Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Imagine there is no audience


In a refreshingly thoughtful sleeve essay for the lovingly remastered and presented reissue of the 1980 double album Oregon in Performance the MOJO contributor Charles Waring writes:
Humans, it seems, appear to have a need - some would even call it a compulsion - to categorise everything they perceive and experience. While this is good for recognition purposes and can be used as a systematic index to classify things that we see, taste, smell and hear, this labelling can often fall short of what it's supposed to do (that is, distinguish one thing from another) and in some cases leads to confusion - after all, some things are beyond category and defy pigeonholing.

Take music, for example. It's an area of human creativity that for many years has been divided and subdivided into myriad styles, genres and sub-genres, initially largely for marketing purposes. Music is chopped up, dissected and compartmentalised into myriad boxes - from pop, classical, rock and Latin to country, jazz, blues, funk and many, many more. Then each category can be subdivided again several times more - jazz, for instance, can be broken down into bebop, post bop, free jazz, west coast jazz, modal jazz, spiritual jazz, smooth jazz and so on. But some artists' music doesn't fall comfortably into one distinct category or stylistic zone, and can overlap into and embrace several different genres, which only succeeds in making redundant the whole concept of classification.
Charles Waring's message is that acoustic ensemble Oregon defy classification, a sentiment I have expressed here before. But his eloquent argument against pigeonholing by genre can be extended beyond music to the audience. Western classical music dreams about a 'new audience' and a 'young audience', and the music industry categorises listeners into 'rock audiences', 'EDM audiences', 'jazz audiences' etc etc. But such segmentation is, as Charles Waring points out, a marketing artifact with little other real relevance. Is there a single person in this world who has listened only to classical or only to jazz? Of course not. There is a vast overlap between audiences, an overlap which is ignored by marketeers because it undermines their neatly compartmentalised promotional campaigns.

There is only one audience, and that comprises every single person who listens to music. If we accept there is only one audience it is a short but daring step to accepting there is no audience. Because an audience as a sub-group of the population - eg classical audience - can only be defined by that group's common characteristics. However there are no common characteristics: because we all hear music differently and have varying but overlapping tastes. If you drill down through the classical audiences they disintegrate into smaller and smaller sub-groups, until eventually the artificial concept of an audience disintegrates and disappears. There are no definable audiences; just a huge universe of listeners waiting to be inspired and moved by great music, irrespective of how that music is pigeonholed.

Imagine there's no audience
It's easy if you try
No critics below us
Above us only music

Imagine there's no social media
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to like or tweet for
And no Facebook, too

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And music will be as one

No review samples used in this post. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

1 comment:

Pliable said...

A gem overlooked even by Oregon fans is the band's multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless' 1979 solo album All the Things Mornings Bring - https://www.allaboutjazz.com/paul-mccandless-all-the-mornings-bring-paul-mccandless-elektra-records-review-by-john-kelman.php

Oregon trivia: Paul McCandless auditioned for the New York Philharmonic in 1971 playing English horn and reached the shortlist selection stage.