In Prince we experienced the self actualized creative person we dreamed we all might be even if his style wasn’t our own. He transfixed us with a kaliedescopically variable self-invention and creative output that never seemed to grow stale.
But "live" doesn't just happen. In broad terms, a good live performer describes someone with an acute sensitivity to the world around him or herself. More specifically, a compelling live performer is somebody who knows how to rehearse.
Deeper still, rehearsal is not enough. It's possible to be well rehearsed and yet to have rehearsed poorly. Ultimately this is where skilled direction and production come to bear. Message, motivation, mechanics: you've got to have the tools to make a live event come alive for an audience.
A few days ago I went to the opening night performance for Diana Krall's 2012 world tour. Playing at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore with her stunning quartet, she made it look easy. Chatting with the audience, turning casually on the piano bench to regard her fellow musicians, clearly enjoying the night, the music radiated out across the packed hall into the summer air. There's nothing like a live event.
But even though she commented several times how she wasn't sure what they might play next, and even though the group clearly left room for improvisation and on-the-fly set changes, nothing was left to chance. To say they were well rehearsed is to understate the obvious. But what they really expressed were lifetimes of craftsmanship, and deeply felt affinities for playing music.
Simple statement: I like music. But here's the question, at least for regular readers of this blog: what's the direct relevance to what we do at 1AU Global Media?
As a production facility specializing in real world images and CGI and carefully crafted storytelling, one may think the more specifically human aspects of live performance might not resonate as intensely for for us. Not true. We pride ourselves in extensive live performance backgrounds. Superb production in a traditional sense should appear effortless. That's why Krall's performance sounded so good. To the audience, it just sounded like they were playing. Playing: that is, the act of having fun. Serious things done well can still invest audiences in a sense of fun, particularly if you broaden your acceptance of the word to mean enjoyable satisfaction in what you're doing. At 1AU, we care intensely about making it look easy, even as the craft of doing so requires lifetimes of practice. More to the point, doing a job well, especially a creative one, is precisely what defines fun.
Our clients know they can turn to us for highly sophisticated media. But if you're new to 1AU, consider us next time you're planning a live demonstration, or your executive staff needs to make a public statement, or speak on camera. Preparation for a live event divides the merely enthusiastic from the pros. Sometimes the line is wide; sometimes it's narrow. But there's always a line. Cross over… and go farther.
PS -- To our regular readers, please take 20 seconds (or thereabouts) and retweet, cross post, or otherwise pass the link for this blog and it's home at 1AU onto your readers and friends! Call it karma, call it kismet: we'll just call it cool! Cool?
Part of this bounty comes from a strange economic phenomenon: when supply becomes so available that financial value plunges to irrelevancy, aesthetics and beauty become the coin of the realm. When work doesn't bring in revenue, pleasure in simply making it becomes the ultimate reward.
It's like that in all things. Why do poets endure? Painters rarely stain a canvas these days to put food on the table. Acts of creation explain themselves. Creation denies entropy. Creation imposes meaning and structure on forces working mightily to spin apart. Do we ever need excuses to embrace our lovers?
But what of music specifically? There's no way to hold it in your hand. The moment it's brought into being, it's gone. We all recall songs and tune snippets, but recollection is not the same as permanence and presence. Recordings preserve music, but in an essential, existential sense, music flees like time.
Music is the epitomized aesthetic of emotion. Its ability to organize and synchronize other senses affects us all, even if we hardly realize it. The ubiquity of music, from commercial jingles and cell phone ring tones to the person in the next cube who plays that maddening radio station all day makes it easy to dismiss and overlook.
I love listening to street musicians play next to subway station entrances. They might be asking for a few dollars (and they usually get something from me, no matter how I feel about their particular groove), but there's no way that the thousands of hours of practice time accumulated throughout their lives are worth the few bucks that speckle their instrument cases. They play music…because playing makes living worthwhile.
There are so many essential threads to pull here: are traditional, western instruments a dead-end in an electronic culture? In an era of grinding competition, does music have a cultural value if it can't sell a million downloads? Does anyone ever just listen anymore, or is music now just an art form to color the atmosphere of inveterate multi-taskers?
There's a lot to the subject. But as the great Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninov famously said, "Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music."
D.S. al coda.
Those of you who know something about modern production techniques know that music doesn't count for much these days.
Sad, sad, sad.
Music tracks can be purchased by the bushel, like cheap plastic baubles selected from endless market stalls. There are fine jewels out there if you know where to look, but most never catch the light. They just play in the background, adding volume but limited mass.
Part of the problem can be described by a strange paradox. As content of all types becomes easier to produce with the advent of cheap, powerful software and hardware, the signal to noise ratio rises. It used to be that people who created music were musicians. But that's not necessarily the case anymore. Plenty of people can now create complex, even specialized music tracks with only minimal musical training. Orchestration, arrangement, performance: the skills for making music only a few years ago have largely transformed into a different set of skills today. People still play, no doubt, but in terms of those vast bins of music for sale, playing bows to programming, or even lower down the food chain: knob fiddling. I'm not saying programming is easy, and good programming is even harder. But what of great music?
The question is one of need versus desire. For many purposes, adequate is more than enough, and in an age of ubiquity, adequate is everywhere. Virtuosity is much, much harder to come by. Ironically, it also has more limited purpose. Virtuosity either facilitates some sort of qualitative measurement that presents it subjectively "better" than other similar works, or virtuosity completely changes the rules by radically leaping forward. The second purpose is more exciting, of course, but it's also the most precious, most elusive thing of all. In terms of leaping forward, objective, qualitative comparisons are irrelevant. Virtuosity speaks a special language.
Goodness, greatness, and irrelevant ordinariness extend beyond the ear, of course. It's simply that because of music's untethered nature, the subject is more ripe for examination. Photography, video, graphics, animation: ease of content creation does not confer greatness. The challenge is to recognize and appreciate what's truly superb amid the clutter..
But should any of us ever care? If adequate is good enough--if what you need built on your property is an ordinary garage and not the Sistine Chapel--is there ever a reason to care about virtuosity? Everyone needs food to survive, but nobody needs to dine in four-star restaurants.
Don't believe it.
Virtuosity redefines the middle. It sets the bar, it shapes the culture. Without any judgment I make the following declaration: the great and vast aesthetic middle describes the mass of most people's days. Most music you hear--on the radio, in commercials, in movies--keep the pace moving perhaps, but doesn't do much to change the conversation. Same goes for middlin' photography, video, food, architecture, and everything else in the purview of creative human effort.
But as we all know, it can. Music matters because it's intangible. It's a proxy for the intangible nature of our own lives, descriptive of our moods and our endless lists of things to do and sometimes even our dreams and hopes. I don't know anyone who doesn't dream in some way about his or her own future. The value of great music rather than simply ordinary music, particularly in multimedia production, is as much a statement about refusing mediocrity in life as it is about also finding a great beat.
As far as I'm concerned, that's why the beat goes on.