Saturday, 20 December 2014

All The World's A Film Set

I'm one of those people who wanders around with earphones in all the time. I'm also one of those people who thinks about what things 'mean', and this stupid, simple habit of mine is no exception. I've written before about the aesthetics of nature, and it occurred to me when I was writing the essay I culled that from back in the spring that it would be interesting to apply this to the urban landscape, which I shall do at a later date, as well as the natural (read 'natural' as exactly what you think I mean by 'natural'). This, in turn, lead me to dwell on the observation that when we're dealing with what we may call environmental-ambient aesthetics, the aesthetics of the locale, technology has allowed us to introduce the dimension of music to it in a way that was not previously possible.

In essence: we can literally add a soundtrack to our lives. 

Of course, the urban and rural landscapes have never been devoid of music. There has always been the solitary walker whistling, the Salvation Army band on their brass instruments in the town square, even the bird singing. However, these are obviously and distinctly public affairs. The band playing music, or the walker whistling, or the bird singing, invites the other to listen, either directly or indirectly- by which I mean, the whistling walker is most likely whistling for themselves, while the brass band are playing music for the public. Even if the headphoned walker sings along, listening to music like this is a distinctly private affair. It is something occurring for (and being controlled by) solely the subject. 

As such, the music chosen by the subject can potentially transform the simple act of strolling through town into a cinematic experience. It provides an element of distance and unreality that renders the lived experience an observed experience, in the same sense in that we observe the images on the cinema screen. Depending upon the choice of music deployed this sense of unreality can be exaggerated still further, in much the same sense the soundtrack of the movie sets the tone of the scene.  

Except the movie is our lives.

I remember a few years ago I was introduced to the music of Joy Division. I would have been about 18, and I got into the habit of walking around the nice, friendly suburb I live in at night, listening to Ian Curtis wailing. I find walking around at night a pretty evocative experience anyway, but having that music, so cold and wintry and raw with me, informing my feelings as it helped shape them, the experience transformed into something new and distinct. It wouldn't be accurate to say that this use of music turns our subjective experiences into artworks, but it certainly makes them into something like artworks.

Digital music technology undermines the notion that the artwork, in this case the piece of music, is defined by its separability from the rest of lived experience, that it is something that reveals itself only in particular ways and in particular places. It is certainly an uprooting of music, a displacement of it, even a democratisation of it. It is not dissimilar to how home media and the Internet have undermined the cinema. As is ever the case, the unholy pair of technological innovation and the capitalist profit motive have opened up new landscapes of experience for us. One wonders what new vistas are still yet to come...

I can't wait to go exploring.

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