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One might predict that when a psycho-acoustically perfect playback technology is available, performance will become an increasingly rarefied event, an expensive and therefore expendable proposition both for performers and listeners. How would one understand the days when people went to concerts where the sound always sounded better than the recordings when the recordings are, in that day, perfect. The effort to attend an event, so many people there to experience it, the heightened awareness of the listener, the isolated and perfectly blended, ephemeral sounds there in that hall only in the moment -- one can only imagine.
The negative spaces of technology are the most impenetrable when they emphasize the limits of our experience in relation to a time before our time, before a particular technology emerged and altered the state of the world. Think of airplanes. However, because of our knowledge of the past and of the accessibility of relevant past technologies even amid their updates, the history of human emotional response is not obscured entirely, even though it may not be experienced first hand. In the two instances above related to recording technology, one real, one hypothetical, what issues from the knowledge of past means, and remains in the human psyche, is an intuition. This intuition is a subjective knowledge and it is highly linked to our creative sides, to our abilities to understand something without witnessing it.
Music grew out of mating cries and lullabies, native rites, the pipes of the poet and bird song imitated, the drums of war and savagery. In the Nineteenth Century music had the capacity to incite individuals to those private and public states of passion. We may smugly snicker today at the reports of people literally swooning, fainting to the passions aroused by the music of Beethoven or Wagner. But we might also try to imagine the past with live performance as the only option. Music was not ubiquitous. Most people knew only the roughest and simplest amateur homespun play. People's passions led them to learn an ancient, rudimentary technical device -- a musical instrument. If cruder than our highly sophisticated radios or Walkmans, never-the-less it fulfilled its mission as a technology. It made music possible as a sensual event... not elevator, airport and supermarket wallpaper.
As we discover technology that allows for finer performance playback and specifically with the likelihood of virtual or near virtual capture/playback eventually being an option, it is imperative that we recognize this undiluted essence of music. This vital recognition was there in our ancestors who created much, and it is still inside us today... we instinctively know it, hear it, practice it. We have great passion for music, perhaps more for it than anything other than each other. To find this undiluted essence, to explore it, to sail with it we must examine the esthetic costs of technology -- the negative spaces. After that it only takes a little imagination.
Copyright © 15 January 2000 by Jeff Talman, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA