The visual/live element of performing arts

[This article is an ongoing research – it contains more questions than answers]

Having just been to a live concert, the first ‘real’ concert in a couple of years – a few questions have sprung up in my mind. Particularly, this question –

“How does the visual aspect of a concert affect the experience of the music?”

Throughout the course of writing this, I have actually altered the question a bit in my mind – it has now become “How does the visual/live ascept of a concert affect the experience of the music?”

The particular area which I am looking at would be classical music, although some elements would be able apply to other types of music.

People listen day in day out to recordings, be it CDs, radio, tapes, etc. The list goes on. All this can be listened to in many different contexts – it might be ‘commuter’ music (Which one listens to while commuting to and fro, between work/wherever), just light listening (perhaps while doing work), serious ‘sit down and concentrate’ listening.

Yet all of these recordings are missing one ascept – the visual and live element. One does not see the performers actually performing. Yet, some people go to concerts and close their eyes, ignoring the visual element. All this ‘visual’ aspect – What does it show? I have come up with a list.

  • The expression of the performers while they play. How they move to ‘shape’ the music, how they react to the sound that they have played.
  • (Ensemble playing) The communication between players, especially (if there) the conductor.
  • The general mood of the players.

Seeing the visual aspect ‘may’ prepare (or to me, it may be more like a spoiler) what kind of sound is coming – if you see the conductor suddenly jump waving his baton around crazily after a long gentle section, you would expect a change of sound. Or the way, for example, a pianist moves his/her hands – you may be able to guess what kind of sound he/she is looking for.

Yet does all this “enhance” our experience of music? Is the visual element PART of the music itself? Do we understand music better by seeing it performed? Hard to say. It seems to differ from person to person. To me – it does not enhance my actual music enjoyment, in that it does not make the music sound better, but it creates an understanding of communication between players, and yes, it can enhance the overall ‘concert’ experience. But then again, others beg to differ.

I start thinking – how about the live aspect of the concert?

  • There is a tension between the audience and the performer. The performer is experimenting – trying new ideas – and how will the audience react to his/her ideas? Of course there may be the tension of “Oh, am I going to make a mistake?” which does not come into recordings, but the tension I’m talking about is the relationship between the audience and performer – how they react to each other.
  • The real-time factor – something can change immediately – when you listen to a recording it is already set out. Nothing like the spontaneous live concert feeling.
  • You hear music being MADE. Not a replica of what was made, which is what I feel you get when listening to a recording. You actually hear it in the making.

Just for the last point, I will go to a concert.

[This article is a work in progress – it was written spontaneously, without structure, and is an ongoing research. Please feel free to discuss (anybody?) any of the points I’ve brought up. The main purpose of me writing this was to get myself (and hopefully others) to think. I don’t have the answers – because at this point, I’m not sure there are any definite answers, since differs from person to person.]

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