Sound and Technology from the Artist's Perspective
Winter. Feel the blue crystal cold in the wood-smoked air. Feel the icy path under foot, your slightly precarious and continually micro-adjusted balance engaged. Feel the weight of the snow at shovel's end, the heft and texture of spider-webbed firewood in your arms as the work spreads heat to your body's chill. Steeped in the langour of a fine red wine, feel the luxurious warmth of the fireplace at night in the countryside. Simple everyday phenomena as sensations mark place and time for us. We are always immersed in feeling: we gauge our lives in feeling as the necessity of living in an everyday world rushes us past those same senses.
All but our favorite and most detested feelings become the everyday around us. The majority of senses are nulled out by their ordinariness, our disinterest, our engagement in other pursuits. But senses as back-ground underscore everything. Although we have an infinite capacity for the gradations of feeling, it usually takes an enormous newness to engage our capacity to wonder, to marvel, to be awed. It often takes a sensation to create a thrill or terror, to take us beyond simple awareness to a throbbingly self-conscious recognition of the new.
Shocking newness of this sort presents twin peaks of feeling to the physical and emotive senses. Content of the sensation producer may have little bearing on our emotive sensibilities because the newness itself is so overpowering, perhaps even unbearable. An example is the reaction to the first 'talking machines' of Edison and other contemporaries: there are reports of people fainting. Obviously content was largely unimportant in this sensation. It was the physicality of a recorded message that created the overpowering effect. The words or sounds themselves could have been anything.
But the situation is more complex because content itself may also create sensation. Here the new awareness, the emotive and physical reactions, revolve around our interaction with unexpected content, not purely the instrument of delivery. Paganini and Liszt created a sensation with their musics via content. This is not to say that their musics are not visceral, for if anything they are that, or that their unprecedented showmanship did not also help to create the extraordinary response to their work. But people were familiar with their instruments, with tonality, with the protocols of hearing music in a public manner. They did not create a new vehicle as Edison did. Physical reaction to Paganini and Liszt is accomplished through overwhelming content based on virtuoso technique. People were taken away, enraptured by the new use of what was already familiar. Content of their works, as opposed to traditional forms of the day, was a revelation of what something might be. What it then was.
Copyright © 29 January 2000 by Jeff Talman, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA