Keynote speaker here at the 2012 Dutch Jazz and World Meeting 2012 today was Ben Ratliff of the New York Times, speaking on the theme of “Listening in the Age of the Cloud”, which will be the subject of a book to be published in early 2014. Ratliff proposed that a central thesis of Copland’s book “What to Lisen For in Music” needs to be updated radically for our time, for “a generation which realises it has choices.”
The approach to listening which asserts that listening is a “subservient act”, registering above all how (specifically classical) music is built, said Ratliff, is equivalent to a theory of human digestion “with specific reference to the French three-course meal.” This is a bite-size simplification of a fascinating 40-minute lecture which had programmers and educators in the room challenged, attentive, and eager to find out when the book will be out.
When I heard the talk by Ben R in Amsterdam, I was struck by his conjecture that we should be listening to music for what it is rather than looking at context of the music itself. Perhaps that is true to a great degree.
But we do this at our peril, because there ARE those around who look beyond the immediate and playing a piece out of context can be dangerous as unwittingly one can fall into a trap of rubbing certain groups up the wrong way.
This was shown clearly to me last night when I heard Martin Carthy. He points out where his songs come from, and makes clear that why is often as important as what. It sits in the ears as you hear it. If we lose this in our own thinking when setting up people to hear the music and only concentrate on the here and now of it, we may make major faux pas as well as losing nuance.
(P.S. The fact that the audience included Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who owns many of his albums, and John Jack, best known for his work with Cadillac Distribution, proves the importance of what and how Martin Carthy does, and how far his influence has been.)