The Medium and the Message

Back to one of my favorite hobby-horses: the fixed-media electronic piece. My objection to the presentation of such pieces in the concert hall is steadfast and in the public record. However, in the wake of some recent writing on the topic of suburban composition, I’m moved to reconsider the humble “tape” piece in a new light: Rather than a squandering of live-audience attention and a breach of the social contract, the fixed-media piece could represent a kind of home listening (and, more importantly, a relationship to and imaginary of the work-object) that—while maybe not genuinely “new”—is in some ways no less psychologically expansive than concert listening.

For me, a piece of written music to be interpreted by performers should be heard live in a performance space; as I’ve said before, recordings of classical and contemporary music are mostly useful to me as informative professional aids rather than as conduits to aesthetic experience. Conversely, I’d much rather encounter a piece of music that exists natively on recorded media at home. The main impediment to this latter arrangement is that I tend not to really respect the process of listening to music at home: I value the concert experience so much because there’s nothing else for me to occupy myself with when I’m sitting in a concert hall. At home, I find it very difficult to listen to music and not do anything else—work, read, wash dishes, etc. Fixed media music might present a way out of this compulsion: It’s conceived to be heard on record and to be attended to in the same way that concert music is. If I can manage to discipline my listening at home, maybe I can think about how to scoop out a mental space for discursive fixed-media music from the stringy pulp of distraction to which I’m accustomed.

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