There's a lot of space in your music, but it's all you need

I remember at Tassajara [San Francisco Zen Centre] once talking to a classical composer and musicologist named Lou Harrison. I apologised to him for the lack of music there and for the fact that there was even a rule against having musical instruments. "Nonsense!" he said. "This place is full of music. You have all the musical instruments and music you need. I hear your bells, that thick hanging board and the drum going from morning to night. There's a lot of space in your music, but it's all you need".
I was reminded of that passage from David Chadwick's book Thank you and OK! An American Zen Failure in Japan by last night’s resignation of the BBC director general George Entwistle. This blog's criticism of the BBC predates the current tabloid press witchhunt by some years, and On An Overgrown Path has repeatedly expressed concerns about the management controls within the BBC – the very factor that precipitated the present crisis. But I feel no schadenfreude about recent events, just a great sadness. I joined the BBC from university in 1971, and not only do I owe any communication and technical skills that I have today to my time with BBC Radio, but the idealistic culture of what was then a public service broadcaster left a profound impression. However, over the intervening four decades the rise of the commercial nexus, the deregulation of broadcasting, society's fixation with celebrity, and the almost infinite increase in communication bandwidth has created an out of control media monster of which the present day BBC is just one part. But I cannot sit in judgement, because on an infinitely more modest scale On An Overgrown Path - and this post - is also part of that new media monster. And push-button publishing and citizen journalism in the form of blogs and social media have not - as was once hoped - levelled the media playing field, instead they have merely reduced it to the level of the lowest common denominator.

As the Newsnight scandal has shown, there is no space in today’s media: speed has usurped accuracy, sound-bytes have replaced considered debate, and anything goes providing it falls outside the narrow definition of defamation. At the heart of the problem is the simple fact that over the past decade the number of news events has not increased, but the demand for news – driven by digital communication technologies – has increased exponentially. With the result that the reporting of news – genuine or otherwise – has expanded to fill the available space. It is inevitable that media organisations around the world will be watching and learning from the Newsnight scandal. And it is also inevitable and right that the result will be more rigorous editorial controls that constrain the supply of news, thereby leaving space in today's sprawling broadcast schedules. Classical music and the other arts need to do some fast thinking and seize the opportunity to fill the post-Newsnight media vacuum. And on my part I have resolved to leave more space in my blogging. That is Lou Harrison above - more on this under-appreciated composer in New music nourished by the forgotten past.

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Philip Amos said…
This is indeed a tragic tale, and I can understand your personal sadness over it, Bob. Some 20+ years ago, I chatted with the chief technician at a fine new theatre in Duncan, on Vancouver Island. He was from England, a man of about 60, and he told me that he had joined the BBC straight from school. There, he told me, he had had the finest apprenticeship imaginable. And at the completion of it, he was summarily chucked out, but with the admonition that he must go and get a job elsewhere, make a success of it, and then return to the BBC, where a job would await him. That is what he did, working there until he decided to move to Canada to be near his daughter and her family.

What I heard was a great testimonial to the old Beeb. If I could but talk to the editors of those times long gone, I have to wonder if I might not hear parallel stories. This latest debacle shows just how deep are the problems in that department. By comparison, the problem of the presenters on Radio 3 is no mystery: the Corporation simply s topped engaging true experts and hired semi-educated 'personalities'. Among people of their generation, there is no greater guarantee that someone is likely to be semi-educated than a university degree, quite possibly in 'Communications', though few of them spout more twaddle than Tom Service, Ph.D. (in, gulp, music). The debasing of the education system plays a large part in all this. I'm far from the only retired academic to be mighty glad to be out of it, and I'd much like to continue my own research interests and ignore it. But that I can't do, for the media as a whole are a constant reminder of what we have wrought.
billoo said…
True, pli. I thought they lost it with their coverage of the war on Iraq. Still like the Two Ronnies, though :-)



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