February 23, 2007

Plagiarism? Or Commensuration? [8:22 am]

An example of a topic I and others have been working on lately — when does reliance upon metrics to do more than support human judgment happen, and when does it lead us astray? (Note: according to this article, not this time): Too Perfect Harmony - pdf

The alleged hoax, in which the recorded works of pianist Joyce Hatto have been called into question, was uncovered using database software that automatically identifies CDs so that fans don’t have to manually enter artist and track information when they load the music onto their computers. Technology helped enable the alleged trickery; a newer technology uncovered it.

When a reader of the British classical music magazine Gramophone loaded a Hatto disc onto his computer, the database correctly identified it as a performance of a Franz Liszt piano composition — but marked it as a CD recorded by another pianist, Laszlo Simon. The technology behind the CD database, operated by Gracenote, a California company, indexes data on about 4 million CDs. The lengths of tracks on Hatto’s and Simon’s albums were identical, causing the database to make what appeared to be a mistake.

Or was it a mistake? The reader contacted a Gramophone critic, who played the Simon recording on iTunes, compared it to the Hatto recording and found that the two CDs sounded the same. The magazine passed the matter to independent sound engineers, who have concluded that the two versions were, in fact, the same performance. Since then, engineers have found at least a dozen examples of other performances that appear to have been pilfered and issued under Hatto’s name.

[...] Hatto’s recordings were published by her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, on a small British label called Concert Artist. The label has released more than 100 albums under Hatto’s name. Barrington-Coupe yesterday denied any wrongdoing.

[...] Barrington-Coupe said that the findings published on the Web , have started a “culture of fear” among critics in London who are afraid to stand up and defend the Hatto recordings now in dispute. “They’re being told that something is a scientific fact, and they’re no longer believing their ears,” he said.

Hatto died last year at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer. Although she was largely unknown for most of her career, she won a few champions among critics toward the end of her life. A reviewer for the Boston Globe, for example, called her “the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of.”

Her illness forced her to give up performing in public decades before she died.

From the earlier NYTimes article: A Pianist’s Recordings Draw Praise, but Were They All Hers?

Looking for scientific evidence of a hoax, Mr. Inverne then sent the Hatto and Simon recordings to Mr. Rose, a former sound engineer for the BBC. Mr. Rose said that the Liszt recordings were easy to identify as those made by Mr. Simon, but that the Nojima recording had been “manipulated” to disguise its origin.

“If all this is true,” Mr. Inverne said, “what strikes me is that this sort of piracy was made possible by technology, and later advances in technology uncovered it.”

He added: “As far as I know, the classical music world has never known a scandal like this. The art world has, but not classical music.”

Later, from the NYTimes OpEd: Shoot the Piano Player; also from Gramophone: ‘I did it for my wife’ – Joyce Hatto exclusive, William Barrington-Coupe confesses - pdf

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