Monday, October 17, 2011

Looking at Art, Listening to Music

Whenever I leave a museum I see the world differently.

When I look at art in a museum I am always selective. Some pieces grab my attention, and some do not. The pieces that do grab my attention do so for various reasons. Some stimulate my imagination and make ME want to paint, sculpt, or draw. Some fill me with absolute wonder as I try to imagine the amount of knowledge about composition, understanding of materials, and simply the pure technique that goes into making a work of art that can pull me in and "speak" to me.

I always go to concerts in evaluative mode, whether I am there to review it or not. I place extremely high demands on the people performing, and more often than not they do not live up to my expectations. When they do, or when they exceed my expectations, the thrill remains with me. Sometimes it remains for years. If the concert, for whatever reason, doesn't do much for me, I still learn from the experience. As an eternal student of music, I always question what it is that makes something work, and I question what it is that makes something not work. I appreciate the visual aspect of a concert, and I appreciate the way the sound operates in the room. I appreciate witnessing the tensions and releases that are always active in high pressure concert situations, and I appreciate the level of dedication that the performing musicians demonstrate. After most concerts the way I think about music in both the general sense and in the specific sense has been changed, even if only slightly. That feeling of change rarely happens when I listen to recordings.

Sometimes I like to pretend, in the case of a concert recording, that I am listening in real time and real space, but much of that experience is enhanced by my imagination. The experience of listening to recordings (for me) is a very different kid of experience from that of listening to concerts--being in the room while the music is being played.

Many people have come to think of either analog or digitized "impressions" of music (including videos) as the real thing in much the same way that many people have come to believe that a photograph of a work of art is just as good as seeing the real thing. I have certainly enjoyed looking at many photographic reproductions of pieces of art, and I have certainly enjoyed listening to recordings of pieces of music.

When I look at a photograph of a piece of art, I am looking through the lens of a photographer who tries his or her best to get the colors right, and tries to replicate the textures of the art in two dimensions. When I listen to a recording I am listening through the audio equipment and the ears of an engineer who may or may not be able to capture, for technical reasons, as much of the music as he or she would like to.

I also know that I am often listening through the evaluative post-recording-session ears of the performing musicians, who choose only the best "takes" to be preserved for "all time." I may be listening to a set of strung-together compromises rather than a performance when I listen to a recording, and in the case of musicians who are no longer around or are otherwise inaccessible to me, there's no way I will ever know.


Quodlibet said...

Great insights, and so well articulated! I've had the same experiences, but I never thought to connect the similarities between photo/museum and recording/live concert. You are right, of course. In fact, I find that I rarely listen to recorder music anymore, except for study or research purposes. It just doesn't really excite me. But in the concert hall...! And yes, some of those memories of Great Performances are indelible.

This summer we were fortunate to travel to France, where we were able to get very close (often within inches!) of paintings by the Impressionists. This was a visceral experience, to see the textures of paint laid on the canvas - a photo simply cannot convey the effect of that texture on how one perceives the entire work. It was especially true with Van Gogh - just amazing. Your essay helped me to remember that experience with renewed clarity.

Now how do you expect me to sleep tonight with all these thoughts raging around my head in 3-D?? :-)

Quodlibet said...

Aarrrgh! I meant "recorded music," of course, not "recorder music"!! I love recorder music!