A number of earlier postings have focused on the impact of information technology on the business of music. Now Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, has written a wonderful summary of recent books about the impact of information technology on music itself: “The Record Effect: How technology has transformed the sound of music.”
The article is an enlightening description of how the art and craft of music changed because of recording technology, starting with John Philip Sousa prediction that recordings would lead to the demise of music.
I found the discussion about recording versus live performance especially interesting – including the following passage about the decline the concert experience:
In 1964, Glenn Gould made a famous decision to renounce live performance. In an essay published two years later, “The Prospects of Recording,” he predicted that the concert would eventually die out, to be replaced by a purely electronic music culture. He may still be proved right. For now, live performance clings to life, and, in tandem, the classical-music tradition that could hardly exist without it. As the years go by, Gould’s line of argument, which served to explain his decision to abandon the concert stage, seems ever more misguided and dangerous. Gould praised recordings for their vast archival possibilities, for their ability to supply on demand a bassoon sonata by Hindemith or a motet by Buxtehude. He gloried in the extraordinary interpretive control that studio conditions allowed him. He took it for granted that the taste for Buxtehude motets or for surprising new approaches to Bach could survive the death of the concert-that somehow new electronic avenues could be found to spread the word about old and unusual music. Gould’s thesis is annulled by cold statistics: classical-record sales have plunged, while concert attendance is anxiously holding steady.
. . .
A few months after Gould published his essay, the Beatles, in a presumably unrelated development, played their last live show, in San Francisco. They spent the rest of their short career working in the recording studio.
Ross goes on to decry the death of concerts as a blow to art. He does not go on to describe how this latest wave of IT – file sharing of digitized copies – may be leading to a return to the concert tour. That is something that his New Yorker colleague James Surowiecki wrote about just a few weeks earlier in “Hello Cleveland” (see my earlier posting “The new music industry“).
Surowiecki’s argument about the return of touring is clearly true in popular music – because it is being driven as much by the artists as the fans. It remains to be seen whether classical music will
(and can) move in the same direction. Some months ago I posted a piece on how the San Francisco Symphony is gaining a strong following (The innovative organization – not what you think). But I have no real evidence one way or another.
The old cliche is that technology changes everything. If in fact concerts are the new wave of the music future, another cliche might be more appropriate: the more things change, the more they stay the same.