The perfection myth

October 24, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Imagine how it must feel to get something so right that there are no flaws, no deviation from expectations, nothing but pure unadulterated perfection.

Is it even possible?

Is perfection a myth?

Imagine for a moment Beethoven’s original score of his magnificent 9th symphony. Here’s what it looks like:

Perfection would seem to be following every note and notation exactly as written. Perhaps something best left to a machine trained to never deviate from the score.

And yet I doubt that Beethoven’s 9th as rendered by a machine would be perfection. In fact, I’ll bet we’d probably scrunch our faces at what we heard.

Perhaps perfection is like beauty, in the eyes and ears of the beholder.

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69 comments on “The perfection myth”

  1. I wonder if the desire for perfection is just wanting some form of external validation. Been to three wonderful shows the last 3 nights. Last night was a production from 1965, I’ve seen it dozens of times over the last 35 years, my favourite ballet, my favourite piece of music from any genre, the orchestra was on fire (but not perfect, the odd wobble in the brass), probably the hottest dancer in the world today dancing the most romantic role with her real life lover, but they were not perfect. So many performers said during Covid that performance is all about active engagement with the audience (which is completely missing from a recording), so it does not matter that the first two shows were in a department store underground car park and the latter in a grand opera house. Perfection would never cross my mind. That said Adil Rashid put on a perfect performance yesterday.

    1. Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev? A favorite of mine too. Fonteyn with Nureyev changed my life.
      And his Cinderella is almost as good.
      Both are also pretty convincing via a good hifi.

      1. Juliet has to start off looking like a 12 year old child, so older looking dancers don’t do it for me. Francesca Hayward was absolutely astonishingly good last night, and she looks 12 at the start. The best partnership I can recall was Cojocaru and Cobburg, because she was so good when so young. Although they died together many times, they are now married with kids. We were lucky to see Sarah Lamb with Vadim Muntagirov when she was still a First Soloist, standing in for an injured Osipova. When the band are in good form, like last night, nothing comes close.

        In the Middle Somewhat Elevated changed my life. I saw the first one-off performance at Covent Garden in February 1992, with the original Paris pairing of Sylvia Guillem and Laurent Hilaire, for whom Nureyev commissioned it. I met my wife a few months later and it was our first topic of conversation. We bumped into Laurent Hilaire about 25 years later at a performance of Akram Khan’s Giselle and chatted about how it changed our lives, as well as modern ballet.

      2. I took my date and future wife ( an amateur ballerina ) to see Fonteyn with Nureyev at the Mann in Philly decades ago. Years later our daughter was taking ballette from a dance instructor from Russia who danced with both and showed us home movies of Nureyev and Dame Fonteyn.

        1. I fully appreciate the role Fonteyn and Nureyev played as international stars, but I just don’t get the dance. I just had a look on YouTube at the Balcony Scene from Romeo & Juliet and it looked like some chap helping his grandma around the stage. There is a split reverse lift at 0:42 in the video. Fonteyn barely makes it past horizontal and is wobbling all over the place. Then look at Yasmine Naghdi in the Royal Ballet video “Romeo and Juliet – Balcony Pas de deux” posted on 17 June 2019. The same lift is at 1:16. We were in the 4th row and it was heart-stopping. She just flies up vertical and stops like a rock.

          The shame is that Romeo and Juliet was choreographed for Lynn Seymour, but management for commercial reasons got Fonteyn and Nureyev to dance the opening night.

            1. It was a great story at the time. The Royal Ballet is in the unusual position at the moment in that they have three pairs of principal dancers who are real life lovers. In the cold light of day they don’t make for the absolute best pairings in Romeo & Juliet, and it is also a matter of taste, but they are given the opportunity to dance together and it certainly adds something to the equation.

  2. Yes in the ears of the beholder is a good point my collection sounds good to me and the speakers keep getting better.
    On the news this morning West Indies 55 all out as England romp to victory in the T20.
    Watch out rest of the World.

    1. Not exactly a romp. There’s a group match in Dubai this afternoon that will get a bigger audience than the Superbowl, also looking a bit one-sided. It’s a bit off-putting having Virat try and sell me car tyres in the overs breaks, although the MRF ZLX radials might be just the thing for this winter.

  3. Seems like perfection may be some unattainable goal that continues to drive technology and society forward. If ever achieved there’s nothing else to do.

  4. Last night I went with family and friends to a symphony concert (first in quite a while due to lock downs and things in life etc).
    With the first opening bars I started to tear up a bit and realised that no matter how good my system may be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing.
    List piano concerto No1 and Tchaikovsky Symphony No6. with 70 piece orchestra. The wonderful scale of sound, dynamics and sweetness of the strings just brought home to me again, how far we are from perfection.

  5. I am so with ladderman. Isn’t it amazing how one can tell essentially immediately that it’s live music (especially orchestral music like the Tchaikovsky 6th)?

    Paul, isn’t that your goal—to create a sound system, including the Octave recording, that is indistinguishable from a live performance? As the late Harry Pearson would say, the “absolute sound”.

  6. I don’t quite understand this as of yet.
    But Thursday afternoon, my brand new Klipsch R-41PM speakers arrived just in time.
    I wanted to see what the built in DAC would do for me.
    And so, after I found the USB cable that came with them, I plugged them in to my computer.
    I put on a DSD file, just to see if the file would play threw the speakers.
    The good news is, the file played.
    The bad news is, I don’t know if I’m hearing the DSD file in its true native form, or if the speakers are converting it to PCM while the file is playing.
    I tried to look this up on Klipsch’s website, but couldn’t find any information about what audio file types that can be played threw these speakers.
    And so, if there’s anyone on this list that knows about these speakers, and you mite know what the R-41PM speakers can or can’t do, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about them!
    Thanks much!

    1. Congratulations on your new speakers John. Hope you get much pleasure from them just like the new Sennheiser HD600 Headphones that I gave you and the new Schiit Vali 2 Headphone Amp that I sent you for a one-month trial that you never returned or paid me for. You always explain quite a bit about your life on this site so why not explain why you haven’t paid me yet. Seems that you went dead on me two weeks ago when I asked for payment or the return of the Amp.

      THAT WOULD BE PERFECT for me.

  7. Striving for perfection in design is hard wired into most just out of university engineers brains. It usually takes 4 to 5 years of real world engineering experience to learn to balance quality, cost, and schedule.

    The chief manufacturing engineer at my first aerospace employer had a sign on his desk:

    “There comes a time in every project when you need to shoot the F#%!?$&@!!! engineers and start building the aircraft”.

    1. Ha, the title of that link is a classic piece of marketing spiel.
      Masterpiece. A few notes from the man himself, completed by a computer and nobody’s heard it, yet they already know it’s a masterpiece. Brilliant!

  8. My speakers and computer don’t have HDMI inputs and outputs on them.
    But as far as digital audio connections go, these are the only inputs you can do with the Klipsch R-41PM speakers.
    USB from either a PC or a Mack, toss link optical, and Bluetooth.
    The analog inputs, are RCA connections with a switch that lets you change it from phono to line.
    And also, there is a subwoofer output on them.
    I don’t use a subwoofer with these because, they can produce pretty good bass by themselves without a subwoofer.

    1. John,

      Did you respond to Stimpy2’s 8:35 comment? Or at the very least contact him to discuss, rather than ignore?

      Good Luck with the 41’s. From what I read and research they wouldn’t fit any application I have.

      1. Good afternoon Mike!
        To answer your question, yes I did.
        But sense he’s acting like a big baby about the hole intire thing, I just assume not to talk to him until he learns to have some sense about himself.
        He stooped to name calling.
        I’m almost 50 years old.
        And like I told him, I don’t have time for anybody’s nonsense.
        But anyhow, that’s the way I see it.
        But about the speakers, I never found the person that made a comment about passing high rez audio files like DSD threw these speakers.
        But he said something about using an HDMI connection to do that.
        I looked at the back of the speaker, that has the integrated amp built in to it.
        The only digital audio inputs that are in the back of it, are the ones I spoke of before.

        1. Hey JP,
          How about you grow-up & pay for the Schiit headphone amp that you got from Neil, instead of making pathetic excuses.
          You also behaved like a big baby a few months ago when I pointed out that the PS Audio – ‘Sprout’ is manufactured in China.
          Behaving like a big baby is no excuse for you to not follow through on your commitments.
          Neil was nice enough to gift you a set of Sennheiser HD600 & now you are taking advantage of his good nature.
          Please do the right thing & settle your debt with Neil before you come here & tell us about your new loudspeakers.
          Thank you.

          1. Thanks Martin, you really didn’t have to do that but I appreciate it because I don’t see John Price ever paying me a penny. Live and learn.

            And I need to make a very large apology to Paul for allowing me to state what happened. This isn’t going to happen ever again and I do feel ashamed that I had to resort to making the original comment after I saw that John Price purchased a new set of speakers when he’s been owing me money for a while.

          2. Good morning FR!
            Let me try to explain this to you.
            If you are a blind person living in a small town where there’s no mass transportation, you just can’t get up and get out there just like that.
            I’ve explained this to him, but he just doesn’t understand this.
            It took me three weeks to get ahold of a sibling of mind, that lives 24 miles away from us.
            But I made a promise to Neil that I would contact him, as soon as I got the money in my hands.
            But long before that, I tried to wire it to him, but he didn’t wanna go to Walmart to pick it up himself.
            And so truthfully, that’s not on me, that’s on him.
            I pointed that out to him yesterday, but he wanted to make threats.
            And so, he wanted to start name calling.
            I’ve done the best that I could do, but he apparently doesn’t understand that.
            I’m a really nice man until somebody pushes my buttons the wrong way.
            And as for what you said about the Sprout, I haven’t thought about that jazz anymore.
            Do you get the picture that I just painted you?

            1. John Price,
              Boo Hoo!
              What a load of crap!
              Get his bank account details & transfer the money directly into his account; surely your wife isn’t blind, so she can do it on your behalf.
              The picture that you have painted, of yourself, is that of a whining ‘grifter’.
              Grow up & pay the man, or send the item back to him…it’s that simple.

              1. What ever.
                Both of you don’t understand how hard it is for a blind person.
                If you take a walk in my shoes, then you’ll understand.
                I’ve done everything I could do.
                And bisize, he told me that he would get with Fedex to come pick the payment up, but he hasn’t done that yet.
                But on the other hand, if he can be man enough to confess to his wrongful actions twards me, then I’ll do my part and forgive him.
                And on top of that, sense you brought up Saralee, she is a widness to all of this.
                If you talk to her, she will tell you to your face, that he acted like a stupid jerk twards me.
                Now, I will reiterate what I said!
                If only he can be man enough to say to me that he was the one that was in the wrong, then I’ll do my part and forgive him.
                But let me tell you something about me.
                I am the kind of person that knows how things work in the city I live in.
                This is no joke, and it’s no lie either.
                If you don’t believe me, just ask Saralee, and see what she says.
                But I will for worn you, you mite not like the way she lays it all out for you.
                So, there it all is in a nut shell!

      2. Mike, the answer to your question is that I got said email from John cursing, threatening and telling me how I’m was old man and I don’t know how to wait for his payment after the money was due. I posted today because it’s almost 2 weeks late and John is doing everything in his power to kick the can down the road. All 100% factual. I should be apologizing to everyone in this community for making these accusations but I am so angry and frustrated with this grifter that I had no other way of putting it out in the open to shame him but I found out that he has no shame. If you’d like I’ll send you all our text messages and emails discussing my Headphone gift to him and my sending him the Headphone amp for a one month trial with the price discussed and agreed upon including when he would make payment. What transpired after the one month became suspicious and turned ugly. I would rather not discuss in public any further but you can see by the emails and text messages what transpired. I don’t think you should be involved in this but I’m happy to send all these communications to you so you can understand that all I tried to do was be nice to John and I wound up getting screwed. You have no idea what I’ve been going through over this. I really learned a lesson here.

        1. Stimpy2 ,
          I sent a response to John but don’t see it here. The only reason I said anything was because things seemed way out of the normal course here.
          I’m not getting involved any deeper but based on what I’ve read, I will pass plenty of judgment 😉

          Let’s leave it at that.

          1. Let’s leave it at that Mike. I’ve already shamed myself enough by having to post on Paul‘s venue. I had very little other recourse other than to lose my money because this guy is a real grifter.

            I try to be nice to other people especially one that I disrespected because I never realized
            he was blind a while back and you reminded me of that so I went out of my way to make up for it and I wound up getting screwed.

        2. Hey very impatient one!
          You didn’t get screwed, you just got ants in your pants.
          I have explained the sichuation to you, again, and again.
          So, if you do what I saw up here, that makes you less then a man.
          Oh, one more thing.
          I really thought I was blind, but you’re far worse off then I am.
          I done the best that I could do, but you wanted to be a jerk about it.
          One of these days, you’re gonna find out what it’s like having to depend on other people to get you from point A, to point B.
          And then, and only then, you will see how hard it was for me to get out of here and go pick the money up.
          You just should have gone to Walmart to pick the money up yourself.
          I gave you all the information just like I said I would.
          When you push too hard, that turns people off.
          So, get over yourself.
          And as for me not having any shame, take a very good look at yourself in the mere.
          When you take your business and put it out there on front street, that makes you look bad.
          I will leave you with this thought.
          The day will come, that you will need me, before I need you.
          What are you gonna do if I decide not to answer your call?
          Trust me, I’ve seen that come to past many times in my life.
          People have talked me down, and done me plenty of wrong.
          The day came that they needed me, but God fixed it so that I couldn’t go to them.
          Keep this in the back of your head.

  9. I certainly agree that live music is almost instantly identified as such when compared to recorded music. I also understand hat for those of you who enjoy classical, opera and even ballet a live performance is the gold standard that you measure your home audio system against.

    For us rock ‘n roll lovers there really isn’t a “live” performance since the music is always amplified. At concerts not only is it amplified, but is goes through a sound board as well. Concerts are more of an event than a listening experience. People drink, get high, jump up and down, whistle, yell and scream. If I really want to listen to some of my favorite music it is always more enjoyable when I do it a home. In fact, I have records of “live” performances that I attended and I often enjoy the recorded “live” performance played back at home more than I did the actual “live” performance.

    1. I went to a Rolling Stones concert, outdoors at Heinz Field (Pittsburgh). My home system sounds anemic compared to the musical energy they put out. I’m sure they have the best amplifiers, speakers and sound board money can buy. Live music, unamplified or properly amplified, always has more musical effect on me.

      1. Over the years I have found an inverse relationship between the size of the venue and how much I enjoyed the rock concert. The smaller the venue the more I enjoyed it.

        It seems that the bigger the venue the more the music is amped up and the louder it is played. The next day your ears ring from the abuse they had the night before. Do I wish I had seen the Beatles when I was young? Of course I do. But I have seen the movie of them playing in Shea Stadium. It was not a musical concert, it was a historical event.

        I am fortunate to have very good speakers that are rated for 1000 watts and I drive them with a 750 watts / channel amp. I can crank it up so that it sounds like I am in MSG for a concert. The sound is literally deafening.

    2. Good afternoon Tony!
      Just a curious question.
      How do you feel about live jazz?
      About 23 years ago, I caut The B Sharp Quartet live in consurt in Daytona Beach Florida.
      And on top of that, the consurt was open air.
      What I mean by that, is, it was outside in a very large open field.

      1. On August 3, during a hiatus from the Scourge before the Delta Variant reared its ugly crown, I attended a small open air concert “Peace in Balance” by Edem Soul Music and Friends at the Sheldon Art Gallery Sculpture Garden on the University of Nebraska. Lincoln main campus. It was the last time that I heard live music and was a reminder of how great it can be.

    3. Back in the early 2000’s I attended a B. B. King concert at the Lied Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. The gig was opened by young blues singer Shemekia Copeland, daughter of guitarist Johnny Copeland. This is a fairly large venue. At one point, her band stopped playing, she set aside her microphone and stepped forward to the front of the stage. And showed us her power.

      ‘Amplifiers? . . . I don’t need no stinkin’ amplifiers.’

  10. i’ve had a newspaper clipping from laivian violinist gidon kremer on my bulletin board for decades in which he states:
    “if you are striving for perfection, then you are most likely to miss the beauty. because in real beauty, there’s always a certain imperfection. i am myself a perfectionist, but i consider it a little weakness in myself. this is not what counts.”
    as a commercial photographer i found these words inspiring.

  11. Music played exactly on tempo and beat can be boring and lacking in creative expression. Take Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” for example. Kids often learn that piece because the notation is simple, but what they often do not get is that it should not be played robotically in perfect timing. Chopin was a master at mixing up the timing so the left hand is not playing at the same tempo as the right. That is partly what makes his compositions so interesting. Metronomes are good for learning, but if music follows a metronome too closely it will put you to sleep.

    1. There is a video (TED Talk?) of Evelyn Glennie performing an excerpt from a percussion piece that she had commissioned. At first, she played it strictly according to the metronome and dynamics markings on the score. It was fine, but not particularly memorable. She then played it again, allowing herself some artistic liberties. Much, much better.

      Foxtrot click tracks.

        1. A comment by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. I usually quote him but I did not in my reply to you

          I can try literally or figuratively. There is no literal definition of perfection that’s why I use it in a spiritual way. Figuratively, everybody uses the word perfect according to their own definition.

      1. Go with the real fresh spring water if you live near a source, Gene, not the stuff bottled in plastic. And if you drink it in moderation, you will not drown. Please don’t drown. We will miss you. 😎

  12. A bit of personal history. When I was working on my M. S. in geology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence back in 1985, the school’s symphonic orchestra performed the Symphony No, 9 in D Minor for their senior recital. As such it was free to all students.

    At the time I was living in a group house down in the student ghetto. I was the only graduate student (plus 3 years working in the private sector of the real world, beforehand) living there and thus the Old Fa.., ehr, Dude at the time. Among my housemates was a freshman who was seriously into Rush and Styx. Although he was not big on classical music, I talked this ‘kid’ into joining me for the concert. Never underestimate the lure of free live music to the archetypal impoverished (well, not rich) student.

    The senior orchestra was very good, not C.S.O. class of course, but far more than competent, as were the vocal soloists. However, they brought in all of the various university choirs, a combined force of over 200 singers. They sang with appropriate dynamics for most of the last movement, properly supporting the orchestra and soloists. However, when they all cut in triple forte for finale, they nearly blew the roof off of Allen Fieldhouse.

    It.
    Was.
    Glorious!

    As for the ‘kid’, his musical horizons were considerably expanded that afternoon.

  13. Music – one of the few things where some imperfection actually is key.
    Quantizing is the fast food of music.
    Drum machines are the Super hero movies of cinema.
    Auto tune is the plastic surgery of beauty.
    Formulated pop music, it’s like the “career” of influencer:
    You have absolutely no skills. But you’re pretty. And entitled. And you have internet access. For that, people & companies should give you free meals, free hotels, free drinks and money? I’m sorry – you are not an Influencer, you’re an e-prostitute. Overheard on a date: “What do you do for a living?” “I’m an Influencer on Instagram. What do you do?” “ Well then, I guess I’m a soldier on X-Box’s Call Of Duty”

    You know when you’re trying to be literary and deep but you just scrape off a layer of nose dermis on the bottom of the pool?

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