Monday, November 6, 2017

Tackling a Dangerous Premise

Recently, I was asked the question below in a discussion about early music performance. I've decided to write up my (polished) answer. 

"What do you think about attracting audiences in this century of digital music downloads?"

First, I'd like to tackle the premise of your question. It assumes that a recording is effectively a replacement to a live performance. In fact the two media are fundamentally different works. A recording today is, essentially, a patchwork of hundreds (or even thousands!) of segments that are weaved together to present a musical composition performed to technical perfection and, possibly, with a specific artistic vision. 

A live performance, on the other hand, is a communal activity where an artist or artists engage with a work and the audience around them. A performance is a transfer of energy through a specific medium (whether it be a musical work, theatre piece, etc.), connecting people on an intellectual and/or spiritual level. It's a human activity - it's not a social construction. 

I'm sure you've been to a performance in your life where you felt you were on the "outside" - maybe it was a concert of 15th century Burgundian music, or maybe it was contemporary dance - but even so, there was still a moment during the show where you couldn't help but think "wow, I don't know what I'm watching, but it's incredible!"

The danger with tacitly accepting that a recording is a replacement to a live performance is that it will ultimately lead to the latter's disappearance. Already it's getting harder and harder for artists to find paying audiences, and I worry that we are unconsciously trying to replicate a recording in performances to the detriment of the activity. At every level of artistic training, at least in the classical music world, we are not teaching performance. We might encourage it, but we don't emphasise and train the skills which set performance apart from recordings. We don't even have a vocabulary to discuss and analyse the act of performing. 

So, to answer your question, all I can say is that I will continue to advocate live performance as its own medium; to strive to perform as much as I can, to the best of my ability.

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