Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bootleg Diva – Thoughts While Cleaning a Cupboard

Vintage Nagra portable
You know how sometimes two things that are totally unrelated (or nearly so) suddenly seem to connect?

Thing #1
I recently came across a pirated recording of two singers I love starring in an opera they’ve never recorded commercially. So of course, I needed to have it. Now, sometimes these “bootlegs” are recorded off the air, off the net, or with some in-house sound system, and the sound is pretty decent. This one, however was clearly recorded with a smart phone or teeny-tiny digital recorder. It was clearly in someone’s breast pocket, and the sound is worse than dismal. (Imagine listening to an opera performance with a coat over your head, perhaps with cotton stuffed in your ears, too.) But sometimes that’s ok when you really want to hear a performance no matter what. 

So, to adequately hear this music, I had to turn up the volume pretty high (almost to 11!) So far so good, but I was listening in the car, and suddenly the dude with the digital recorder in his pocket coughed. And I just about drove off the road. Startled? Yeah, only a lot!  So here’s a tip to these breast-pocket bootleggers: please don’t applaud, and above all, don’t cough! 

Beware of the applause at the end!
Thing #2
In a great once-a-decade "spring" cleaning last weekend  I came across a video cassette of the French film Diva. That’s the one with the American soprano who never makes studio recordings, and her French groupie who sneaks a tape recorder into her concert. Then his tape gets swapped with another tape that has legal implications and then there is a chase in the Paris Metro (isn’t there always?), etc. 

The Diva and her Stalker get pensive.
This is the film that made Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez famous for about 10 months, and got everyone buying that aria from La Wally, which is not really that wonderful and it certainly makes a strong argument for why nobody stages La Wally any more. Although the film is kind of a fun and atmospheric, and it has nice Erik Satie-esque incidental music.

Anyway, I got to thinking that if this French kid had an iPhone, he could have gotten a super recording of his Diva and never had to lug around his Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder; or get his cassette get mixed up with a prostitute's confession tape; or get chased in the Paris Metro. But then of course the whole point of the movie would be lost and there’d be no story. Plus there was no such thing as an iPhone in 1982.

I’m just sayin’…


  1. Based on an incident in the life of Jessye Norman, no less.

    One of my siblings and I booted a Nozze di Figaro once -- it was 1990, and the technical challenges were interesting, and there was a certain thrill to the risk of being banned for life. But in general I think the orchestra seats should be administered like a Dead concert. It would save so much being chased through the Paris Metro by Taiwanese mobsters.

    1. I thought that was true about Jessye Norman. Glad you didn't get caught at the opera!

    2. I think iPhones have probably taken some of the thrill out of bootlegging from within the audience, as far as technical challenges go. I'm not complaining, though, since I own a lot of bootlegs (though none to my knowledge that were recorded with an iPhone!)

    3. By the way, Nagra makes some really high-end digital recorders now. If anyone ever does a remake of Diva, they'll have to do it as a period piece. No one even uses cassettes any more, let alone reel-to-reels!

    4. @ earworm -- yes, no more fake plaster casts or, in our case, braiding microphones into sister's hair :-)

      @ Rob -- The only dead medium around here is 8 track :-) Actually my grandfather's 50 year old reel-to-reel still works, and the tapes mostly play fine. I guess the first mistake all those record companies made was to store the stuff in vaults rather than grandma's attic.

    5. I love the image of braiding the microphone into your sister's hair. Oh, and 8-tracks! I think I finally got rid of mine about 10 years ago -- well beyond the useful lifetime of an 8-track tape. Dad had a big old Teac reel-to-reel. It was not only a great piece of equipment, it was mounted in a beautiful walnut case - decorative AND functional.


Comments are very welcome! They won't be moderated; but rude, abusive, and/or radically off-topic posts will be removed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...