Performance

Doing Music Differently     The Indian Music Scene     The Steet Singer     Practice     Work-In-Progress     Help-Us-Pay-the-Rent
Often it’s assumed that performing is the ultimate test of a singer or an instrument player’s  accomplishment and that once one has achieved a certain level of skill, the proper next step is to start looking for a venue.
So ever since we started trying to promote our music,   folks have been bothering us with questions about why we don’t perform, and often their ( not so friendly ) implication has been that if we don’t perform,  then we’re not quite real musicians.
But to us this makes as little sense as believing that every good cook should focus on finding work as a restaurant chef.
Because for us music is most emphatically not performance, instead it’s something we’ve done by ourselves and for ourselves.
And to take this beyond the merely personal,  we can not help but feel that the ( relatively recent ) total takeover of music by performers is a downright tragic part of the modern ongoing shrinkage of the human.
To us it’s clear that the world was a better place when everyone made music ( using the word broadly to include things like whistling, lullabies, work chants, and shepherds’ piping, as well as playing more official instruments like pianos and violins ),  when most music was like ours in the sense that it was something folks did to entertain themselves and their close friends.
Indeed  for us playing music and performing music not only feel like completely different activities, they’re usually mutually exclusive.
So most of the time, when we perform ( which is never to more than one or two  friends sitting in our living room) we’re painfully aware that we’re not really playing music, but that instead we’re just imitating ourselves playing music.  And it doesn’t matter that nowadays we’ve reached a skill level where our imitation can be very convincing to others,  because we can’t fool ourselves.
We can’t avoid hearing how when we’re performing we’re almost always playing  patterns that are familiar, graceful, and safe, and how inevitably this tames and steals the magic from our music.
How different it is when we’re alone and not afraid to sound awkward! It’s only then that we can really lose ourselves.  It’s only then that the magic mounts in our music until draws a hovering crowd of listening gandharvas and angels.
Of course many performers will disagree with this and will instead insist that they get inspiration and energy from their audiences…..but since our personal experience continues to be that audiences just make us uptight, we do our best to avoid them.

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Usually it’s assumed performing is the ultimate test of a musician’s accomplishment, and that once one has achieved a certain level of skill the next proper step is to look for a venue.

Ever since we started trying to promote our music, folks have been bothering us with questions about why we don’t perform, and often their ( not so friendly ) implication has been if we don’t perform, then we’re not quite real musicians.

But to us this makes as little sense as believing every good cook should find work as a restaurant chef.

Because for us music is most emphatically not performance, rather it’s something we do when we’re alone and only for ourselves, except when we’re recording.  ( Our Recording )
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To take this beyond the merely personal, we can’t help but feel the ( relatively recent ) total takeover of music by performers is one downright tragic aspect of the ongoing shrinkage of the modern human.

To us it’s clear the world was a better place when everyone made music ( using the word broadly to include things like whistling, lullabies, work chants, and shepherds’ piping, as well as playing more official instruments like pianos and violins ), when most music was like ours in the sense it was something folks did to entertain themselves and their close friends.

Indeed for us playing music and performing music not only feel like completely different activities, they’re usually mutually exclusive.

So most of the time when we “perform” ( which is never to more than one or two friends sitting in the quiet of our home*), we’re painfully aware we’re not really playing music, instead we’re just imitating ourselves playing music.

And it doesn’t matter that nowadays we’ve reached a skill level where our imitation can be very convincing to others, because we can’t fool ourselves.  We can’t avoid hearing how performing we’re almost always playing patterns which are familiar, graceful, and safe, and how inevitably this tames and steals the magic from our music.

How different from when we’re alone and not afraid to sound awkward !  It’s only then that we can really lose ourselves.

It’s only then that the magic mounts in our music until it draws a hovering crowd of listening Gandharvas and Angels.  (*Music and Magic )

Of course most performers will disagree with this and instead claim they get inspiration and energy from their audiences, but since our personal experience continues to be that audiences just make us uptight, we do our best to avoid them.

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Other Ways To Share One’s Music
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At this point some unsympathetic readers may impatiently throw up their hands and insist what we’ve been saying is just idealistic nonsense.  That in the real world the only way to prove you’re a serious musician is to put your skills on the line and get out there and perform.  And that if you don’t, you’re just a “closet musician” ( yes, someone actually was silly enough to say that to us. )

But this view fails to recognize that thanks to modern recording techniques, performance is no longer the only way of presenting one’s music to the public.  ( Our Recording )

Indeed far more people now listen to recorded music than attend live performances.

Of course live performances still have important social functions.  They occasionally take audiences to worlds more gracious and magical than their ordinary lives, they energize warriors, warm up congregations for their preachers, help people celebrate weddings, graduations, and homecomings, create situations where the young can find mates, etc.

And of course it would be surly and ungracious not to acknowledge our enormous debt for all of the wonderful music we’ve been able to hear only because of the sweat and hard work of many dedicated performers.

So it’s quite reasonable those who perform music gain social advantages, that they earn money and carve out identities.

Still we don’t see why this gives performers the right to claim that what they do is the ultimate goal of music, or that because they perform, they are more serious musicians than those who play music without performing.
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It was more than 20 years ago when we were living in India immersed in the Varanasi classical music scene, that we first started to suspect the modern world was making a terrible blunder to equate performance and serious music.  ( The Indian Music Scene, The Street Singer, Music and Magic )

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Advantages Of Not Performing
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By now it should be quite clear this page is doing far more than merely defending our right to avoid performance, far more than insisting there’s nothing inherently weird about serious professional musicians like ourselves refusing to strut our stuff up on the stage.

Because obviously we’re also very certain not performing has given us important concrete advantages in our search for radically different music.

We’ve already mentioned how playing only in private greatly reduces our fear of sounding awkward and makes it easier to be truly experimental.

But also because we don’t perform we don’t have to shape and chip away at our music until it fits some category.  What we do doesn’t have to be “rock”, or “reggae”, or “funk”, or “classical”, or “twelve tone”, or “minimalist”, or “jazz”, or “bebop”, or “fusion”….

And this means we’re free to go for newness rather than having to work to give some audience the music it expects.  We’re not like poor Sir Mick, who must sometimes shiver when one more time he has to sing “I can’t get no satisfaction”.

And since recording our own music lets us get it out there without performing, we’ve been able to skip the rigid practice demanded of performers, we’ve been able to avoid that painful species of determined repetition which even as it develops skill, digs deep grooves in the brain and traps one in old patterns ( Practice ).  Not to mention that since excessive practice ( and performance itself ) greatly increases the chances of developing some career ending injury, avoiding it is one reason our music is still growing after more than 20 years.  ( Doing Music Differently )
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Burnout ends as many artistic careers as injury, a fate which from the start being musical generalists has helped us avoid.  Building our own instruments, playing all of them, doing all of our own recording and sound editing, and using writing this website to explore our understanding of music, has kept things interesting, kept our love of music alive.  ( Unspecialized )
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While playing only in the quiet of our home means we can do it softly, can focus on the relaxation which is the royal highway to newness.  And of course when we’re relaxed and our music is soft, we’re more likely to sound sweet ( isn’t loud sweetness an oxymoron? )
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To use a theater analogy, in years past actors had to speak loudly and use only grand easily visible gestures.  Indeed cultures like the Greeks and Japanese even supplied performers with large masks.  But now thanks to the “close-up”, movie actors can whisper powerful lines and explore subtle facial expressions.  Similarly amplification has now given musicians the option of playing softly.

However not many have taken advantage of this exciting possibility, and more often even in the studio most musicians have continued to go for volume.

Sigh…. old habits do die hard, and these are people who for their entire careers have had to blast past ever higher levels of ambient noise, have had to appeal to listeners with the chronically damaged hearing endemic in this modern world.

Unfortunately this unending quest for volume has limited music in all sorts of ways, has had negative effects going far beyond merely making generations of violinists deaf in one ear, and pop musicians and Beethoven deaf in both.  ( Music and Magic )
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Also since we haven’t performed, we haven’t had to stay up too late and hang out in noisy smoky environments, we haven’t had to travel long miles to venues and eat unhealthy restaurant food, and we haven’t had to play when our heads or our stomachs ached.

And obviously this too has helped keep our love of music alive.
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Not performing has freed us to make music that’s very different and elegantly magical.

Here’s the next to last cut of Work In Progress, our newest CD.  ( Doing Music Differently )

It’s brave because since no one was listening we didn’t need to worry about blowing it, we knew if we didn’t like something we could just take it out or redo it.  It’s slow and deeply chilled because it was recorded when we were alone, well rested, and in the quiet peace of our shrine like music room.  ( Our Recording )

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Hand in Hand :  Sung on top of a Boxus Quartus, Boardus Quartus duet

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Our Performing ?
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Having said all of this, it’s perhaps time to point out there’s one sense in which we are performers….  it’s just we’re performers who perform only in our own home with our microphones as our only audience.  ( Our Recording )

Of course this somewhat extends the conventional meaning of “performance”, but we feel it’s a reasonable extension since when we’re recording it does make things different, it does supercharge our experience in a way similar to what many musicians claim happens during their performances.

Because even if our microphones are the only audience, they do focus our attention and make us more critical.  Knowing we’re trying to get down something which will be permanent, we can’t just pleasure cruise through the music, there’s part of us which is always asking “what will this sound like to someone else? ”

And naturally this affects the way we play.

For one thing, it encourages us to listen to each other more carefully and so leads towards music which is even more magically together.  ( Music and Magic )

Also when we’re in a recording phase and are recording several times each week, we start playing more slowly because we’ve learned playing fast, while it’s fun to do, often doesn’t sound so good recorded.

And because it sounds better recorded, we start playing more in the lower registers of our Bowus Family instruments.  While with our Kalimba Family instruments we get more careful about avoiding their “wolf notes”, we pay more attention to precisely how we hit their keys, to the sweetness and ring of their tone.

But doesn’t this mean we’ve learned to play for our recording equipment even as performers learn to play for their audiences?
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A Final Irony…
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As a final irony we would like to suggest a listener enjoying our recorded music may actually be hearing a more authentically live performance than is offered at most concerts.

Because what’s offered at a concert is usually something that’s been rehearsed so many times practice has washed every last bit of spontaneity out of it, whereas our recorded stuff is truly improvised and so more truly live.

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Practice****Doing Music Differently****Unspecialized****Our Recording
The Indian Music Scene****Music and Magic****The Street Singer
Bowus Family****Our Instruments****Kalimba Family
Home****Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog****Buy Our Music

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© 2014 Untravelled Path.

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