“He wants every last click of a bassoon’s keys, each scrape of horsehair on catgut to be heard,”

There’s some lovely writing in this review of the Gardiner concert, but I’m trying to understand why the key clicks of a bassoon are desired.

I prefer not to hear the key clicking. I think most of us like our instruments to be quiet, aside from the music we produce (and I don’t consider key clicking to be musical). But is this just me?

I was listening to a recording of a bunch of French woodwind music and the key clicking was incredibly distracting. It sounded as if the microphone was attempting to pick up the key clicks as much as the notes. And now, reading Davidson’s review of the Gardinner, I’m wondering if maybe the recorded key clicks were a deliberate choice.



  1. argh! I HATE key noise, unless it’s a percussive effect specifically written into the music.

    Bassoons do tend to be the biggest culprits, don’t they? 🙂

  2. OK, I’ll take the bait. A quick note about this…

    I would not like to hear all of the key clicks and scratching bows on a recording.

    Although these sounds are objectively present in live performances, I think that few of us actually “hear” them. Our attention is effectively focused elsewhere, on the really important parts of the musical experience.

    In my view, the goal of a recording is not to objectively capture all of the sound that is present in a live performance. Instead, the goal is to create the sense of listening to a live performance. (OK, another goal might be to create something entirely different than what can and does occur in a live performance, but that is a different topic.)

    The experience of a live performance is colored by many things, including the visual component. For example, we hear the soloist as being louder than he/she actually is because our attention is visually drawn to the soloist who, perhaps unintentionally, provide visual cues about what is happening in the music.

    This is similar to how we can hear the voice of the one person we are listening to at a loud party where dozens of other people are speaking nearby. (An experiment: Record the voice of someone speaking to you in a loud environment like this, and then ask someone else to listen to the recording and see how much sense they can make out of what the person is saying.)

    This works the opposite way also. While we hear some things more in a live performance (like that solo line) we also notice other things less. Many musicans can recount a story of having a powerful, expressive, and otherwise successful performance recorded only to find that the recording sounded dreadful. However, the stronger focus on the stuff that is most powerful in a live performance took attention away from other elements of the performance – such as the clicking keys.

    If your goal is to capture a recording that reveals all of the flaws that would naturally be less noticable in a live performance, then go ahead and create an objectively accurate recording, scratches, clicks, and all. However, if the goal is to make a recording that may evoke a response in the listener that is similar to that evoked by the live performance, certain things will need to be emphasized or deemphasized in the recording.

  3. Patricia Mitchell

    I suspect it’s the larger keys having to cover larger holes, yes? I mean … piccolo would be the least heard, I suspect.

    But why the heck did the writer thing that Gardener was WANTING us to hear those key crashes? I really don’t get it!

  4. Patricia Mitchell

    So the writer of the review was suggesting that the conductor really wanted the audience to hear those key crashes. This was a live performance, unlike the one I was grumbling about. And you are right about hearing differently in a live situation than in a recorded one. But 1) why would the reviewer think that hearing the keys was a desire of the maestro and 2) why would this be a maestro’s wish?

    I find it very puzzling. I work for as little finger movement as possible. It enables me to play more cleanly and also allows quicker finger movement, but it also minimizes those key popping sounds.

  5. Interesting responses; Dan’s in particular brings up some fascinating food for thought. I’ll say at the outset that I know I’m in a tiny minority when I say I don’t mind a little performance noise like that. For us guitarists, it’s finger noise and squeaks. It’s not that I don’t admire the technical skill it takes to eliminate those things, it’s just that a small amount of instrument clatter somehow humanizes the performance for me. Of course, too much gets annoying, but an occasional click or squeak is kind of reassuring to me in this day of so many well produced frauds that are all sequences and samples. Know what I mean?

    I have a Solti/Chicago recording of B’s Ninth in which one of the DB players is hammering away at his bass so hard his bow hits the instrument a couple of times. Now THAT is annoying. On the other hand, I have a few guitar recordings that have the odd squeek or tap which seem somehow superior to me over John William’s holy-of-holies supernatural quietness.

    That’s the best I can explain it. Sorry.

  6. Also, if those noises are captured in a recording, you’ll be hearing them over and over and over again so much that they pretty much become part of the piece of music in your head.

    I have a recording of the sixth Bartok quartet where the violist must have hit one of the other strings during the big solo at the beginning.  You hear this high harmonic squeak.  Now if I listen to a different recording of that piece, I really expect to hear that squeak!

    In general, though, I don’t mind a little noise, like hearing a flutist catching quick breaths.  But there are other noises that I hate, like the sound of air coming out of the sides of a clarinetist’s mouth.

    I don’t think I’ve ever particularly noticed oboe or bassoon key sounds, even when sitting right in front of them in the viola section.

  7. Patricia Mitchell

    Ah … but going back to the quote I put up there … it seems to me that the writer was suggesting that the maestro didn’t want “a little performance noise” but, instead, that he wanted more key clacking. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the quote, though. (Quite possible!)

    I don’t even mind a certain amount of noise in recordings, but too much and I go pretty crazy. I’m not even suggesting that sounds be taken off a recording … just that certain noise shouldn’t even be heard at all; we are trained to use our fingers in such a way that minimizes the noise. Of course it’s not eliminated, but less is best.