Anxiety of Proximity

You can go to iTunes right now and download the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of Arvo Pärt's "Tabula Rasa" and Louis Andriessen's "Racconto Dall'Inferno" and "de Staat." It's a live recording from their Minimalist Jukebox series, a real landmark series of performances featuring works by all the major minimalist artists of the past four decades (including Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, and even The Orb). What's great about this recording is the fact that it came out less than a week after the performance (the concert was on Saturday, March 25, and the recording was on iTunes Wednesday, March 29). This is what the Internet can do for music--instant recordings, immediate feedback, and access to great performances wherever you might live. And trust me when I say that there were a lot of jealous people out there--people who didn't live in Southern California and, hence, couldn't make it to these concerts.

Now, I bring all this up in part to advertise this great concert series and the recording. Really, though I'm just bragging: my wife and I attended this concert. I don't normally attend Philharmonic performances, but "Tabula Rasa" is one of my favorite modern compositions--ethereal, pristine, delicate, and totally overwhelming. I listen to it all the time, and when I heard that the Minimalist Jukebox series would feature this work, I jumped at the chance to go. I found the experience to be very interesting and very rewarding. The Walt Disney Music Hall (despite the name) is an incredible building, beautifully designed (by Gehry) and perfectly condusive to music. I find most classical music-goers to be pretentious assholes (like the hybrid car people South Park parodied this week and about half of the people I knew in grad school), but I ignored them and focused on the music. I knew the concert was being recorded--they mentioned it in the beginning and there were signs posted all over the place to remind people to shut up and not make noise during the concert--and I was excited by the prospect of being able to hear the concert live and then listen to it at home.

And that's the rub. The concert itself was great--phenomenal performances for both the Pärt and the Andriessen (an artist I'm not too familiar with but was impressed by, especially his ability to translate literary works like Dante's Inferno and Plato's Republic into music). However, as I listen to the concert live, I keep hearing people coughing and even wheezing (there was someone wheezing--I don't know who but it happened). I figured the recording wouldn't pick up on that stuff, but it does--especially on "Tabula Rasa," which is as much about silence as it is about music. On the recording, I can hear every single cough and burp and other noise that I remembered hearing (and being pissed off about) at the concert (despite the signs). Now, I can't listen to the recording without focusing on those noises.

Now, my inner John Cage tells me that this coughing and wheezing in a concert hall is part of the music--it's all music, and a performance with those other noises is far richer and more rewarding than a performance without that additional sound. I actually believe that, to an extent. If I hadn't been at the concert, I probably wouldn't even notice those other sounds; I'd just attribute them to the recording space. If someone brought them up, I'd say something like, "Hey, that's a moment in time captured for all eternity. Awesome." Actually, if I did say that, I'd be one of those pretentious assholes, and I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn't say that (it would be too self-conscous of me), but I'm sure I'd come up with some slightly less assholish comment about how great the music is.

But the problem is that I was there and I did hear the sounds and when I listen to the recording, I can't help but hear those sounds (both my memory of the sounds and their repetition via the recording) over and above the music. There's the music and there's the noise--and they are separated in my ears and in my mind.

I guess this is how musicians must feel when listening to their own recordings--especially the live recordings. They must hear every tiny imperfection, every place where the sound isn't quite right, every moment where, in their mind, the music was supposed to sound one way but it came out in a different way. No wonder so many artists have entire storerooms full of unreleased material; it's stuff that other people would probably LOVE but that they themselves can't imaging releasing because of its tiny imperfections.

In some ways, I think that's how I feel about the concert recording. I didn't perform, but I was in the audience, and as a microphone merely picks up sound, everyone and everything that made sound in that studio space (the concert hall) performed on that recording. I tried to "perform" as little as possible (kept still, didn't even move my hands to scratch my nose), but I'm sure some vague fluttering of my breath filtered into those microphones at one point in the recording, and if we could examine the recording down to the nano, you'd be able to decipher my breath from everyone else's.

So it's partly my fault--and I apologize. I'll do better next time. But, still, ignore my rants and get the recording--it's fantastic music. Heck, despite what I just said, I am still listening to this recording every day (as I said, I love my Pärt). I'm working to John Nash my way out of obsessing over the coughs (they're there, but I choose to ignore them).

Yep, I'm well on my way to dementia. It should be fun!

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