Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why Live Music

In the previous post I talked about some advantages of acoustic music over amplified music, and in this one want to talk a little about live music versus recorded music.

One of the things the neuroscientists often say about what pulls the listener into the music is the unexpected. While we like some sense of structure to give us context, if there are no surprises along the way, we become bored. The thing about recorded music is that once you've heard it, it never changes. The first time or two I hear one of Glenn Gould's immaculately edited, so as to be error free, recordings of Bach, I'm amazed. On subsequent listenings, though, the some of the magic slips away. I often use the word "fresh" for music that I like, and recorded music can never sound fresh on repeated listenings.

Live performances usually mean finger slips along the way, but they also mean that you'll never hear that piece of music played that way ever again, and that in itself adds excitement. Over the years I've noticed some classical critics will point out errors in a performance, while going on to say that's what you get with live performance, and that even with an error here and there, live music is more moving to the listener than recordings.

Another thing about live performance is that the audience makes a difference. Years I ago came across this quote by Hilary Hahn:

The problem is that acoustic performers rely on the audience's attention and focus and can tell when the audience isn't mentally present. Your listening is part of our interpretive process. If you're not really listening, we're not getting the feedback of energy from the hall, and then we might as well be practicing for a bunch of people peering in the window. It's just not as interesting when the cycle of interpretation is broken.

Another aspect of watching live performance is the triggering of mirror neurons. When we see the physical gestures musicians make, we "feel" those motions in ourselves, and often associate emotions with those gestures. 

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