Wednesday, January 18, 2017

We'll Do It Live!

I go through phases with my music listening habits. There will be a week where I listen to strictly jazz, followed by reggae, which could then be followed by a week filled with nothing but 80’s hair bands. After binge-listening to a specific genre, it could be another six months until I even feel the need to listen to that type of music again, the feelings just come and go. I’m also the type of person that listens to a song for 30 seconds and changes it; I’m in constant need of change.  
However, there is one genre of music that I will always go back to, rap. I first started listening to rap in my mid-teens, and have stayed tuned in ever since.
A line from Walter Benjamin’s article, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” really stuck out to me. The article says, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”
I think the quote fits right in with the music industry. You can listen to the same song over and over again and have the same experience, because it’s not unique. It’s the same song every time you hit play on your iPhone. But when you get to see the artist live in concert, it's a whole different ball game.
When I read that quote, I immediately thought of my experience seeing Wiz Khalifa in concert a few years back. Wiz isn’t necessarily one of my favorite artists, but he has enough songs that I know by heart that I figured I should see him perform at least once in my life. He performed most of his hits, but it was when he performed “Black and Yellow” that I became enthralled. He did it differently than I had ever heard it before; it sounded so different, and I loved it so much more than the original recording. I couldn’t believe it. Unfortunately, this just means that I haven't been able to listen to “Black and Yellow” since then without thinking about how superior the live rendition was.
Benjamin said a reproduction of a work of art lacks a “unique existence,” which I never understood until that day when I heard a song played in a way I’ll never hear it played again. And let’s be honest, even if I see Wiz perform again, it will almost certainly be a different experience.

For this reason, I try to take in live performances as much as I can afford to. Plays, musicals, and even stand-up comedy are all things that you can consume via reproduction on a soundtrack or through a live stream. But seeing it in person is a “unique experience.”

Mechanical reproduction might take a lot of original art away from us, but what is left is something that everyone should experience.
This leads me to the following questions:
What are some of your favorite live performances you’ve been able to experience?
How did they mold your perception of the craft?
What are some of the biggest flaws mechanical reproduction?

1 comment:

  1. I find myself disagreeing with the quote of missing the element of time and space (also a quote that stuck out to me). Only because I experience the same music so differently depending on the time and space I do it in. Whether in my car, out for a walk in the mountains, or even after a rough day at work. The same song, but with different emotions being tugged at at different parts of the song with the different moods I'm in. In the same way I can reread a book and get something different out of it every time because I am searching for something different each time because I am a different version of myself each time. My head and my heart change constantly.
    One of my most vivid experiences of live music was when I traveled out to the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver to see Grace Potter & the Nocturnals live when I was 21. It was my first solo road trip by myself out of state and one I'll remember for the rest of my life. It's an outdoor venue underneath the stars and to have it performed by such a strong female artist took her art to a whole new level for me. I found myself falling more and more for her because as amazing as I thought she was on CD, she was twice that in person. Her energy was enthralling and the outside space was beautiful underneath the stars.
    That night of music is an experience I'll always remember. Because of the artist. Because of the time. Because of the space. Because of... "its unique existence at the place where it happens to be".