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.