Sunday, May 04, 2014

Audiences should not just listen with their ears

We don't just see with our eyes, [David Hockney] argues, we use our minds and emotions as well. That is the difference between the image which the camera makes - a split-second record from a fixed viewpoint - and the experience of actually looking, of passing through a landscape, constantly scanning and switching our focus. That is the difference between the passive spectator and the active participant [Hockney] wants us to become. The latter sees not just geometrically, but psychologically as well.
That quote* is from a 2012 Times article, and David Hockney's thesis applies to the performing as well as graphic arts. Classical music has scored a potentially fatal own goal by reducing the listening experience to a split-second record from a fixed viewpoint - a low-resolution MP3 file, a cartoon moment, a YouTube clip, an entertainment event. Listening psychologically means leading the audience through a rich musical landscape as they constantly scan and switch their focus. Audiences must be active participants, not passive spectators. They should not just listen with their ears, but with their minds and emotions as well.

* Quote comes via the newly published and highly recommended Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound by Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at Salford University. Additional inspiration came from the Keller Quartet's new CD of Ligeti and Barber - great music, superlative performance and recording, and an exemplary sleeve note from Paul Griffiths that leads the listener through an exceptionally rich musical landscape. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

4 comments:

raykohn said...

Maybe a little unfair on youtube where there are signficant, full-length performances to hear.

Pliable said...

raykohn, there are certainly significant, full-length performances on YouTube. But it is now recognised that the impact of classical - and other - music is technically compromised when experienced via low resolution platforms.

David Hockney is saying that there is a psychological equivalent of the low resolution technical platforms - low emotion experiences. My view is that this is a correct, important and overlooked thesis, and that the strategy of promoting classical music as a low emotion experience - YouTube clips,low-resolution MP3 files, cartoon moments, and entertainment events - is damaging. Hence the post.

Nicolas Nebout said...

Very interesting point of vue indeed and I agree with the way you explain that entertainment events, adverts etc. can be more damaging for classical music than really promoting it to a greater audience. That being said, I also believe that low quality is not necessarily an issue if you understand for example that mono recordings and vinyls weren't high resolution platforms but still a way not listen to some great music at home. It never replaced the concert experience, which is the full emotional experience, and nor should CD, mp3 or else. The problem is that the artistic quality of pop music - if there is any - does not necessitate high quality recordings since the concert in itself is more about the show than a real improvement of the standard. Which leaves classical music well behind in those terms...

Pliable said...

Nicolas, you make an interesting point about the historical importance of low-res mono recordings and vinyl records. Their importance needs to be seen in a wider context; one that is very important, but is neglected and demands further research.

Vinyl LPs and shellac 78s were an integral part of domestic music making that also involved live amateur performances, usually on the piano. Domestic music making has virtually disappeared: in Britain the annual sales of pianos were around 14,000 in the late 60s, now they are 4000. Today, attracting audiences to live concerts is seen as the endgame by the classical music industry, while the importance of music education and communal music making is being forgotten.