Sunday, May 13, 2018

Streaming is damaging more than the music


That article in the current edition of Rolling Stone India reports on the rise of curated music newsletters, a trend which shows that streaming services are not the only place to discover new music. These email newsletters share music discoveries, and are used by their curators as a listening discipline and to create digital memories of the music that moved and inspired them. All of which resonated powerfully with my own decision to stop using social media to promote On An Overgrown Path and to rely instead on a committed RSS readership.

The many social media addicts will doubtless point out that the readership of these newsletters is small, and my own RSS following is indeed tiny compared to that fancifully claimed by click bait meister Norman Lebrecht. But increasing concern is being expressed about the creative damage inflicted by streamed music and video content. Yet surprisingly little attention is being paid to the damage inflicted by on demand services such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that stream highly subjective opinions and gossip packaged as informed commentary. The modest but significant rise of curated music newsletters - which is effectively what On An Overgrown Path has become - is clear evidence of a growing resistance to the hegemony of streamed click bait. Unlike the many who live their lives on social media, I am a paying consumer of music, not a gravy train-riding cultural commentator - anyone remember Sinfini Music? So it may be worth those who agonise over the decline of classical music reflecting on the following.

Appreciating classical music depends on, to use Timothy Leary's paradigm, both 'set' - the score and how it is performed - and 'setting' - the environment in which it is performed. An adverse setting can nullify the most sublime set. Which is why I now attend very few classical concerts, as the glow of mobile phones and the mindless dribbles of applause between movements destroy the setting for me. Similarly I no longer listen to BBC Radio 3 because the egregious contributions of Petroc Trelawny and his peers destroy the setting. And it explains why I struggle to appreciate the undoubted huge talents of Simon Rattle, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, because when I hear their music making I also hear the remorseless noise made by their online boosters. Which means that when I do listen to recorded classical music it is invariably from maestros of the past such as Bruno Walter, Sir Adrian Boult, and Vernon Handley, whose performances can be enjoyed without intrusive background noise from the twitterati. My sensitivity to both set and setting means I am now much more selective with my advocacy of women musicians. And it also explains why I spend an increasing amount of time exploring the margins of art music.

The solution to Western classical music's current stasis does not lie with more free real time concerts streamed on Facebook or more Twitter followers, or any other social media snake oil. But hints of the solution may be found by reading that Rolling Stone India article with an open mind.

As above, On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

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