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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The World of Classical Music versus the World of the iPod

Have you ever had the feeling that the world Beethoven was 'talking' about in his music just doesn't exist anymore? Have you ever watched a movie that used Schubert as a soundtrack and entertained the thought that Schubert didn't even know what a soundtrack is? If you have, you will be able to relate to the tension and incongruity between modernity and classical music that columnist Ivan Hewett describes in a recent article for the Telegraph.

Nor can it [classical music] be plucked from cyberspace, because it doesn't come from there. It comes from a real space. OK, I know my recording of a Bach cantata was made in a studio, but the fact that we can hear 30 people all doing something together immediately evokes the real, social space the music originally took place in.

But that's not the space we live in now. We prefer the solitary, nomadic space of trains and airport lounges, which seem to be the places we feel most at home. And we like the space of privacy and home, the one conjured in all those home makeover programmes.

Have you ever daydreamed about driving Mozart around in a car, showing him the cities, the bridges, airplanes, skyscrapers etc., and just when his mind was swimming with the foreignness of it all, you pop on a CD with his music playing?

Classical music fits badly into the Walkman world, and even worse into the iPod world. For one thing, the technology doesn't suit it very well. Try listening to an opera on an iPod, and you'll discover the software puts a gap between tracks, which is pretty annoying if you're trying to enjoy the dramatic flow of an opera scene. And just try searching for your favourite Beethoven trio on iTunes, which is designed to search for "song" and "artist", and copes badly with keys and opus numbers.

Perhaps that is why classical music is so attractive; it opens a portal into the idealized version of a world that is no longer to be found. When we listen to it, we have the best of both worlds - a temporary escape into the beauty of the music, and a guaranteed return to the private mobility of our modern world, with all its challenges and perks.

Classical music doesn't belong in this private, mobile space. It was created in a space that's vanishing - the public space of churches, libraries, debating societies and concerts. That's the real reason it's so hard to listen to it on a Walkman or an iPod.

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