrapuntal radio? The Glenn Gould Foundation explained in series of short podcasts, and a glimpse of Gould's scripts and diagrams may aid understanding, as well as quotes by Gould and others about The Solitude Trilogy. Many have responded to The Solitude Trilogy, from the perspectives of a hermit, mennonite, and a collage artist, whose collage series can be seen here. As the title suggests, The Solitude Trilogy deals with isolation, quietude, loneliness, seclusion and solitude in modern life, but Gould also made documentaries on a variety of musical subjects, such as Richard Strauss and sixties pop singer Petula Clark. Most of his documentaries, including The Solitude Trilogy, are available for listening on the website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Links below.

The Solitude Trilogy
1. The Idea of North (about Northern Canada)
2. The Latecomers (about Newfoundland)
3. The Quiet in the Land (about Mennonites)

Other radio shows by Glenn Gould
The Search for Petula Clark (about listening to pop radio on long car journeys and Petula Clark)
Anti Alea: A Study in Objections w/Prof. Henry Aiken (about chance and improvisation)
Stokowski: A Portrait for Radio (about classical music conductor Leopold Stokowski)
The Scene with Glenn Gould and Harry Brown (about competitive sports)
The Bourgeois Hero (about Richard Strauss)
posted by Kattullus (9 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Did these recently come up in a thread here? I listened to The Idea of North the other week and really liked it. Thanks for the other links.

Glenn Gould is an inspiration to all of us who worry that disliking people will get in the way of doing cool stuff.
posted by michaelh at 11:57 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Idea of North was linked to by slappy_pinchbottom about a year ago, and I don't think it's come up since. I was listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach yesterday and remembered that he'd made some radio documentaries I'd never listened to. Once I found them and started listening I was transfixed.
posted by Kattullus at 12:30 PM on December 31, 2014

Thanks for this. Fifteen years ago I had an awful time trying to find the Solitude Trilogy. Today's it's on Spotify. Huh.

In the realm of not-piano-playing, here's Glenn on Animals.
posted by sylvanshine at 12:45 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Funny timing. I just listened to these again the other day.

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in the public radio / podcasting sphere right now, but these pieces really stand in a class of their own.
posted by mykescipark at 1:11 PM on December 31, 2014

It's so frustrating that Gould died just before the Internet. I think he would have relished it.
posted by JanetLand at 3:46 PM on December 31, 2014

In undergrad I wrote a paper on The Idea of North. Over a period of about 6 months, I listened to The Idea of North at least 100 times; it was great every time. The Solitude Trilogy is so good that it is impossible to tire of it.

I'm sure he would have loved the Internet. I often wonder what he would be doing online if he were alive today.

Here's another great tidbit: Glenn Gould interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould.
posted by snorkmaiden at 4:25 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's so frustrating that Gould died just before the Internet. I think he would have relished it.

Glenn talked a lot about media in his writings. In the 60s and 70s, he was fascinated by the idea of the listener being the final arbiter of the listening experience, envisioning them messing around with the qualities of the audio electronically and basically remixing the piece. He'd have no problem if today we were all selecting our own tempo preferences for each of his Goldberg Variations and changing their order on our computer. He was a control freak in many ways, yet he respected the listener greatly, and preferred to think of us as individuals who bring something active to the experience of 'art', not as a passive mass who must consume his creations exactly as he intended. (It follows fairly plainly from there why he didn't like audiences and applause, at least without getting into psychology!) As he dared to depart from the default interpretations of great composers, so he asked the listener to mess with his music. 'Authenticity' was a facile, meaningless idea to Glenn, a concept that exists to keep everyone marching in the same line and sharing pre-approved responses to art following the attachment of the right signifiers ("This symphony was written by Brahms in 1870. What do you think? No, actually, I wrote what you just heard last week. What do you think?").

This attitude is a big part of his appeal. I'm just some guy, and no one ever asked me to share their excitement about classical music. Glenn asked me, and used media to do so; if he'd spent more of his career in concert halls, as he was "supposed to", I might not have got the message. He made me curious about how it all worked. It started by chance as most good things do, when my dad bought a recording of the Goldbergs at a Sony Store in a mall sometime in the late 80s because it was nice background music. I inherited that CD and played it when I went to bed. After dozens of spins, the Goldbergs went from being soothing music employed for its elevator qualities to being a rich universe of feeling. I was hooked, hitting the library for videos, CDs, and biographies.

He was a deeply moral person, concerned about power relations in a way that few people are still willing to thinking about. Eccentric, probably quite fearful, but he knew that the fortification of ego as a rampart against that fear was a useless pursuit.

There was no way Glenn was going to rank too high among 'The Greatest Canadians' (turns out he was 55th, 15 places behind Avril Lavigne). Pianists don't compare to politicians, athletes and altruists. But he's my Greatest Canadian; none of the others could move me to tears, every day if I wanted. If I'm lucky, Glenn will be soothing me on my deathbed.

And I've just romanticized the hell out of an artist who said maybe he'd just as well be anonymous. Because that's how humans work. Including him, all said and done. The conflict of his life was a deep desire for solitude and a deep desire to communicate. If his ideas and methods were rationalizations of, solutions to, that conflict, rather than the pristine creations of a genius, so be it. Those of us with similar dispositions have learned from him, and his mistakes, too.
posted by sylvanshine at 9:55 PM on December 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

Is there any way to download or stream these to an iWhatsit for commute listening? This would make me arrive at work much calmer.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:09 AM on January 1, 2015

Thanks for the post, I love this stuff.
posted by gehenna_lion at 10:04 AM on January 1, 2015

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