At Least They Make Great Coasters

At Least They Make Great Coasters

My most profound experiences with music have been live, not Memorex. In fact, I don’t really consider listening to a recording as a comprehensive musical experience, unless of course the piece happens to be specifically created for recorded media. In which case, Luc Ferrari’s Presque Rein n° 1 and bernhard günter’s lowercase masterpiece détails agrandis certainly qualify as complete experiences in and of themselves. But in my mind, unless you’ve been to a live performance, you haven’t fully experienced a piece. I find this to be particularly true of chamber music.

From Luigi Nono’s Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima and Stockhausen’s Mantra to Phil Kline’s Zippo Songs, there’s just something that clicks during a live performance which, as a result, reveals invisible forms, structural elements, or just plain emotion. Somehow the physical gestures performed in front of my eyes trigger countless connections within the music, something that the audio documentation inside my CD player fails to portray.

Seeing that this happens to me a lot, maybe I have some form of ADD when it comes to recordings. But isn’t music supposed to be a communal activity? Sure, you can put on a record for a bunch of friends, but if it doesn’t quickly shift into the background, supporting an absorbing conversation, then I’d rather hangout somewhere else. While recordings disseminate music to a large number of people, they also misrepresent the ephemeral present-ness at the core of music’s nature. The lifeblood doesn’t exist on the page—well, maybe some of it. In any case, you certainly won’t find a detectable pulse on one of those polycarbonate slabs.

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One thought on “At Least They Make Great Coasters

  1. Garth Trinkl

    Randy, this is a fine statement and I largely agree with you about the importance of live performances and attending live events. However, I am, in fact, very happy that I have been able to complement my one live performance of Luigi Nono’s very quiet Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima [at the National Gallery’s harsh and reverberant space]with, first LP, and then CD auditioning.


    There was also the Kennedy Center’s ill-conceived idea, five or six years back, of celebrating George Crumb’s 70th birthday with a FREE Millennium Stage performance, at and end of the Center’s foyer, of Crumb’s often very quiet solo piano work. The performance turned out to be an “end of the Millennium” fiasco, and many audience members, including myself, applauded the performer, Margaret Leng Tan, when she refused to continue the celebratory concert when the Center’s management refused to control the running, laughing, and crying children allowed in the designated performance space.


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