Classical music must return to the edge of the network

Don't let anyone accuse me of being a luddite when it comes to new technology. I have been professionally involved with the internet since the early 1990, created my first web site in 1995, contributed to the development of electronic commerce in the UK home entertainment market, worked closely with Amazon and other online retailers, consulted on intellectual property management, and have been blogging for almost ten years. But recent posts here have touched on how extended exposure to the internet is rewiring our brains and how online retailing has devastated the specialist independent retail sector. And don't let anyone accuse me of being a lone voice. My 2012 post Is there life after the Huffington Post? - a post incidentally I almost didn't write because I thought nobody would be interested in it - generated one of the largest readerships in the nine year history of On An Overgrown Path. Others believe the insidious influence of the internet goes even deeper and below are some chance thoughts on the subject from wiser heads than mine:
'[Jason] Calacanis has proposed a 'Harris's Law' - named after founder Jason Harris - that at some point, 'all humanity in an online community is lost, and the goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another person'. Calacanis talks about most committed bloggers burning out after a few years, worn down by the bitter anonymous comments posted namelessly below their work' - Andrew Smith Totally Wired

'I share, therefore I am' - Sherry Turkle

'Controversy is what mediocre people start because they can't communicate anything meaningful' - G. Willow Wison The Butterfly Mosque

'Anonymity is probably the worst thing we have on the internet. It's only the hippy, 60s, Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF] contingent who still want that. Anonymity is great for a mature person; for an immature person or a damaged person, it's not. Empathy filters get turned off' - Jason Calacanis

'Godwin's Law', named after an observation by EEF founder Mike Godwin, predicts that, given enough time, any online debate will end with one party likening another's views to those of Hitler or the Nazis; at which point all hope of dialogue ends.

'Controversy is seen as the best thing for a writer's career short of actual success' -G. Willow Wison The Butterfly Mosque

'Publication is the auction of the Mind of Man' - Emily Dickinson

'We’re harvesting our lives and putting them online. We’re addicted to gaining followers and friends ... and reading comments we get in return. As we look for validation and our daily 15 minutes of fame, we do so at the cost of our humanity. What a shame, because there is so much to be gained from sharing. In summary, how we treat each other does matter. it matters because, without empathy, our lives are shallow, self-centred and meaningless. The internet and technology are turning on us...' - Jason Calacanis

'Intelligence moves to the edge of the network' - old tech adage
Industry experts tell us that classical music's future lies in the mythical mass market at the centre of the network. And that is utter nonsense; because if intelligence moves to the edge, so should classical music - both culturally and technically. Which is hardly a revelation as classical music flourished at the edge of the network before losing its way in the black hole that is now at the centre.

Header graphic is of an interactive electronic sculpture titled Artificial Analog Neural Network by Phillip Stearns and comes via Turbulence blog. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). 
Also on Facebook and Twitter


mishmashmusic said…
This post rings so true. The crowdsourcing of the Internet does nothing but promote mediocrity. My question to you is, what exactly is the edge? How do you define it?

Is it something more organic and natural? Is it art for the sake of art, purposefully non-commercial?

We have turned everything into a commodity that must be bought and sold, and at the same time, we ironically have devalued the arts by leveling the playing field with technology. To be on the edge suggests that we should unplug or at least be able to function outside the network on some level.
Pliable said…
What exactly is the edge? How do you define it? asks Mark.

Robert Lax once said we should try to put ourselves "in a place where grace can flow", and the edge is where the grace can once again flow in classical music.

Not grace in the religious definition, but grace meaning the power to delight, challenge, surprise, enlighten and transform. The self-serving commercialism and associated mediocrity that Mark talks about has bleached that grace out of so much live and recorded music.

The edge of the network is not a place, it is an attitude. We need to change attitudes within classical music before we can start appealing to new audiences outside it.
Elaine Fine said…
Perhaps the "fringe" is a better term. There's a great <a href=">book</a> about the "fringe" in popular music by Peter Van der Merwe that I would recommend to anyone near a university library (it's really expensive to buy).

We need to remember that the realm of so-called "classical music" has a wide spectrum of participants. Recorded music represents only a tiny bit of what happens when people play music together that is not necessarily "of the moment." The places where this happens are on the edge.

Randomly sliding along, it comes to mind that "popular music" is always changing. What's in and new is always the thing that people are trying to sell. What happens when we play really good music really well is something that people experience generation after generation with the same music. We discover and re-discover, and re-discover music all the time, playing from the same printed pages, much the way we discover and re-discover great literature time and again.

These are things that happen when you are not looking at the world through a computer screen, though.
Anonymous said…
Most interesting. I agree with much of it, but I need to give some more thought to the broader implications.

However, I offer a couple of anecdotes about mass markets and related topics. In My Life in Music, Julian Bream tells of recording 20th Century Guitar, which met with resistance from management at RCA because if perceived lack of commercial appeal. It contained Britten's Nocturnal plus music by Smith Brindle, Martin, and Henze.

However, they finally agreed to let him go ahead, and in Bream's words, "it sold like hotcakes."

And a War Requiem anecdote from John Culshaw - due to similar apprehensions, its first production run was quite small. As positive critical comment and word of mouth spread, demand soon outstripped supply. However, the pressing plant was tied up with an enormous run of a pop recording. Decca figure they'd lost significant sales. An executive asked Culshaw whether Britten could write another requiem with the same appeal. "After all, we wouldn't make the same mistake twice."

Recent popular posts

Classical music's biggest problem is that no one cares

Whatever happened to the long tail of composers?

The purpose of puffery and closed-mindedness

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

Philippa Schuyler - genius or genetic experiment?

A tale of two new audiences

Storm clouds gather over Aldeburgh

Wagner, Mahler and Shostakovich all sound like film music

While classical music debates nothing changes

Master musician who experienced the pain of genius