Disclaimer: In this post, I write about my response to music and commerce rather than about the music itself...
In the Sixties, advertiser Tony Schwartz directed the Lyndon Johnson TV commerical linking Barry Goldwater with nuclear war via a girl counting daisies. In the Seventies, Schwartz wrote a book, The Responsive Chord, where he says television is perceived in an auditory manner rather than a visual one, that truth is a print ethic, and that there is a "resonance principle" in communication:
...since the [electronic] experience is not stored in a symbolic form, it cannot be retrieved by symbolic cues...The critical task is to design our package of stimuli so that it resonates with information already stored within an individual and thereby induces the desired learning or behavioral effect...A listener or viewer brings far more information to the communication event than a communicator can put into his programs, commerical, or message...[the communicator] must deeply understand the kinds of information and experiences stored in his audience....
In the 2002 elections, Frank Luntz, the Republian pollster, applied Schwartz's theories in getting the Republicans to carefully phrase their views, in order to elicit the desired reaction from voters:
it is time for someone, everyone, to start using the phrase "Daschle Democrats" and the word "obstructionist" in the same sentence.. It's time for Congressional Republicans to personalize the individual that is standing directly in the way of economic security, energy security, and even national security.
I was aware of this theory today in three cases of "resonance" while classical music shopping at the Mountain View Tower Record & Books this afternoon.
Resonance #1: Although I visit the store at least once a month, for the first time, I saw a sign on the outside of the book store saying "We Carry Classical Music Books." I'm clearly part of the audience that would care about this and not surprisingly, the next thing I know, I'm scanning the classical music book shelves without even really thinking about it.
Resonance #2: In the new classical releases section, I saw a piano-duo CD of Conlon Nancarrow's piano music, a new CD by Mark-Andre Hamelin with Ives' Concord Sonata and a piano reduction of the Philip Glass soundtrack The Hours. I'm was trying to decide which one to buy. I wasn't sure I really needed another rendition of the Ives so I passed on the Hamelin, which left Nancarrow and Glass. I generally like The Hours soundtrack and I particularly like piano music of Philip Glass (especially if the performer is not the composer) but the Nancarrow sounded more interesting. Then, on the back of The Hours CD, I read that the arrangement was by Michael Riesman and Nico Muhly. Riesman is of course a long-time Glass associate but when I saw Muhly's name, I went a-ha and decided to buy it. Muhly was the young composer mentioned by Alex Ross earlier this year and about whom I blogged. Did I expect a fresh and lively arrangement? Not clear.
Resonance #3: In the bag with my purchase was a set of stickers advertising the new movie i ♥ huckabees. I did not think much of it until I was perusing today's New Yorker where the fall arts preview mentions the movie. The cute character in the title was enough to link it to the clever flyer in my Tower bag and my response was to think "oh yes, I know that movie," all without conscious effort. Who knows if I will actually see the movie? It is the only new movie coming out that I know of.
Do I feel maniuplated by all this cultural marketing? No, since it is based on prior experience that for whatever reason I value. Are there others who will respond to these gestures as well? Probably for the i ♥ huckabees campaign; the audience who appreciates classical music books or up-and-coming American composers is presumably smaller.
Related to my experience but still ignoring the actual music, I have to be impressed with the business model of Philip Glass. He wrote a soundtrack for a movie, released that soundtrack on Nonesuch Records, got his colleague to arrange the music for piano, had that music published in "a book of arrangements for solo piano, geared for intermediate players," and issued a recording of those arrangments on his new Orange Mountain Music label. I've read that his rationale is to maximize revenue so he can afford to subsidize the release of back catalog and support other interesting projects.
I can also imagine a scenario where The Hours breaks out into a popular success; it was played at the Democratic National Convention and although I have yet to actually listen to the new CD I just bought (I'm busy ripping it to MP3 files), I'm guessing the arrangement maintains the melodic, wistful but non-threatening tone of the soundtrack.
• ♥ is a valid HTML character.
• Do I get all my cultural cues from the New Yorker? To be fair, I can't remember if I first heard about Tony Schwartz in The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly.
• Greg Sandow just pointed out that earlier classical music covered the range from high-art to popular entertainment and that we don't really understand where today's classical music fits in that spectrum; I suggest Philip Glass is a case in point.
• Lynn at Reflections in D Minor recently speculated that "truly intelligent" people may eventually get bored with commercialized entertainment. While I won't claim to be truly intelligent (I blog after all), I'm surprised that since I started aworks and since I got my iPod, I am listening more to Philip Glass than probably any other composer. I rationalize that his admittedly more popular music could be an antidote to all that Ives and Cowell and Antheil I have been exploring this year. But whatever the reason, I have to say that I am responding to Glass, especially in doses larger than a single track, particularly The Hours, Koyaanisqatsi, Piano Etudes, and Akhnaten. And I'm listening to those works, not watching (one Akhnaten performance in Oakland aside).
• Resonance #4: By writing this post, I just realized I want to buy The Fog of War soundtrack and read and/or watch The Hours.
• Amazon free MP3 downloads from the new CD: Morning Passages, The Poet Acts, Something She Has To Do
• Enough responding for today...