Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Year Without Recordings

2006 has been my year without recordings. I set out to avoid listening intentionally to recorded music. While there have been a few minor lapses -- some colleagues have sent me sound files, I listened to music played on the radio while waiting in the car two or three times, and I have put on cassettes for my four-year-old, and incidental music has been unavoidable -- in the past twelve months, I have never popped a music cd into a player, nor have I turned on the radio or television in order to hear some music.

What's the result of this experience? No great or earth-shattering revelations. A lot more time spent score-reading, both with or without an instrument under my fingers, which is a good thing for ear, mind, and soul. Also, I have the impression that I am a bit more sensitive to the localization of sound, and loudspeakers often sound somewhat disappointing now. (I went to my first pop concert in 2o-some years -- by Ben Harper, a hometown friend -- and his unaccompanied, unmiked singing (in a hall with a couple thousand people) was absolutely the best part of the concert: suddenly the sounds came from somewhere in particular!). And when I walk down the main shopping street in Frankfurt, a real haven for street musicians, I find myself gravitating always to those playing without amplification or recorded aggrandizement. I wish that I had gone to more concerts, but this has also been a year in which my health hasn't exactly cooperated, so music has largely had to be that which I have made myself, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But I can honestly say that I haven't missed a thing, and I suppose that that's the minor revelation that can be gathered from all this. While there is an important place in my musical life for music composed specifically for recorded media, I suspect that in the next year, I will still generally avoid recordings of music which can be heard otherwise. In much the same way that live performance has regained some of its magic in the past year -- if, paradoxically, that magic came from live performance becoming more ordinary -- when I return to recordings in the new year, I'd like it if the experience of listening to a recording would regain some its own magic.

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