Sit Still And Listen?

Sit still and listen?

Horizon Arts is located in Vienna, Austria.

Vienna, the city of music. Right?

There is an engaged concert audience, and classical music is in many peoples’ lives. It is not, like in most places, reserved for a small, educated or wealthy segment of the population. Seats at the main concert halls and opera houses are usually well sold.

We have entertained many visitors to this city over the years. When offered a music program, very few of these visitors want to spend the time sitting through a classical music concert or opera performance. Most of them are travelled and educated. We live in an “experience” world, so of course most of them come to experience culture. And classical music is a uniquely Viennese “experience”, is it not?

“I think the problem is the first 15 minutes, after that you let it go. And then it’s just wonderful. But those first 15 minutes are a crisis moment”. Marina Abramovic, New York Times, 2015

Museum visits are very different: They can be fit into other cultural “experiences” like shopping, and eating. Or biking. Like with videos and podcasts, while walking through a museum you can choose your own pace and speed up the process in double or triple time.

A very carefully emerging trend is pointing to digital saturation and the peak of the attention economy. A search for the genuine experience, the “real thing”, is underway. That experience means doing things with intent, mindfulness, or at one’s own pace. So where does a two-hour concert fit in if you can’t hit the fast-forward button?  

For how much longer will audiences commit to “sit still and listen”, before that in itself will have become an art form?

Yes, every day many people in the world hear Beethoven, Mozart, or Mahler for the first time. There is always a growing audience.  Will every new work really have be set and produced in wider context? Every new concert conceptualized to keep audiences attention? Throughout history, new media has always had the tendency to change conventional habits.

In creative work — creative work of all kinds — those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward…., Mary Oliver, Of Power and Time

Let’s not be too precious about the sanctity of a longish concert. Meaning and beauty can be found in the shortest forms, Miniatures being just one example. The changes driven by digital technologies perhaps aren’t good or bad for the arts. But with the rise of algorithm-based streaming services, a symphony’s battle for attention might be a hard one to fight and win in the long run.

Is classical music as a several-hundred-year-old history of art already being sold as the equivalent of a sonic massage? The Guardian

We are excited for every new art form to arise. It will be interesting to see if “pre-configured” concert formats like Sofar Sounds will also take hold in the classical music world. They give performing musicians struggling for attention a public, but with the market flooding it will become more difficult to distinguish oneself in the long run.  The dull sameness of algorithm-friendly spoon-fed formats is not going to enable the democratic utopia we seem to be striving for in the arts.

Compositions by AIVA have become recognized by rights collecting societies even in Europe. This is exciting for media composers and programmers. It will create new forms.

For composers, writers and performing artists that create to express their human selves it is difficult to adjust. For generations-outlasting value of artistic creation it brings a tremendous challenge.