Today Bernard Zuel reviews Air's Sydney concert, making a couple of observations about concert-going in the process. First, he asks why he was there in terms that would find sympathy with more than few classical music lovers of the audiophile bent:
"I was wondering what I was gaining from hearing Air live rather than playing the pristine recordings at home, or in my car or through good-quality headsets."
Some of that was to do with problems of amplification in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall (which is a tricky enough venue without amplification) and Zuel has a point to make about the lure of the iconic over care for the experience of the audience.
But then he gets to the interesting part:
"It may be that for me Air has always been music to accompany living, and this time, whether it was La Femme D'Argent's Sunday morning breakfast mood, Electronic Performers' night time walk through wet streets, Highschool Lover's quiet book at the beach holiday, or Mer Du Japon's winding back streets driving, I felt I was not quite doing but observing, just outside the music rather than inside it." [bolding mine]
Which makes me wonder, how many of the so-called culturally aware non-attenders might feel the same way about orchestral and other classical concerts? If you know classical music from radio and recordings, and if you view this music as an intimate part of the soundtrack to your life rather than something for that apparently passive act: active listening, then that's just another reason why a formal concert performance might not be immediately appealing. (And mind you, when Zuel talks about "music to accompany living" I don't think it's mere background distraction he has in mind.) If you like the music enough to want to be "inside it" then a concert hall may have little allure.
"Doing" listening, really getting inside music, isn't the easiest thing in the world; do the conventions (silence, stillness, dim light, "rules" about applause and so on) make listening more difficult, keeping us on the outside, even as they attempt to provide the perfect context for it?
Zuel's experience at AIR ended happily:
"It built from a measured pulse to something vibrant and propulsive, the surprisingly low-key visuals finally taking an active role, the sensuality edging into earthiness, the room losing its confines, and bodies losing their strictures. Ah, yes, this is why we come to see a band."
When an orchestral performance reaches the point that we can forget about the acoustic, forget about the sleeping dentist and the angry aesthete, forget about the rules and get inside the music – that's when we know why we've come to see a "band".