After the interminable, seeming half-year of unpleasant weather, this past weekend felt like a loud affirmational major triad at the end of a chain of 012 trichords and the like. Mind you, I happen to love those 012 trichords most of the time. And I also don’t usually care all that much about the weather, either. In fact, I’ve frequently quipped about how much I prefer “the great indoors” since most of the activities I value most are less optimal when experienced in the open air, at least to me—music, looking at art, even reading.
But before you get too upset with me for somehow being out of touch with nature, I did make a concerted effort to spend the lion’s share of this past weekend outside. More importantly, I made an effort to resist the technological gadgets that we all seem so dependent on in order to function—the internet, the telephone, television, etc. With television, it was easy since I almost never watch it. And thanks to a rain deluge the week before, my home phone line was still not working properly and I never like to spend much time using a cellphone since they get overheated rather quickly. But my internet hiatus was inspired by reading about a project called the Sabbath Manifesto which called for a National Day of Unplugging this past Saturday. Ironically, I learned about the initiative on Saturday morning, by reading about it online. However, I immediately turned off the computer and did not turn it on again until Monday morning, and my weekend was all the better for it.
I remain distrustful of Luddites and folks who long for the good old days (as if they were). But I’m even more suspicious of those who embrace what pundits claim the future is wholeheartedly and unquestioningly. Extremes, from whatever direction they emanate, inevitably yield limited possibilities. In the realm of both music and its dissemination, a lot of people are beginning to realize that there is not one clear linear, evolutionary path. (I love how some “experts” are suggesting there’s an LP revival.) Yet it still seems that most things having to do with music nowadays revolve around the computer—from the preparation of materials (scores, parts, algorithms, etc.) to its promotion and distribution. I keep hearing people talk about live concerts as being quaint and somehow anachronistic: You’re inevitably only reaching a limited number of people in a specific geographic location at a specific time. Besides, the semantics of having a “live experience” now also includes logging into a live event rather than actually being there.
But if you’re logging into an event somewhere else to pay attention to that, can you also pay attention to where you actually are? For millennia music was a way to bring people together. And every government and source of power from time immemorial has used music’s ability to arouse, sometimes for good and also sometimes for ill. Yet nowadays music functions more and more as a means of separating people. Walking through Central Park on Sunday, I saw many earbud-adorned people in their own private worlds, hermetically sealed off from the glorious sounds of a spring afternoon: chirping birds, children playing, the amazing stream of consciousness psychobabble of fragments from unrelated conversations. Then again, I also heard several really inventive groups of musicians—a guitar- and ukulele-toting trio that sung in glorious three part harmony and a jazz combo whose sax-playing front man was channeling Albert Ayler yet totally fitting it with the old-school pre-swing his bandmates were playing. These musicians were still able to attract large crowds, perhaps filled with many folks who would not have chosen to listen to such music if it was presented to them as an online listening option. After all, there’s no macro to recommend something to you that’s totally different than the stuff you already like. Maybe there should be.