Sunday, June 12, 2011

If recorded sports events are so boring to watch, what about recorded music?

An interesting essay pondering our disinterest in watching recorded rather than live sports events.

Okay, I'm being provocative with the title of this item.* Discuss.


*While I think Klosterman is spot-on about recorded sports and find his distinction between rational and irrational reasons to be extremely perceptive, tentatively, I'd say that my own take on recorded music (excluding music composed specifically for fixed recorded media) is different from my take on recorded sports. As audiences I believe we return, in memory, to music, in a fundamentally different way from sports, in that revisiting some stretch of music can reliably and sustainably comfort or disturb us in manifold ways and music happens to be so rich in such stretches that (a) we don't really ever play the same piece in the same way twice and (b) we don't really hear the same piece in the same way twice, so that playing it again, Sam, is not necessarily a boring proposition.

Beyond a small handful of remarkable plays (say Cal-Stanford '82 or Bob Beamon's jump in '68) , repeated viewing in sports simply does not carry the same detail- and connection- rich charge, so that revisiting some stretch of a sporting event is of interest primarily to specialists, for example coaches attempting to improve or recreate particular tactics or in evaluating prospective players or opponents.

Also this: the relationship of parts to the whole in a sports event has a bottom, carry-away, line: the final score and while the dynamics of these parts in their whole-game context may contribute to the immediate sense of drama, the value of the drama diminishes when the game enters memory, and viewing a recording of the game when the final score is known to exist — even if it is unknown to you personally — makes the viewing anticlimactic, diminishing its original temporal proportions, thus we are able to grab the remote and fast-forward with abandon. Music, even with the experience of sampling all around us, is much more protective of its continuity, leading to a very different sense of eventfulness with scores rarely parseable into discrete moves and plays. Yes, a football game or a hockey match can exhibit — and thrill with — considerable sense of momentum, but this sense is seldom recoverable, while the design of a musical work does not resolve to a score with a winner and a loser.

That said, it's obvious that a recorded performance of a work of music is fundamentally different from a live performance because the recording is fixed in ways a live performance cannot be, and a live performance is unpredictable in ways a recording cannot be. Being able to operate within the range of possibilities offered by this distinction strikes me as very useful and interesting. I happen to avoid recordings in preference for live performances, but your possibilities and preferences may well be different from mine. In any case, it would be a loss not to have that variety.


Scott said...

Interesting article, two points jump to mind.

1) I think we need to distinguish between new pieces and re-hearing. Hearing a recording of a new piece for the first time (having never heard the piece before), or, re-hearing a recording of a piece (regardless of whether the original hearing was live or recorded). I think Klosterman is referring mainly to the former (analogously...)

I think I'm more likely to enjoy a piece if my first hearing is live, I tend to dismiss recordings too easily, and occasionally find myself loving a piece live that I disliked on recording (ignoring the possibility of the recording being a bad performance). I'm sympathetic to your stance on recordings vs live, but settle for recordings when live is not an option, as it mostly is not in new music.

2) I agree completely with your points about the goal(ha!)-orientedness of sports making it so much more about the result than music, which generally has no 'result' that could create the drama that sports fixtures have. Adding to this, the sports fixture also has an external temporal element, that is an event fixed in time as part of a larger community of sports fans. Even if you don't know the score, you know that the event has already taken place, the result has already happened, and your watching is just catching up with the rest of the community. The emotional investment in the result is diminished by not actually 'being there', temporally speaking, as it happens.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting topic. After all, a sports game of, say, soccer (also known as football) is akin to music improvisation.

The game may be built around an overall game plan, but it's not a literal, or near-liter, implementation of a script.

Keith Jarrett, with his often sports-like, highly physical behavior at the piano, is one figure that comes to mind.

The Köln Concert, a collection of improvised pieces, was at some point perceived by fans as one of the greatest achievements of human thought, in line with Plato, Shakespeare, Pushkin, Ernst Krenek and Shoksatovich.

That judgment may have been slightly out of proportion. Jarrett IS an excellent musician, and his improvisation talent is staggering. But a composition - a checked, finished and polished piece - is something more robust, more likely to please several generations of consumers, than even a highly inventive, skilled improvisation.

All that said, I don't mean to say that in some "cosmic balance sheet" the valuation of Jarrett's products should somehow be lower vis-a-vis his peer group.

His "market share" is robust, and for a reason.

Jarrett is a highly skilled professional, with an extended skill set, one who has a proven track record of providing value to his customers.

His excellent "Whisper Not (Live in Paris)" (1999) album shows, once again, that a high-quality improvisation has its place in the supermarket of music products, and is not in direct competition with composed pieces.

jon brenner said...

this is great. it really depends on the sport and the music. i have been a devout cycling fan since birth. i have seen countless races both live and recorded. i can say fully that i find it better to watch a recorded race than to see one live. when watching a live race, one stands for hours. then - in a thirty second flurry - the peloton zooms by. that is all you get. when watching a televised race, one can see the entire event unfold with all the attacks, counter-attacks, crashes, and tactics.

having been a competitive fencer, i can say that watching a recorded bout is one of the most painfully boring activities one could ever do - even when understanding the sport. watching it live is only slightly better. doing it, however, is extraordinary excitement.

i find some sporting events to be a sort of catch-22 such as the olympics, for example. i may not be able to travel to wherever, but i can enjoy every event on television with greater detail than what i would have seen from the last row, if tickets could even be acquired. sure, it would be great to see an event live in the front row. but what other events would i be missing? furthermore, what other details of the event would be left out?

then there are the sports i just cannot stand whether it be live, recorded, or as a participant.

i think similar situations are true with music. due to my age, i will never be able to see hendrix live, though i can experience his music through recordings. same for buddy holly. also, when looking at a very popular act - like the beatles - playing at the hollywood bowl in the mid-sixties, how much music would be heard in relation to audience noise? other examples may be contingent on geographic location such as the availability of a gamelan when in alaska. and what about access to a period ensemble? additionally, i can hear la monte young's well-tuned piano from recordings. i would prefer to see it live, but that opportunity does not present itself very often. then there are always recordings that change every time they are heard such as the flaming lips' zaireeka. another aspect to consider would be the quality of a very pristine recording in comparison to a very poor live performance of a challenging piece. but, generally, i find music to be better live.