ON GLENN GOULD AND THE DEATH OF PERFORMANCE
I've been asked many times why I don't do more live performances. In the early 90s, I performed a lot of solo concerts. Now, almost none.
About 15 years ago, the art world, arts organizations and the media, were much different than today. Smaller, more cutting edge arts organizations were often shabby, but functional venues. They were staffed by one person with a small office and often had a motley crew of volunteers. Sincere dedication to art, by the artists and volunteers, usually determined what got programmed. In my opinion, this resulted in much more diverse programming. In the early 90s, even larger and more conservative arts organizations like local symphonies and local art museums would occasionally present new and cutting edge works. Because of a sincere dedication to art among arts administrators and volunteers, audiences were larger back then.
A major transformation has taken place in a very short period of time. In an attempt to get more money and grants, smaller arts organizations have attempted to mimic the larger and more conservative arts organizations, and the larger and more conservative arts organizations have attempted to mimic the ultra-conservative corporate world.
As the late 90s arrived the audiences for my solo concerts were getting very small. I went from an average of 100+ attendees down to as few as 10 audience members. I believe the reason for such a steep decline in attendance was due to what amounted to a print media blackout of new music concerts in my hometown of Grand Rapids. In the early 90s, at least 2 different music critics from two separate major publications in Grand Rapids wrote extensively about my solo concerts. In 1996 one of them moved to NYC, becoming chief editor of "Guitar Magazine". Another reviewer still writes for the Grand Rapids Press but over the past 10 years or so has only written on concerts presented by larger, more conservative arts organizations; thus imposing a type of media blackout on independent music. Like the major arts organizations, our print
media has been transformed into corporate entities, only concerned with the bottom line.
Independent artists, small venues and arts organizations are extremely reliant on print media for audiences. Unlike the local symphony and art museum, there are no budgets for marketing and staff. Yet, it was always possible to overcome these shortcomings by providing the media with something interesting to write about. However, if the major media chooses to ignore artists without marketing staffs, promoters or paid advertisements, the result is predictable: no press, no audience.
For some artists, audience size is meaningless and only the process of making music is important. Personally I enjoy this process as well but then I also enjoy doing a good crossword puzzle. I do not think it is worth spending so much time and energy on a live concert for so few people, especially when I know many more people would attend if music critics functioned as journalists rather than promoters for large corporate-run arts organizations.
I've always had an interest in making recordings but lack of an audience expedited the process significantly. I decided it was much more useful to spend my time and energy making recordings, allowing as many people as possible to hear the unique type of music I was interested in performing. As a listener, I've always been interested in recordings. In early college (1983), I was one of the first music students to have a CD player. I remember when CDs were over $20 each; kept in glass displays under lock and key. Those were the days of independent record stores, small record labels (MODE was like OgreOgress in those days, you could not find their CDs in the record stores!), and smaller regional chains (like Rose Records in Chicago). Back then, nearly every record store would stock every recording which was due to be released on CD. I was never one of those people who thought recordings to be inferior to the "real thing". Simply, recordings are recordings and performances are performances. I don't like the idea of recording a live performance for any reason other than archival purposes. A recording will never be as good as a live performance and a live performance will never be as good as a recording. They are different art forms, like film and theater.
Glenn Gould was one of the very few artists to become aware of the art of recording; an art which need not relate to live performance at all. Though I came to make recordings from "necessity" as opposed to Glenn Gould, who did this by choice, I've become more intrigued by the process and possibilities than ever imagined. I truly believe the artistic and intellectual possibilities present in the process of making recordings are much less limiting than in live performance. Though I still miss the days of performing live concerts for live audiences I find myself understanding and sympathizing with Glenn Gould's assessment of being a live musician: "I feel demeaned like a vaudevillian."