Monday, August 26, 2013

Life at One Remove

Courtesy of Norman Lebrecht, I just watched a video that is getting a lot of playWritten by/Starring Charlene deGuzman and Directed by Miles Crawford:

If you spend all your time recording, photographing and videoing life, then when will you have time to look at all these archives? Even more important, you will have missed actually living!

A few days ago I saw a YouTube video of a popular music performance in which nearly everyone in the audience was holding up their smartphone.

Here is the link to an essay about smartphone recordings by James Ehnes, violin soloist.

As I have mentioned before, recording technology is very much a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you can easily have access to all the great music in good performances. On the other hand, your life is cursed because every time you go out in public you are harassed by horrible, tinny recordings of bad music blasted at you from every corner.

Recording tends to result in a certain amount of alienation. From the point of view of the musician, recording objectifies his performance. Rather than it being a simple matter of playing the music in an expressive way, it is complicated by the fact that after playing you listen to the performance and are separated from it. You are "on the other side" or hearing from the outside what you just played from the inside. I think that since minor errors seem to be amplified by the recording process, the tendency is to make the playing more mechanically perfect and certainly less spontaneous. You can learn to work within these constraints, of course, but the tendency is there.

Similarly, the listener is alienated from the musical performance by the fact that it is intermediated by technology. It will always sound different from the original performance. A musical performance always has a context: it is in a particular location, in a particular hall or room at a particular hour and date and with just these musicians dressed in just that way and feeling just as they felt. All this is enervated by the recording process whereby the exact sound and feel of the location of the performance is washed away. Even with video, the feel of being in the place is gone.

As we can see in that YouTube video about the smartphone, it alienates people from one another. Would young people watch this video and not see the tragedy of it? Just see it as normal life?


Rickard said...

It's pretty crazy how some people are bound to their cellphones. There is normal use and there is obsession (maybe addiction would be a better word). As for recording music, ah yes, a mistake seems to ruin things way more easily than in a live performance.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think one of the most important differences between a live performance and a recording is that the recording is repeatable indefinitely. That is why even a small error or slip is magnified and why we edit recordings to make them perfect. Alas, the spontaneous feel of a live performance is gone.