A pair of sentences in a blog item by William Keckler stood out this morning:
I find it interesting that today's literary movements don't even have to be formalistically inventive. It's all done through the miracle of social networking.
With all the chatter about social networking among musicians these days, of course the first thing I did upon reading this passage was to substitute the word "musical" for "literary" and let it churn around in my brain a bit, to see if I end up with butter.
Yes, social networking promise greater opportunities for making contacts — let's not call them "friends", buckos, as that word can still be saved for something more special — and for sharing stuff (music in some form or another, pretty pictures, tech talk, news, recipes, gossip...) and even making real public musical events happen. But when these networks actually go into operation, all of the delights and dangers of ordinary social interaction come into play, and not all people, musicians included, like to play nice. Familial disfunctionality, denunciations, banning, and shunning, and — ultimately — collapse of the hive tend to follow. My impression is that this is especially the case in musical networks because (a) we have trouble being upfront about our preferences, genres or programs, our "formal inventions" and (b) we have trouble distinguishing between shop talk among musicians and our conversations with a lay audience. We think of ourselves as open and idealistic folk, but our ideals are not always well-nourished in completely open environments; they are often fragile or not yet ripe and require some shelter in order to develop and gather some robustness. It is quite easy to image that a social network initiated around ideas about experimental, non-amplified, scored concert music will have trouble keeping focus if the membership of the group is overwhelmed by new members with preferences increasingly tangential to these. This is not an elitist observation. As Ives knows, there is no significant economic or political power exercised in such a community, the creation of communities based around alternative configurations of interests are not restricted by the existence of this one, and jeez! have table manners really declined to the point where no one learns how and when to politely and usefully join a conversation?
No, social networking is not a miracle. It is a tool and is only a useful tool when it is appropriate to the task and its proper and effective usage is understood and trained. And, while there is a real charge to conversation and exchange with musicians with different interests — personally, I learn a lot for film composers, or band composers, or circuit-bending composers —, the absence of a shared program of "formal invention" is not going to lead to a sustained conversation, whether about technique, aesthetics, or the everyday business of getting commissions and gigs.