Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Renewing the musical economy

The emerging consensus that the world financial system and the economy have changed is some fundamental ways, and introduced tremendous uncertainty, has registered even with people like myself, musicians, whose chief line of production consists of pushing molecules of air about here and there. This has been registered most publicly with the largest institutions — opera houses, orchestras, ballet companies, conservatories — which have begun to take measures for a far slimmer future, with reductions in both state subsidies and private/corporate patronage now incorporated into plans for this and future seasons. To some extent, the institutions have become well-practiced in such economizing, perhaps even inadvertently serving as models for some of the large financial institutions that now find themselves in trouble.  After all, isn't a bank that is now "too big too fail" something like one of those orchestras or opera houses (especially in European capital cities) which have been able to present themselves in the recent past as "too important to fail?" Frankly, I have few worries about such houses and bands, as their connections to business and political establishments are probably secure, even in the roughest of times. My fear is instead that the greater effect of the changes to come will be felt not by the handful of major institutions that can claim such a status, but rather by smaller organizations and individuals who have either not yet established such institutional status or, by nature, have no interest in such a status. Although perpetually under material pressure, it is these organizations and individuals which are the greater source of liveliness in our musical lives, and my fear is that, as close to the tipping point between fiscal survival and disappearance is they have always been, the slightest further push could be devastating.

But what if this moment is one of economic opportunity and not just severe restriction? Let's have a little vision, now! What if we could re-organize our musical lives in a fundamental way, with the basis not in our music-institutional lives but in music-making at the most local level? In part, I believe that we have already moved in some important ways in this direction. The large corporate recording industry has lost considerable weight and technological advances have made it now possible to produce the most sophisticated recordings and broadcast-equivalents with means modest enough to be available to a middle-class household. My own professional and personal interest is in a serious revival of music made at home or among friends. I am far from certain what economic model could, let alone will, make this happen, but my instinct is to be optimistic.


Samuel Vriezen said...

A good point, Daniel.

A friend of mine pointed out a recent opinion-article by Badiou in le Monde to me, which seems to make a similar point (though more in the sphere of politics).

OTOH, with massive nationalisations and the markets unable to get the money rolling, we could also be seeing a return to Keynesianism and a big government funding increase. (Until hyperinflation kicks in)

Samuel Vriezen said...

Anonymous said...

The future of the composer is the composer-performer. When they get too old and if they have achieved anything, then they might allow them to become just composers. But the future will give us more composer-performers not less.

Stefan Kac said...

The past gave us quite a few as well.

Justin Friello said...

I was wondering if you knew the composer Daniel Peter Biro. He's quite popular in Europe. He spoke in our composition seminar class this week.

Anonymous said...

Yay for optimism!
Sometimes this kind of disaster brings welcome breaths of fresh air.
And the best way to get on with it is to recognize the opportunities sprouting around us.