Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Mutability of Music (your e-mail)

Michael sent a beautifully crafted and thoughtful response to my post last week about the mutability of music, and he graciously agreed to allow me to share it with you.

I hope you’ll indulge a ramble.  Your post “On the Mutability of Music” sent me down some paths and I’ve got, I think, a bit of an angle to consider it by.

So, the difference between an art like music and an art like literature, and why one thrives and grows with variations on the same work and the other doesn’t, or hasn’t: Hemingway talked about the distinction in “Death in the Afternoon,” where he makes a case for bullfighting as art (something that seventy years on is so morally untenable as to hit the ear wrong).  He references the permanent arts and compares them to the impermanent, the arts of record to the arts of experience.

Our modern arts are all, by dint of a breadth of technology that makes every experience recordable in some fashion, a combination of the two.  Music is obviously recorded, and has been in some form or another for centuries .  And we have, as you pointed out, Shakespeare’s folio.  So music and theater are both, obviously and in a way, recorded.  They are permanent.  But they are also directly experienced by the senses, and so are in a way impermanent.

And distilling down to the essences, I would suppose that the real difference of variations-on-a-work between an art like music and an art like literature is the media involved--specifically when performers, people, are part of the medium.  It's people that deliver music into my head.  They may read from pages, permanently recorded pages, but they create an experience and deliver that experience to me.  Literature comes into my head from the code on the page; there’s no one else between me and it.

No one’s interested in “covering” Michelangelo’s “David.”  People replicate it, sure, and there are plenty lifelike Adonises.  But if “David” were a piece of choreography we’d have a thousand versions by now.

Films are remade all the time.  How many Tarzans do we have?  How many Herculeses?  There are THREE versions of “The Omega Man” on film.  “The Departed” is “Infernal Affairs” and the US made an “Old Boy” only ten years after the original.  Film is performance.  Film is people putting the art into our senses through their expression.  So film is covered, remade, and we’re (mostly, because Jesus, Hollywood) fine with it.

So I have to think that if we still listened to storytellers instead of reading from the page ourselves, we could have multiple versions of popular works and love them all.

Maybe having performers as part of the medium keeps the audience from taking full ownership of the work, makes the consumption of the art something more akin to relationship.  I'm not interested in copies of things I own.  But strangers who remind me of friends, that'll pique me.

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