“Penn and Teller: Fool Us” has a great premise. Two of the world’s most popular, talented and experienced magicians watch other magicians perform their acts and attempt to fool them. While I’m sure Penn and Teller enjoy the challenge of having to work out how the tricks are performed, they (well, Penn at least) make it abundantly clear that they’d rather be fooled. The only way to do that is to do something they haven’t seen before. This doesn’t necessarily mean rewriting the book on magic, although that may be desirable, but there must be enough of a twist to put the act beyond their comprehension.
Magicians, as with musicians and any other artist, have a shared heritage. This shared heritage is a range of equipment and techniques which the magician or musician can use to elicit the desired reaction from their audience. Musicians have their equivalents of these tools. These could be certain chord sequences, rhythms, breaks, dynamic changes, performance techniques such as crowd infiltration (diving and surfing etc.), violence towards instruments and the good old call and response. There are many other examples of these devices. None of them are necessarily bad or wrong.
Disclaimer: Maybe I’ve led you into a false sense of security. From this point forward, the blog post may get preachy, pretentious, purist and possibly even condescending.
I believe that music is more than just entertainment. It is a transcendent form of communication capable of altering thought, emotion and consciousness. Not only do I like to think that most other people see it that way, I am disappointed when I suspect they don’t. Even worse is when I suspect they used to see it as something other than entertainment but changed their mind over time. I believe that the perception of music as no more than entertainment is endemic in today’s music industry and, as an audience, we are all complicit in the degradation of music as an art form.
Somewhat ironically, it appears that those willing to dedicate their lives and careers to music are among the most susceptible to a reclassification of music from art form to mere entertainment. If you’re a musician, the bullshit starts early, most likely when you make your first demo. “You have 30 seconds to make it count” is sound advice on the surface, but it’s also potentially the first stage in a dangerous cycle. You’re already playing the percentages before you’re allowed on the bottom step of the ladder.
Objectivity is progress in most areas of life. It is science and logic and reason. It’s numbers. Obviously, music is a subjective experience. Where this objectivity and subjectivity meet is where the media come in. If I were a journalist, I would want to write or broadcast about all the things I love and nothing else. That’s why I’ll never be a journalist because they need to write about the things that reflect the numbers. These numbers can be gig attendances, album sales, Facebook likes (which is basically a really shit clap-o-meter) Twitter followers or even the list of results in Google. If the journalist doesn’t reflect the numbers, they can’t sustain their career. That’s fair enough. The problem arises when the objective experience of the numbers affects the subjective experience of the music. This is most prevalent in gig attendances where the music can become secondary to the event. “That band was awesome live but their album is shit. What’s missing?” The event is missing. I feel sorry for those bands. They get taken on the cruellest ride of all. That ride is called “The Scene”.
This is where I feel people will disagree with me: Music is not a social or shared experience. You can listen at the same time as someone, but you are not listening with them and, ultimately, it is a communication between you and the artist on a personal level. Their self-expression can change the way you think. There is a direct link between the artists I love the most and how much they seem to be communicating exclusively with me.
Now let’s go back to those tools; those tried and tested methods. If I can sense that those tools are being over-used and the percentages are being worked, I won’t like it. Depending on what tools have been used, I may even be insulted by because I know just how easily they can be implemented. I will know that song isn’t trying to communicate exclusively with me. If the artist can truly express themselves, if they can obscure the tools and communicate with me on a personal level, then I don’t care how many others like or dislike it. I don’t care what instrument they’re playing. I don’t care how many others are with me at the time. And I certainly don’t care whether it makes a connection within 30 seconds.
I want to be a member of the audience.
I need to be fooled.
Posted by Callum