Uneasy Target

The Minnesota Orchestra has garnered a fair amount of space on NewMusicBox, and with good reason: By orchestral standards, the group plays a fair amount of new music, racking up a formidable fourteen ASCAP Adventuresome Programming Awards. I ambled out to Peavey Plaza, right outside the orchestra’s headquarters, to catch a Target-sponsored outdoor concert last week. (I make a special point of noting the concert’s benefactor because the orchestra performed in a tent whose rear wall was covered in Target logos.) The program was enjoyable bring-your-kids boilerplate, mostly opera overtures, that featured the group’s percussion section.

I’d like to tell you that the orchestra played well—and I suspect that they did—but I didn’t really hear them, to be honest. What I heard was a looming, thunderous, no doubt Target-donated PA. I know I’m being unreasonable and finicky and just sort of weird here, but it really disappoints me when I see people playing and hear what might (but for a few accidental mic-bumps) be a recording of the same. I spend a lot of time in front of speakers at the computer; most of the music I hear on a day-to-day level is thus reproduced (or, to be more accurate, transduced). When I go hear an orchestra, I really want to hear actual humans playing instruments. The intervening “reinforcement” just doesn’t do it for me.

But Colin, Colin, Colin, you may be saying, what about the teenagers making out behind you on the steps in Peavey Plaza? What about the elderly lady with the noisy chips? What about the vigorously dancing toddler in front of you? Don’t they necessitate the sound system and, at the same time, lower the “aura bar” for the whole event? Maybe, but I kind of liked that part of the show. (For the record, I do not consider the teenagers making out part of the “show” proper.) When everybody clapped between sections of the Carmen suite, I took a genuine, if perverse, pleasure in clapping along. (For the record, I think we should just clap whenever the hell we feel like it. Between movements, after cadenzas, whenever. Life’s too short.) That huge PA is what broke the concert for me, and although I know there’s no way around it, it would be great if somebody could at least figure out a subtler, more natural-sounding reinforcement method for classical music. I bet Target’s good for at least a couple spherical speakers.

4 thoughts on “Uneasy Target

  1. Mischa Salkind-Pearl

    I am firm believer of Cage’s idea that “a piece is over when the listener chooses to stop listening.” By that token, I am more than happy to see people clapping in the middle of a piece, letting their toddlers dance around, and whatever else they’re moved to do, provided that they are actually MOVED to do so.

    I am with Colin in feeling a little uneasy about clunky PAs communicating what is right in front of us, and badly misrepresenting the sound. But frankly, many people at the concert might not have gone to an indoor concert in more formal settings. Target is sponsoring a orchestra trying to foster a healthy enthusiasm in a broader audience, which is hard to argue with.

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  2. Lisa X

    First time ever, I completely agree with Colin. I have speakers at home, I don’t need to leave the house to hear music coming out of them. Going to hear a DJ is one exception. But really Im there to dance even if its some hot shot DJ. With rock bands, I love to hear them in small spaces but once they are doing well enough to play bigger venues and the drums are miked I’m generally not interested. And going to see someone stare at a laptop is absolutely out of the question.

    For me the PA system is generally a terrible idea. Its roots and current usage are always about exploiting our sheepish tendencies.

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  3. Jay.Derderian

    I think maybe the concert didn’t resonate was that it probably had some sub-par amplification, and just didn’t do justice to the sounds produced.

    However, I dislike listening to a band from a huge distance away while watching them on a huge T.V. screen, so who knows. It could be any number of random elements that could set back a concert… coughs, cell phones ect. I know for sure that I hate seeing people stare into their laptops.

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