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The Gould Variations

Technology, Philosophy and Criticism in Glenn Gould’s Musical Thought and Practice


Juha Markus Mantere

This book focuses on three aspects in Glenn Gould’s (1932-1982) musical thought and practice: Gould’s embrace of music technology, his notions of the ontology of music and musical interpretation, and the place of his thought in Canadian intellectual history. Focusing not only on Gould’s writings on music technology but also on those of Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) and Jean Le Moyne (1913-1996), this book provides a fresh perspective on Gould’s thinking, which was embedded in and keenly alert to the intellectual world outside music. The book also touches on Gould’s public reception, his national iconicity, in Canadian literature and Hollywood movies. Gould’s stardom is discussed as a phenomenon more commonly associated with contemporary popular culture.


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High Fidelity – To What? I begin this chapter with three citations from Gould’s writings: Technology exercises a great charity on our lives.… It’s not there to hurt people, to hinder them, to impede them, to get in the way of human contact. It is there to speed it, to make it more direct and more immediate, and to remove people from the very things – the self- conscious things, the competitive things – that are detrimental to society in fact. (Gould 1971a/1990, 290.) [T]technology has the capability to create a climate of anonymity and to allow the artist the time and the freedom to prepare his conception of a work to the best of his ability, to perfect a statement without having to worry about trivia like nerves and finger slips. It has the capability of replacing those awful and degrading and humanly damaging uncertainties which the concert brings with it; it takes the specific personal performance information out of the musical experience. (Gould 1981/1990, 452.) I think that to have technology’s capability and not to take advantage of it and create a contemplative climate if you can – that is immoral! (Gould 1981/1990, 452.) These three citations are related to the main argument of this chapter: technology has a significant role in Gould’s musical, as well as ethical, thinking. Not only did he exploit the potential of recording technology in almost everything he did professionally after his retirement from live concerts in 1964 but also his whole musical and ethical thinking...

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