by David McGee.
Declaring the 127th AES Convention “off to a great start,” AES Executive Director Roger Furness began this year’s Opening Ceremonies on Friday by pointing out the enthusiastic attendance at the early programs and “an exhibit floor that is packed.”
His bullish outlook was echoed in succeeding remarks by AES President Jim Anderson (who offered a humorous litany of other cultural milestones falling far short of AES’ mark of 127 gatherings–“Beethoven’s major accomplishment stopped at nine, Macintosh is only up to 10.6, there have been only six Rockys…”) and Convention Chair Agnieszka Roginska, who touted the diversity of the technical programs and saluted the dedicated work of the various committee chairs in fashioning a challenging lineup for this year’s workshops, seminars and papers.
These remarks and the ensuing presentation of AES Awards (see related story on page 26) were but prelude to the main event, a thoughtful, insightful reminiscence by Peabody Award-winning radio personality Bill McGlaughlin who, as Roginska pointed out in her introduction, is also a musician, conductor and composer himself in addition to hosting the essential American Public Media radio show, St. Paul Sunday.
Indeed, in his address titled, Talent Doesn’t Push Buttons, McGlaughlin, in an amiable, low-key style that does nothing to mask his insatiable enthusiasm for, or deep knowledge of, classical music, used an abridged tour of his own career to illustrate how his own sense of audio poetics dovetailed with the upward arc of his professional trajectory.
At times he literally illustrated his points, using samples of sound recordings from different eras to underscore advancements in the art that had made a difference in how listeners experience music aurally–for instance, two stunning recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, made by the Philadelphia Orchestra (with which McGlaughlin began his career) in 1936 and 1968, the latter’s clear, crisp sound being an example of the speaker’s point about the effect of reverb, or lack thereof, in rendering the finished work more immediate and emotionally gripping.
During these interludes, McGlaughlin stood silent at the lectern, eyes closed, head gently bobbing or swaying to the music, absorbing it all much as he might in a private setting. This was not, in short, your usual keynote, for its unabashedly personal tone alone. Even its asides were revealing of the speaker’s restless intellect, as when he digressed to tell about meeting someone who had been studying how parrots process music, and learned that “parrots have a groove” and will bob rhythmically to recordings played in their presence.
Using humor (“When I became a conductor, someone said to me, ‘You mean you’re leaving music to be a conductor?” and upon entering radio, “It was enough that I gave up music to be a conductor; now I was going into a really debased profession”) and insights gained from his ongoing musical education, McGlaughlin summed up with a quote from the late Ken Kesey that is as much his mantra as it was an advisory to the assembled multitude: “The answer is never the answer. The answer is the mystery. The trick is to seek the mystery–the need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”