‘They sound worse when they are play live’

Preamble

I write about all sorts of stupid things; and I think stupid things (cf. all my thoughts on Kant). Today is no different, I was searching through youtube, as I do. Often one of the things I do is search ‘Tarot’ (and most recently submitted) and look for new videos from the Finnish band, Tarot; but instead, as always is the case, I get these weird videos on my search about  Tarot card readings, which makes me sick to my stomach. I love the band Tarot, but I am also serious about metaphysics and reality, and so any spiritual supernatural stuff [Editorial remark: ‘with the exception of Catholicism’] offends my tastebuds. I like looking up their live performances, because, Tarot are awesome; another band that I like is Eternal Tears of Sorrow. However, I’ve found that their live performances aren’t great; and they are a great great studio band and it upsets me that there are flaws in their live stuff. So I thought hard about this revelation that youtube gave me, and I thought of the following…

Technology change leads to social change 

I remember when I studied sociology of culture; there was a whole discourse about the notion of authenticity (which also leads into my current reading group on Taylor, who wrote about this issue in Sources of the Self). Anyhoo, one of the discourses that came about through the introduction of new recording technologies was the talk about live culture; resistance towards new recording technologies reformed the perspectives that we had about music; crooning, for example, which is a singing style whereby a male singer applies a mezzo-piano to pianissimo volume with a very strong legitissimo tendency which is made possible only by the microphone and electronic speaker. (Presumably), singing before then was acoustic, so volume was important for solo singers; otherwise they won’t be heard! This is just one way in which introduction of new technological innovations can change the way we make music, and also perceive it. Crooning also was exceptionally effeminate for its time, and also evoked strong sentimentality, and, for reasons beyond me (and Antisophie, after much conversing with her), crooning had quite a sexual appeal for women towards men who appear ‘gentle’.

Another story to be told is the opposition to recorded music; people saw recordings as a challenge, a threat to the current social organisation and production of music; put simply, if everyone was to buy records, no one would go out to listen to ‘real’ music, that is, non-recorded, performance. Thus, the concept of the live came about; because before Edison and his recording techniques; ‘live’ music was kind of a default..live music came about as a social concept only through something contrasting to it, namely, recorded music.

The Aura taken away

Here’s where I talk about continental philosophy (yay!); Barthes, in his essay The Grain of the voice [I have to admit this was hard to understand what was actually being said in this], talks about the pseudo-ideology and values and norms imbued in music, a set of myths and stories that we all hold about music. Lets face it, like gender, it actually doesn’t matter whether these myths is true or false; but for purposes of sociological analysis, and as a matter of empirical fact, we find that the discourses that we so analyse, such as the ideology of feminine beauty being characterised in many, inconsistent ways; from thinnness, to voluptuous, from inappropriately young, to demurely mature; likewise, we find, ipso facto, that we find discourses about music that many hold on to. Here is one of them…

Walter Benjamin in ‘The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production” [which, I must add, comes up almost everywhere in my Sociology study…its the philosophical equivalent of Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’] addresses the change of the perception of art by means of the introduction of industrial process. The metric of industrial process influences the process wherewhich ‘art’ used to be made. We believed that there was a special quality in those pieces of art which were made lovingly and craftedly by those genius-like artisans; composers, poets and writers. This is all an ideological story that people have in their heads. The notion of genius, just as an aside; has its roots in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment; section 46-50; which seems to characterise our social conception of the genius (which, interestingly is an artistic, rather than intellectual construal…thus, Newton doesn’t count as a Genius for Kant…more on that another day).

With the introduction of industrial and mechanical copies of artworks, the percieved value in the physical and human effort into creating art, and the concept of the original work is undermined; if we see so many copies of the Discobolous, what value or worth does the original have? (This, I think is another interesting Kantian problem [cf. Guyer, Allison, Helmut-Wenzel], but more on that another time…). The thought that comes from Benjamin is this; the introduction of mechanical reproduction of art (in this relevant case, the CD, MP3/ogg/wav/wmv/acc etc…) diminishes the perceieved value of art as this ideological story of the skillful artist emptying her soul into the work. There is a lot to read into Benjamin’s claim, I admit, none of which I have actually done.

The concept of the live performance

So, now that we have set the context of the norm that recorded music, or repicated music has some diminished value; we now come to the importance of the live. For the live, we can experience the aura (if we buy into the story). We can feel all of those things that people talk about when they feel admiration about a thing (but aren’t actually metaphysically sound), you know, like the feeling ‘energy’ going into you, their ‘spirit’, the ‘heart of the crowd’ and all that poetic stuff that people just make up in their heads (which I admit to doing too…), in live music. Live music seems to be distinctly valued insofar that we still buy into the story about the auratic qualities of the original.

There is something that people like about the live; studio recordings are almost ‘too perfect’; mistakes are valued, the difference in intonation, or performance is non-symmetrical; Marco’s singing of Pyre of Gods will always be different live, and between different live gigs; but the music video will always be the same. Zachary’s guitar solos will always be slightly different live; they will always be unique to that occaision. Dave Mustaine’s ‘jokes‘ when he performs live are always different, and its a ‘you had to be there to find it funny’ contextual things. There is, I suppose the physicality and uncertainty of it; you might bump into that pretty girl in the gig who likes how ‘metal’ your hair is and how obscure your band shirt is, you might go up to some 30-something stranger and  a dual air guitar shredding session to simulate the live performance of Mustaine and Broderick, but really, in your heart of hearts, you imagine Broderick to be Marty Friedman, because he’s the real person who was meant for playing Hangar 18, shouting “DAVE!!!”.

Digital humanity…

With live studio recordings that blare on in the earphones to the library, or listening to the Stockhausen in your study, will always be what you get; it is McDonaldised [Cf. Ritzer]; it is proudced and manufactured such that recorded music is not only predictable, it removes error and uncertainty, and in that way, it removes the humanity. It is far too (instrumentally) rationalised in the Weberian sense; with the live, we can come out of the Modernist Iron cage, and embrace some rawness, some genuine humanity outside of all the digital zeroes and ones that form that MP3 that you listen to all the time.

Lets just state a fairly uncontraversial platitude. We find things to be beautiful. However, the practice of admiring art, listening to music, and visiting museums and performances and the like, are socially mediated practices; they are socially mediated practices whereby we find expression towards this fascination of whatever it is that draws us to art. Moshing, is a socially mediated practice; one story I heard was that it came about through the culmination and combination of the hardcore and metalhead social groupings during the birth of Thrash metal in the 1980s Bay Area scene.

Is it such a bad thing that EToS have slightly disappointing performances? Does it take away from their studio greatness? Eternal Tears of Sorrow express such bleak human realities, express the fantasies and realities of our beautiful and painful human ways of things; its technicality of the keyboard parts and guitar solos hark back to the Romantic days of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov; the overbearing feeling susued is Wagnerian, yet, the characteristically death vocals hark to this period, it is NOW. It is now that we feel, it is almost like the live as I listen to the beautiful sound, even though it is just a digitised, replicated machine that outputs soundwaves into my ears in the way that it does every day since I have had the song. Does the fact that their studio recordings express such beauty take away from the imbued worth of the music because of its mechanical production? Meaning is made socially, but the subjectivity of persojnalising the way in which we consume music also gives back worth to the replicated production. Back in the days of patrons; we could only hear Haydn play if the Estaharzy elite would deem it fit that Haydn play in their court; we couldn’t hide away in bed, crawled up, and listening to them repeatedly, perhaps, listening to certain sections whenever, and however we want; lowered volume, or changed sound settings, twice the speed, half the speed, or even mashed-up with the BBC news playing in the background.

The immense subjectivity of technology has freed us. Reproduction is not just mechanical, it is digital; does it take away from the aura, that this blog may be read by a few dozen people; that these words ‘exist’ on multiple screens. The meaning and worth does not come from those liquid crystals on your screen forming these words; it comes from the inner meaning of it, these words are symbols towards propositions, mental phenomenon. The work may be replicated, but its uniqueness comes from the formal beauty that is imbued within it. The beauty comes from the structure; the harmony, the tonality, the rhythm, the instrumentation, the timbre, the words, and most importantly, ourselves. Beauty is only seen because we are there to percieve it. Perhaps, that is what makes my Kantian statement; beauty comes in virtue of being perceiving humans, and beauty is formal, that is to say, non-immanent.

Let’s end it by putting the song that made me think all this. Autumn’s Grief, by Eternal Tears of Sorrow…

Michael

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