Marshall McLuhan & Glenn Gould


Glenn Gould

September 22, 2012

The meaning of Glenn Gould


A modern-day mash-up of old friends, latter-day proteges and (occasionally wavering) admirers gathers this weekend to mark the fabled pianist’s 80th birthday. As Kate Taylor writes, 30 years after his death, the debate is far from settled on whether Glenn Gould was a puritanical classicist of the first order or a cultural prophet on par with Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis and Northrop Frye

If Glenn Gould were alive today, he would be celebrating his 80th birthday, posting to his blog, releasing another podcast and figuring out how to license downloads of his recordings. Or maybe he would just be hunkered down at the piano playing the work of a dead European composer when not hiding out at classic Toronto diner Fran’s, eating rice pudding.

The multifaceted Gould is a kind of Rorschach test for Canadians. Would you like to see him as a digital prophet, the forward-looking recording artist and broadcaster who called for a democracy that would elevate the audience to the level of the performer and who predicted our mash-up culture? Or perhaps you prefer the child of WASP Toronto, the control freak who obsessed over the quality of his recordings, partisan of Bach and Schoenberg.

“You have to get behind the cliché he was just a rebel,” says Canadian pianist and music producer Chilly Gonzales. “There were moments he played into the caricature and there were a lot of moments when he was extremely conservative.”

Gonzales is one of many participants at a gathering this weekend at the University of Toronto that marks the 80th anniversary of Gould’s birth. It is the forward-looking Gould who is mainly on display at the event – entitled Dreamers, Renegades, Visionaries: the Glenn Gould Variations – which is infused with the belief that Gould not only predicted but would also heartily endorse our interactive culture of downloading, sampling and remixing.

“Glenn now could spend the morning working on a piece, record it in the afternoon, and send it out to his admirers in the evening. I think he would probably have been a blogger and he would definitely have got rid of the record company,” suggests Tim Page, a professor of music and journalism at the University of Southern California.

He had an intense telephone friendship with Gould in the last years of his life, when Page was working as a music critic in New York. “The Internet was made for Glenn Gould,” says Page, “and I am just sorry he never got to play with it.”


Glenn Gould and Marshall McLuhan shared many visionary ideas
about technology. "The Art of Glenn Gould" edited by John
Roberts contains "A reconstructed encounter between Gould and
Marshall McLuhan ..." from pages 232 to 253.  A quote from GG.
"I have now interviewed McLuhan twice - for High Fidelity and
the CBC - and have between times got to know  him rather well.
He remains for me a subject both fascinating and frustrating,
and his writings - an extraordinary mixture of wackiness with
brilliant perceptions."  How often have we said something
similar about GG? McLuhan was the one who coined the phrase
"The medium is the message." On page 50C of "Glenn Gould-Music
& Mind" by Geoffrey Payzant, there is a group photo.  GG and
McLuhan are together on the far right.
- By Junichi Miyazawa   (Source
GG was definitely influenced by the idea of McLuhan in early 1960's
to collect his own idea of electric media, but he dismissed and 
criticized the Guru later on, in 1970's. In terms of GG's neighborhood
with McLuhan, McLuhan lived at 29 Well Hill Avenue, Toronto in late 
1960s, which is not far from St Clair Avenue West. When I made 
interviews with Eric McLuhan, the first son of Marshall, he told me 
that GG used to visit their house during the period to talk with 
Marshall. GG was usually introduced to McLuhan's study room right 
away, so Eric and the other family members had few opportunities 
to talk with GG. Eric also remembers that his father and GG enjoyed
talking on the phone, and that GG's visit stopped McLuhan's when 
they moved away to Wychwood Park in 1970, after McLuhan returned 
from his one-year lecturing at Fordham University in New York City. 
- By Junichi Miyazawa   (Source:

Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor op. 31/2 “The Tempest”

5 Responses to “Marshall McLuhan & Glenn Gould”

  1. Hi Alex,

    I am enjoying your blog. McLuhan’s comment ‘ medium is the message’ is profound and can be related to any generation. Thanks for your good work!


  2. Thanks, Chris. Michael McLuhan, the 2nd son of MM heads up the McLuhan Estate; he’s picked the McLuhan Galaxy blog as one of the two official blogs of the Marshall McLuhan Estate.
    See . “The medium is the message” is deceptively simple, but it packs a considerable philosophy of technology and communication withing its compressed aphorism…….AlexK


  3. That is quite an honor Alex! Congratulations and keep up the great work!


  4. 4 Benedetta Saglietti

    Hi! You’ve been quoted in my “Ritiro dalle scene, fuga per quartetto vocale, radio contrappuntistica: fugue and escape in Glenn Gould”, please see:


  1. 1 Ritiro dalle scene, fuga per quartetto vocale, radio contrappuntistica: fugue and escape in Glenn Gould | Benedetta Saglietti

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