Working in live sound and primarily in the funded arts, the future, even post-virus, is obviously uncertain – with many superbly talented and kind colleagues (artists and engineers) looking for alternative careers and sources of income as well as institutions and companies uncertain of their future viability.
Like many people, I suspect, I’ve taken a while to come to terms with the current situation. A mixture of anger, disbelief and, occasionally, excitement about opportunities.
Like many in live arts I started thinking relatively early on about live streaming and filming as a replacement for my lost income. Just logic, right? I was in the very lucky position of being able to get the gear together, have been learning the technology and am now in a position to do it, fine, well for me anyway…. Live streaming is not a concert experience though, I think that’s a given, the emotional stimulus isn’t the same. The excitement of knowing you have at least attendance in common with other people in the room and, more hopefully, a shared set of values perhaps as much as the shared experience. Maybe we take this as evidence to ourselves that in a world (or perhaps just country) where some sections of culture feel like they have to constantly fight their corner, that there’s some reassurance other people place similar value on the things which make your life better. A live stream or pre-recorded concert can’t match all of those experiences.
I began to understand how powerful art was (in my case music) when I was maybe just slightly pre-teen. The output of my Walkman was like a physical place for me, a place between the headphones, as tangible as that, a place I could go which was always comfortable and happy. I’m not sure it was ever about the lyrics of the songs (it was mostly songs and I have a terrible short-term memory), it was the physical qualities of the sound which I enjoyed, the collection of frequencies eliciting a response, a balancing of my emotions. That balancing of emotions from recorded and amplified sound is something I still rely on now, a function that allows me to be more creative, more confident and, hopefully, more productive. Isn’t that something we should be aiming for in presenting art during the virus?
I don’t think we should underestimate the role of the quality of replication in all this. Lots of people get this, but sometimes can’t articulate or associate it with the technology mediating the experience. Just as it was the frequencies within those cassette tapes which excited me and drove me to some instances of proactivity (some), the way we present ‘live’ performance (both visually and audibly) online can be exactly as powerful – and how much more powerful knowing that it perhaps didn’t exist the week before.
A recent lockdown filming of friends of mine, duo and partners Jane Griffiths and Colin Fletcher, finally helped me to fully realise the tangible benefit that people who record music live give to listeners and viewers. Sitting in my ‘prototype’ outside broadcast truck (my adapted Sprinter with all the PA taken out) watching the view of the cameras was a dramatic reminder that even divided by copper, walls and distance the impact was, although different, no less diminished.