Saturday, January 05, 2013

Music Media Ramble

The other day I was listening to a segment of a podcast that discussed hallucinogenic drugs and the reasons that people enjoy taking them. I have never taken a hallucinogenic drug, but the feelings that people describe about the pleasures of their use seem to be the same kinds of pleasures that I experience with music. These pleasures happen mostly while I am playing, but sometimes they happen when I am listening, and sometimes (rarely) they happen when I am writing. I have to be in too much control of the here and now (and the when, how, and where) when writing, so a poly-sensual state is highly impractical.

The people on this podcast talked about hallucinogenic drugs "re-wiring" the brain. I believe that a lifetime of daily music making has a profound effect on the active brain as well as the subconscious mind. I do believe that music "re-wires" the pleasure centers in the brain. The rewards are slow (and they rarely come from the outside), and true progress is very difficult to measure, but part of the pleasure is the "road" itself. Getting to the point where you can have the physical control to do what you want with a given pitch or a given phrase is a "path" with guideposts, but everyone's path has a different length, a different shape (though never a straight line), and has a different terrain. Most of my greatest musical experiences are private, and the kind of intimacy that results from sharing musical experiences is, I have found, best expressed privately, because words really fail. Musical intimacy is something that cannot be forced, and it is something that can happen with people you otherwise don't necessarily have a close personal bond with. It can also happen with people you otherwise are unable to communicate with through spoken language.

This is what musicians do, and every musician reading this (regardless of their experience with hallucinogenic drugs) probably knows exactly what I am talking about. Music is my drug of choice. It is the way I organize the world, and the way I express myself best. It is what I do when I am alone. It is the way I communicate with dead people and cultures that have crumbled. It is often what I dream about. I keep this blog to share thoughts about music with people who understand, and I know that there are indeed a great many people who do.

This brings me to the "media" part of my ramble, because, despite my attempts to feel otherwise, I still mourn the loss of the early musical blogosphere: the lively one that I found so stimulating during the early days of bloggery (I began in 2005). In the above linked-to post I mentioned Norman Lebrecht's blog, which has somehow taken over the musical blogosphere. It seems to be the only blog with the lively kind of musical commentary that makes the enterprise of bloggery enticing. And the man who worked so hard to claim that classical music was in the process of dying seems more devoted to evaluating obituaries so he can let readers know exactly "whom" has died (that you should have known about) than the stuff that keeps music alive. Most of his entries have very little to do with the kind of stuff that stimulates musical thought and inspires composers to compose and instrumentalists and singers to practice.

What Mr. Lebrecht has done is created a "gossip rag" about the people who move about in the most publicized of musical circles. He has created the "People Magazine" of classical music.

I have taken part in the commentary (and there are some intelligent and thoughtful people who take part in his "forum," though Mr. Lebrecht only seems to join the discussion when someone "important" leaves a comment), but the experience of doing so feels empty for me. It feels like I am contributing to a cause that is more concerned with a "who's who" in music than a "what's what" or even a "how's how."


Erik K said...

Agreed 100% on both counts. Music can incite all sorts of emotions for me, from depression to euphoria...I don't need hallucinogens at all. And I generally avoid Lebrecht's blog for the very reason you state. There's a thousand cooler places to read about music than there, in my opinion of course.


I know you're not likely to try Twitter, and it does have its problems, but if you're patient, you can find a lively musical community there. At its best, it can help promote good blog entries. At its worst, well....

I agree completely about the Lebrecht blog. Sadly, the Fake Lebrecht account hasn't been active lately:

Lisa Hirsch said...

I hardly ever read Lebrecht, so I have no sense at all that he has "taken over the musical blogosphere." I assume people who read him are aware that he is not always trustworthy, though I may be wrong.

Parterre Box has a thriving comment community and I bet the site gets more hits than Lebrecht, too, based on La Cieca's statistics for 2012, which included more than 300,000 unique visitors and nearly 5 million page views.

Heather Heise said...

I agree with your lamentation. I was part of that blogosphere in 2005, 2006, and then I departed (primarily because a 9 to 5 job of an ilk that, unlike a patchwork freelance workweek of nearly the same hours, left me in no mood to blog). I've recently returned and the realm indeed feels different. There are many more bloggers, it seems. But ... I feel like so much of what is said is the same. I don't get the sense that individual bloggers view blogging as creative work. Rather, it is reportage with a hefty dose of "my personal experience" which is great, fine, ok. That's what I intend to do, too. But I find myself searching for the irreverent, for the risk, for a pure absurdity that manages to tell me some truth. What I find instead feels so "I'm taking myself very seriously" which, meh, I also feel that I fall into that trap sometimes.

For example, I loved my friend Sid Chen's blog The Standing Room FAR MORE than I love his current work for New Music Box, which, many might argue is doing MORE for the community at large.

But though I share your lament, I do not let it get me down. There is something in the ether webs for everyone. And I also believe that those of us (me? Sidney? Helen Radice? even, ahem, Jeremy Denk) who once blogged a certain Viennese cafe way might return to it again when we grow weary of the current milieu.

Just a thought.

Elaine Fine said...

Let's hope that you are right about the return of "Viennese Cafe" bloggery, Heather! (And thanks to Michael and Lisa for keeping the spirit of 2005 alive in this corner of the internet).