Now that I’m back home and settled in after living out of a suitcase for nearly three weeks, I’ve been consolidating all the stuff I brought back with me from my travels—as per usual, I now have tons more LPs, CDs, books, and DVDs. To the ongoing horror of the no-possessions download types, the walls have long been overbooked, so to speak, and so now there are organized piles in front of most of the shelves. As far as I’m concerned, if something turns up that piques my curiosity, there will always be room for it.
However, despite the fact that I can’t imagine existing in a way that doesn’t always seek something more, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how much music I possibly can listen to, and how many books I can possibly read, films watch, etc., there is no way that I will every be able to experience everything I want to experience. And even if miraculously I could speed up the intake process—let’s say someone invented a device that could concentrate six hours of music into six seconds, with full user comprehension and retention—each day there’d be tons of new work created and there’d still be no way to catch up.
If your goal is always to be on the lookout for things you’ve never heard before, there can never be a fixed canon. This is perhaps the ultimate disparity between folks who “love the classics” and folks who “want something new”—the desire to honor the past and to chart the possible future can seem antithetical. And this is probably why there is such an irreconcilable disconnect between audiences which seek out the standard repertoire and the new music types.
And yet, despite my love for new music, I’m also obsessed with the past, which people who think I only care about new stuff find completely baffling. But of course nothing remains new and I don’t cease caring about the new things I chance upon after having experienced them. Many of the most crucial aspects of a piece of music, or a book, a painting, a film, etc. can only be gleaned with multiple exposures to it; however the ability to hear a piece of music more than once, or reread a book, requires an even greater amount of time.
Part of what is appealing about the concept of a standard repertoire is that it is a finite amount of material. It is possible not only to have listened to the entire corpus of standard repertoire classical music, but to also be knowledgeable about each piece in that canon in great detail. But how is it possible to really be adequately informed about new music when the amount of music that’s being created is so vast? In a 24-hour day, what is the right balance between listening to things you’ve never heard before and taking time to pay closer attention to something you already know? How many times do you need to hear something before you feel comfortable in your knowledge of it?