The Loudness Wars and Classical Music

Cover600x600I got a new recording yesterday that I’m quite enjoying: Philip Glass’s latest release, The Complete Piano Etudes, on his own label Orange Mountain Music. (, Amazon UK) I started listening to it last night, in bed, on headphones; I was surprised at how low I needed to turn the volume on my iPhone.

This morning, I decided to look at the tracks and see how loud they were. I was quite surprised. Here’s one of them:

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There is clipping from beginning to end of the track, and that final section is brutal. This is a recording of a single piano. Pianos can be loud, and if you record too close to a piano, it will result in clipping. But this is a world where, ever classical music has to be loud.

Perhaps that’s the point, though. In trying to make this music accessible to non-classical listeners – much of Philip Glass’s audience may be genre-agnostic – the producer of this recording felt it was necessary to increase the loudness, so, when a track comes up on shuffle after a Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift track, those with hearing damage can hear the music.

It’s great music; while there’s a lot of Philip Glass’s music I don’t like, this is the kind that does work for me. But this heinous loudness makes it sound horrible.