On the Pulse: When a Symphony Meets a DJ
April 24 2011
The Pianobabbler attended a music experiment this week. Pulse: Late Night at the New World Symphony in Miami, at the bodacious Frank Gehry designed New World Center.
Did the experiment work?
Music. Classical music. Dance music. Orchestras. DJs. Old. New. Electronic. Acoustic. Formal. Informal. Composed. Improvised. Music.
Music, trivially, comes in many forms. In mass culture, the form often precedes the quality. "I never listen to [insert format here: Jazz, Country, Classical, Whatever.]
It little matters that the music mass culture rejects a priori may resound with genius, enchantment or pleasure.
It little matters that the music may blend in two scoops of the music you do listen to. "I know Jack White produced it, but I don't listen to Loretta Lynn. Ever."
It little matters that you will listen to music you don't listen to if presented by someone do listen to. Sting, meet John Dowland.
Pulse. The concert hall was converted into a dance club. A dance club with an orchestra in the middle. The orchestra on the floor, which was otherwise cleared, except for a bar, plus a few bar tables. And a DJ.
Before the orchestra came onstage, the DJ spun beats. An acoustic bassist beside the DJ plyed to the beats. A trumpet player standing in the mezzanine improvised to the beats.
Then the orchestra arrives on stage. Informally. Once seated, it plays some sustained chords to the DJ's beats. The DJ fades. The orchestra breaks into some brilliant Bartok. His Concerto for Orchestra, last movement. When it finishes, the DJ fades back in. A few beats with the orchestra. The latter breaks up. The DJ takes over. The orchestra comes back in an hour to repeat the show with some Steve Reich, this time.
None of classical music's rituals apply. Three or four hundred people attend. On the floor, many mill around drinking, chatting while the orchestra plays a few feet away. Others sit in the graded seats higher up. On overhead screens, we see music-mimicing graphics. On another screen, we can read about the piece being played.
There are none of the bows, none of the shhh's, the rites and rigid rituals of classical music. People come. People go. People chat. People listen.
Pulse. Full of strengths. Yet, the experiment failed. It failed for disappointing the two constituencies the experiment sought to join. The classical people found the chatter and absence of structure obtrusively disorienting. The dance people found nothing to compel attention to the music.
The experiment failed, but it hardly matters. The experiment succeeded for being conducted at all. And from the Pianobabbler's point of view, three easy fixes would remedy the flaws:
1. A host who spoke to the public, an animateur/trice who would unite the crowd's attention and guide it.
2. With a crowd unmenaced by the tyranny of silence, amplified sound becomes necessary. Get some mic's on that great orchestra and blast the audience's ears with its sound.
3. Visuals, good. Neo-psychedelic grahics, not so much. How much more powerful the even would have been if a video feed of the orchestra had been projected overhead.
Success germinates in the rich loam of failure. Good on the New World Symphony for putting its fingers on the Pulse. Long may it keep beating.
The Pianobabbler has babbled.
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