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Sandy Pearlman

Posted by Goran / June 7, 2008

I thought that I had mistakenly made a wrong turn in one of the many long corridors of McGill’s Schulich school of music and wrongfully wandered into a bingo night at a Westmount retirement home. The average attendee at McGill’s Mini-Music lecture must have been close to fourty years older than me. Despite our age difference, however, we had at least one thing in common: we were all thrilled to take in Prof. Pearlman's lecture and hopefully absorb a small portion of his bottomless pit of knowledge.

On stage, hiding behind his Mac PowerBook, Sandy Pearlman began to video jockey a series of clips that he had downloaded from Youtube. “As a matter of public record, I gave them the idea,” remarked Pearlman to chuckles from the crowd in reference to the three founding fathers of Youtube that sold the company to Google for $ 1.65 billion. The first set of clips were various renditions of ‘Nessun Dorma’ from the Puccini opera ‘Turando’:

1) A 1987 Pavarotti recital
2) Franco Corelli on Italian RAI Television
3) The 3 Tenors at Dodger Stadium, 1994
4) Paul Potts on Britain's Got Talent
5) Pavarotti's final performance at the Torino Winter Games
6) Manowar live in Milan

The audience had glazed eyes, and was fighting to hold back the tears as they clapped after the series of clips. We didn’t understand what Pearlman was doing, but we felt it. This is what Sandy calls ‘Frisson’; “the inexplicable thrill that music provides. It is the voice of God.” The idea is the basis of one of the many courses he teaches at Schulich School of Music.

“All of this music belongs to somebody, and we’re seeing it all courtesy of Youtube,” Pearlman went on. “Before, it was all controlled by record companies,” he recounted in a style more akin to an Indiana Jones ancient history lecture. Sandy was referring to the idea that virtually all the music ever recorded is now available on the internet and becoming easier to find. It didn’t have to be like this. More than anyone, Pearlman blames the “perniciously embarrassing” or “embarrassingly pernicious” behaviour of the recording industry executives.

Although he occasionally laments the royalties he’ll never receive as a result, Pearlman still tinkers with the idea that we may all actually be better off as a result of the situation. In reference to the various versions of Nessun Dorma (and any other beautiful piece of recorded music for that matter), Pearlman proclaimed: “All of this information needs to be in the eyes, ears, and minds of the world.” Under this rhetoric one could argue that we’ve achieved a greater social good; “and isn’t that what music is supposed to do? … produce ecstasy.”

However, Prof. Pearlman fears that by focusing on the quantity of music, we’re sacrificing quality. As a die-hard analog-ist, he worries that the digital generation of the future will never understand the beauty and richness of analog sound: “digital codecs simply can’t capture all the information conveyed by sound.” Does that mean we’ll lose the voice of God? Apparently not. Pearlman put on another series of Youtube videos demonstrating that the voice of God is still alive and well in its digital medium. Hallelujah!

1) Former McGillian Leonard Cohen's original version
2) Shrek's take on the song
3) John Cale
4) Another McGillian Rufus Wainwrigt live at Glastonbury 2007
5) Bono from 'Tower of Song: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen"
6) Tina Dickow's Danish translation
7) An emo cover by K.D. Lang

“If you can resist this, you have no heart,” said Pearlman as the K.D. Lang version of Hallelujah came on. The crowd seemed to be full of heart as this second sequence of videos also stirred up a very emotional response revealing one of Sandy’s many talents. It’s quite amazing that his lectures can move people just as much as the powerful music he produced. McGill music dean Don McLean was right when he ended the lecture by stating that, “it’s an extraordinary privilege for McGill to have a professor who just 'gets it' the way [Sandy does].”

When it comes to popular music, Sandy’s done it all. He wrote for the Blue Oyster Cult, produced the Clash, managed Black Sabbath and even invented heavy metal. He has also been highly active in the music business with the development of a number of business models including e-music and moodlogic. It’s true that Pearlman’s value to the Schulich School of Music and McGill as a whole is immeasurable.

Fortunately, Prof. Pearlman has enjoyed spending his time Montreal. Although he admitted to being out of the music scene since 2006, he expressed his fondness for local bands the Arcade Fire and Silver Mt Zion. “It’s true that Montreal has a similar ethos to the Seattle scene: there's a lot of great performance venues and a lot of support for local bands. It helps that it's cheap and easy to get around in Montreal,” observed Pearlman. In addition, he's a big fan of Montreal coffee and the used book stores on Mont-Royal near St. Hubert. However, he's especially impressed by the town's parking situation. If easy parking will keep this genius in Montreal, then McGill has the duty to offer him the sweetest spot on their lot.

Photo from McGill Reporter



Jer / June 7, 2008 at 05:29 pm
Nice interview. It's especially amazing that you managed to turned Sandy's wonderfully long and winding sentences into an actual quote.

Although I can't agree with his analog fetish - the argument that digital robs music of its ecstatic and profound qualities has been debunked by people much smarter than me - it's great to have a character like Pearlman around McGill.
G / June 8, 2008 at 03:00 pm
He's quite amazing to hang out and chat with. He knows so much and there's so much you can learn from the dude.
O / June 9, 2008 at 04:01 pm
Was that picture taken after you'd been kicked to the ground by Sandy for suggesting that digital was an acceptable form of media?

Thanks for the links and the interview. This post should convince any one who hasn't heard Sandy speak yet to hear him before he leaves McGill. But don't expect to get too many words in.
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