Why I Hate Concerts Brad Garton To the left of the stage at Vario Hall in Tokyo, placed on the wall about 15 or 20 feet from the floor, is a giant digital clock. The passing hours and minutes are registered in large (about 12" high, I think), softly lit seven-segment digits. This clock is the thing I remember most from the 1993 ICMC concerts. The ICMC organizers had graciously published the approximate length of each piece performed in the Hall in the ICMC program. The most vivid recollection I have of nearly all the music done in Vario Hall is the memory of watching the minutes tick by and thinking: "only 4 more minutes to go... only 3 minutes left...". Occasionally I would play the game of not looking at the clock for a period of time, hoping that the numbers would change faster. They never did. This clock-watching was a symptom. I wasn't having a good time at these concerts. Why was this so? Was the *music* so horrible? No, in fact I would very much enjoy hearing many of the ICMC-93 pieces again -- somewhere other than a concert-hall, however. I think that my bad musical experiences were more rooted in the concept of a "concert" itself and the intersection of that concept with the academic computer music community. In an attempt to articulate the reasons for my concert-phobia, I decided to try the null-hypothesis technique. On the way back from the 1993 ICMC, I listed the reasons why music *should* be heard in a concert setting. What I wrote can be grouped into four broad categories. Here they are: - cultural reasons When most people in our culture think of music, they think of the music being *performed*. Concerts are the archetypal setting for a musical performance -- witness the large number of music videos on MTV showing concert "performances" of recorded music. I would argue that this is an essential part of music. A person listening to a recorded piece of music is hearing a virtual recreation of some concert or performance situation. This has been shaped by centuries of music concerts, evolving from the first organized human societies through the religious gatherings of the middle ages to the contemporary concert format as established in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Any composer laying claim to the 'tradition' of western art music implicitly embraces the concert hall. In the western world, concerts are where music happens. - practical reasons The most obvious explanation for this state of affairs is that the concert hall (the church in older times) was one of the few places where the resources for the production of music could be gathered. In order to hear music, people had to go to some type of concert. This reason holds true for computer musicians today. Especially for live/interactive pieces involving a heavy computational load, it is difficult to gain access to the equipment and musicians required for contemporary computer music. In addition, it is still necessary to perform the music in a large hall if more than a few people want to see the performance. Another practical reason for a concert presentation of computer music is also tied to technical resources. Few people can afford a sound system as large as most concert systems. For better or for worse, a sizeable array of loudspeakers in a large space can produce a sense of 'bigness' that is difficult to reproduce in other environments. - aesthetic reasons When a 'big' sound is a desired result, using a concert hall for the presentation of a new piece of music becomes an aesthetic issue. To be sure, the entire pro- vs. anti- concert debate could be recast as an issue of aesthetics only. For some listeners, music simply sounds better in a concert hall. The aesthetics of a concert hall presentation are obviously apparent if the diffusion of sound is made an integral part of the performance. When a skilled diffusion artist performs on a good concert playback system, the musical results can have a visceral dramatic impact. For pieces involving live musicians (computer or otherwise), the performance is necessarily part of the aesthetic experience. The physical actions, the real-time response, the performance tightrope walked by the participants is a fundamental part of the music. - social reasons Watching the performance take place is the audience, a group of people ostensibly gathered together for a shared purpose -- to hear the music. Concerts are by definition a social event. Speaking for myself (but I bet this is true of others), I go to concerts not only to hear the music, but also to see friends, to check out who else is there, and frequently because a sense of obligation tells me that we need to "support" the composers by attending (just try going to an ICMC and *not* attending any concerts...). These social reasons take a turn towards the political when the concerts attended are largely in the domain of academia. Concert performances count as "scores" (no pun intended); the points gained go towards the climb up the academic ladder of success. Resume-scanners are always on the lookout for the latest performances of someone's work: When was a particular piece done? Where was it done? How many times? The more concerts devoted to a certain person, the greater the POWER that person has. Does the last time I played my tape piece for a few friends at home count in this game? It is this last group of reasons that forms the core of my dislike of concerts. Perhaps this is more a symptom of the selection of concerts in New York that I have been attending recently, but I often feel that the concerts exist as nothing more than sorry excuses for reinforcing a peculiar academic social hierarchy. Sure, I have a good time; I see friends, I meet new people, I occasionally enjoy the music. However, the whole concert context -- and I'm certainly aiming this criticism at ICMC concerts, too -- seems infused by a feeling of competitiveness that nullifies aspects of music I value most. The music takes place as part of a mechanism intended to show who is the current Top Dog Hot Shot Composer. The concert event takes on an aura of some perverse contest: composer vs. composer, composer vs. performer, performer vs. computer, musician vs. omniscient/judging audience. This infected atmosphere so colors my perception of music in concert that any intellectual and emotional content is lost. Is this the best place for a lasting musical experience? I don't see these competitive aspects of the concert hall being intrinsically located "in" the music. However, the context exerts a powerful influence upon the perception of the music. Much music I truly love is downright embarrassing in a concert. Sitting in the cramped environs of the darkened concert hall, I often find myself struggling to get through a piece that is absolutely marvelous when I hear it at home. Concerts change music, and I don't particularly like the results. If these reprehensible "social reasons" for holding concerts are indeed poisoning the music, then the solution -- as I see it -- is to change the presentation (more on this later). But what about the other reasons I outlined for the existence of concerts? The focus of many of the "practical reasons" can simply be shifted if the premise of a concert hall is removed. For example, I can imagine a performance venue designed to take full advantage of a diffusion playback system without the stultifying trappings of concert society. The ultimate result might even be much more satisfying from a purely technical-sonic aspect. I can also think of several ways to deliver a live performance to a large group of people without herding them into some auditorium and forcing them to sit quietly for several hours. A little effort in redirecting existing resources to meet practical demands can pay interesting dividends -- if we can lose our concert hall blinders. I can't argue too much with those who find the concert itself aesthetically appealing. Obviously, my own musical aesthetics are poorly served by a concert. For those who love sitting in a hall and hearing music, I can only respond with "I am different from you." As for the "cultural reasons" for concerts, my hope is that the musical heritage carried through the concert hall endows us with an evolving and dynamic tradition where the weight of history is more than counterbalanced by the contemporary creative impulse. If we do indeed implicitly embrace the concert hall when we lay claim to the western art tradition, and if a virtual recreation of that tradition is present in the pieces we as composers write, then is it really necessary to maintain our strong links to the image of the concert hall itself? Can't we to break down the aspects of the concert experience we dislike, and begin building upon the features of music more suited to our contemporary aesthetics? Of course, in these statements I am assuming a contemporary aesthetics intended to encompass the multiplicity of music extant in the world coupled with a 'tradition' of musical innovation. I intend for this position to stand in contradistinction from those who proclaim loudly that they are "preserving the Tradition" by remaining rooted in a music of the near-past. I believe that these neo-traditionalists do not really want to preserve an on-going tradition, but would rather freeze a particular moment in musical history; a static snapshot of how music should go forevermore. Instead, I would like to see preservation efforts (if you want to call them that) directed at maintaining a continuity of change and creative invention. My challenge to the ICMA, then, is to think beyond the narrow confines of the concert hall. We should design performances intended to emphasize the diversity of musical experience. The consideration of how a piece is to be presented to an audience ought to be an explicit part of the composition rather than an implicit assumption often ill-suited to the compositional intent. The not-so-benign influence of the concert hall on composers becomes especially apparent in the translation to different media. Does computer music composed with a concert in mind translate well to compact disc? We are in the business of working with new media by the very nature of what we do -- we should use it! No longer should we use the concert as the locus of our musical activity... frankly, I wouldn't mind attending an ICMC with no concerts planned at all. A lot of *music* planned, however! I realize that I'm wielding a fairly polemical paintbrush in this article. There are certainly many shades of grey missing in my grotesque portrait of the concert scene. I thought about passing this article around to others in the ICMA who probably strongly disagree with me for commentary, but decided against it because I wanted this to stand as a statement of my own -- I will take the full blame for this viewpoint myself (plus I'm past deadline already for this issue of ARRAY!). If you do have opinions about how our music is done, however, please write us and speak your mind. I really do wonder what other ICMA members think about this.