Thursday, May 29, 2008

thoughts and questions on how music is (and will be) experienced

I have been loving my Ipod, and am approximately half-way through ripping all my CD's and adding them to it. I have also been discovering "podcasts." I have been able to really make use of my time in the car, for example, by listening to something called "Coffee Break Espan~ol" (how do you type a tilde?), improving my Spanish a little bit. I am also able to enjoy "Car Talk," a show I am almost never able to listen to "live."

I downloaded a lecture from Arizona State, the first in a semester-long course on the History of Jazz. I like to listen to Jazz but I certainly do not have a good grasp of how it developed, and in general I am familiar with my favorites (such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis) and have only a passing knowledge of, say, Charlie Parker or Oscar Peterson - though I did briefly meet the latter once after he'd played at the Hollywood Bowl - my friend Edwin Outwater knew him. In any case, the first lecture (I don't know who the Professor of the course is - he has many interesting insights, though he is an awkward public speaker) mentioned that once upon a time in America there were many, many people who played instruments. Thousands of amateurs provided the musical entertainment in the home. Live music was, once upon a time, a more popular form of entertainment than it is now.

This has changed, of course, because of the advent of radio, 78's, LP's, CD's, and now MP3's. People don't need to learn to play for themselves because they can listen to Martha Argerich on a pair of headphones. Live music is great, but one has to get off the couch, get dressed, hire a baby-sitter, and (perhaps worst of all) adhere to someone else's schedule. We can listen to recorded music at midnight if it suits us - and we can even listen to it more than once. Plus, as Glenn Gould might have pointed out, a recording *can* be free of flaws, coughing, etc.

I'm sure many people (including myself) feel that even a very hi-fi recording (nowadays, should I say, "sampled at a high bit-rate"?) listened to on expensive headphones lacks the special qualities of hearing a live performance by a great artist. But is it inevitable that the inconveniences associated with attending live concerts (not to mention the exorbitant cost) will kill concert-going? I mentioned in a previous post that our world today encourages the "on-demand" consumption of music. Will younger people today be unwilling or unable to commit to, say, the Boston Symphony Saturday evening series, where decisions about what and who the audience will hear are made years in advance?

This is problematic for a musician like me, because frankly I don't make much from recordings - my income is from live concerts. I think that is true for most classical musicians. I don't know if it is true for pop musicians. (this article from the NY Times explores this issue from the point of view of the record labels:)

One difference between a concert and a recording is that a concert typically has (and needs) variety - the stereotypical orchestral concert opens with a short overture, followed by a concerto, and a symphony on the second half. A piano recital tends to include music from different eras and by different composers. But when people buy a recording, they often (usually?) buy "the complete Beethoven Symphonies" or "Mozart Overtures" or "Prokofiev Piano Concertos #2 and #3". When listening we make our own "programs" which can be long or short, can include music for different instruments or even have Liszt and Led Zeppelin on the same program.

If I want to continue to have an audience, will I need to start taking requests, like a pianist in the cocktail lounge who can somehow make "Send in the Clowns" sound the same as "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman." (Oh that reminds me of the horrendous video Franco Leon shared with me:)


ckoh71 said...

There's no doubt that the music industry in general is in great trouble. You could try and blame iPods and Napster etc - but if music executives had been smarter about embracing technology & seeing how consumers habits/needs might be heading - alot of ill will & money could have been saved. It's true that classical has been struggling even more so - esp with younger audiences since the high price tags will turn off alot of young people who could potentially afford to go. I know that I even get upset at the high price tags at Carnegie Hall or the Met - especially since my seats may not even be that good after paying $100 a seat. That being said, I think people will never stop loving and needing music. And live music will always have a place in our culture. What that will look like in the future, no one can say for sure. But I do think there is a happy medium of appealing to wide audiences without resorting to unbearable kitsch or camp.

Stan said...

While I have to say there is something grotesque about Neil Sedaka channeling something like "Liberace, the Next Generation", and while hardly think this is the performance that will get him into the R&R hall of fame, he was a very nice 60's songwriter and performer. But more than that, a couple of years ago he did an absolutely fabulous CD of Yiddish songs (he sang them in Yiddish & English, with Yiddish being more suited to his emotional style). It seems to be hard to find these days. But if you want to hear some Yiddish classics... Not that that has anything to do with your post...