5.06.2005

The Bays

There is an interesting article over at the Guardian about a band called The Bays. They are a British band that doesn’t rehearse or record albums. They create music at every concert based on the crowd and interactions with each other. They create “ a compromise between what we want to play and what they [the audience] want.” They point out that recorded music is “an aberration in the history of music.” For The Bays, “the performance is the product.” If you join their mailing list, you can get access to mp3s of their concerts.

While I find their stance regarding recorded music interesting, I am not sure that I agree with it. I do agree that music has been a performance art. Before Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, it was impossible to hear music without someone physically performing it live. Unlike plays, one can’t read a score in any way that adequately reproduces the effect of experiencing the performance live.

I also find it disappointing when I go to a concert and a band, whose album I like, is just not very good live. The thing is, I also find it disappointing when I see a band that I like live and bring their Cd home only to find that it is flat, boring, or just not that good.

The advent of recording technology has created two distinct, and equally valid, artistic mediums in the music world. To say, or imply, that recorded music is bad for the artistic health of music is wrong. There are things that can be done while recording that can’t be done live. There is an art to layering sounds, panning instruments, overdubs, etc that can create a new depth to music. There is also an art to listening to band members and reacting to them live, conveying an emotion live, and a myriad of other things that go into a great live performance.

I was talking to my father when I was recording my last album. I was telling him that I was adding pianos and organs, multiple guitar overdubs, percussion, and other things to some songs. He asked me how I planned on reproducing these new sounds live. I told him that I didn’t. When I am recording I am focused on creating the best album that I can. When my band got on stage, we were only focused on creating the best performance that we could. For us these were to separate actions. While I would like to think that my last band was good at recording and playing live, our poverty and subsequent break up doesn’t allow me that delusion.

The Beatles played their last concert n San Francisco on August 29, 1966. Almost a year later they released “Sgt. Peppers.” Most of their greatest music was recorded without any intention of playing it live, and never was performed. The innovations they accomplished on their later albums, I believe, are possible only because they didn’t plan on performing the music live at all.

1 comment:

  1. Mooche3:11 PM

    I was just writing an artcle on the same topic. Mine is entitled "Why Recorded Music Stinks", so I guess you know where I stand.

    Having read your atricle, I guess I have overlooked the possiblity that the recording engineer could be creating a work of art distinct from the musical samples that they aggregate to produce their unique work. However, I can't help but think that the tweaks are analagous to a sports star taking seroids, to make their performance, superhuman, and in effect, not human at all.

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