ďThere is certainly a drop off in the experience from seeing orchestral music in person vs listening to orchestral music in private, but it's dwarfed by the drop from seeing opera in person to listening to it in private.Ē
As someone who has been to over hundred classical music concerts over the last 5 years and even recently saw a concert yesterday (hence this post isnít done out of ignorance and lack of experience). I disagree that there is any drop off seeing any classical music performance live versus hearing it at home.
I enjoy going to concert as itís a nice to go out and spend time with my wife and the visual spectacle of seeing musician perform in person. However, I feel that the reality is that I get a better audio experience at home than I do in any classical concert especially if they play chamber music.
In fact, the problem of classical music is that I do not think it has really adapted to the reality that home recordings and home speakers and home TV exist. Things have never been easier for the audience in terms of listening experience and never been difficult for professional performers to compete with the home experience. However, I rarely seen any attempts to adapt with this reality and for concerts to try and keep up with the times.
To explain the benefits of listening to music at home. Iíll explain the Fletcher-Munson curve or Equal-Loudness contour (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-loudness_contour). To summarise when we play tones of different frequencies but played at the same loudness (db). We perceived the loudness differently. Low frequencies and high frequencies have to be played at louder db for us to perceived to be the same volume as high-middle-range frequency (the reference tone 1000khz). This is because our brains are more sensitive to midrange frequency than to frequencies of either extreme.
However the louder the reference frequencies the differences between the low end/high end frequency difference (if you look at the curve on wiki, the louder the volume the flatter the curve).
The implications of this is is you take the exact same recording and played at a lower volume we will hear less of the extreme frequencies. However turn the volume knob higher, we are more likely we are to hear the entire audio frequency equally.
The result is that music of higher volume will sound more detailed than music at lower volumes because we are literally perceiving the complete audible frequency spectrum better at higher volumes. Ideally for people to appreciate a work, it should be listened in a volume where the curve is flat. Listening to the same recording at a lower volume does not just reduce the total volume but will cut off our perception of the lower and higher frequency.
Due to this phenomenon, itís become known in audio production, never judge the quality of mix until you match the same audio levels because the louder mix will naturally sounds better. Now on a side note this is exploited by the loudness wars with brickwalling remaster. People superficially believe that the louder mix sounds better than the softer mix because it sounds more detailed due to this effect. However if you turn the volume knob up and match the volume, the more dynamic mix will sound better.
So how is this relevant in classical music?
No classical music concert in my experience sounds louder than my speakers/home sound equipment. This difference is even more extreme when it comes to chamber music, even my portable speaker that I use is louder than any string quartet.
If you have same standard of performance and dynamic range but one sounds louder than the other. The louder one will sound more detailed.
Iím not going to say that my experience at home is objectively better than live performance because there is no objectivity in terms of experience. However, I will say that objectively I am more likely to experience the music from the entirety of the frequency spectrum more at home and hence have more audio detail than at a live concert and as a result I subjective get more pleasure listening to classical music at home then at a live concert.
I guess someone will state that the music was written prior to the invention of recorded music and hence Iím listening to music in a completely ahistorical way and hence we were never desi. Well my perspective is that it sucks to be the audience back in Beethovenís age as with technology we are listening to music in a superior way to the audience in the past and I can appreciate the work in a better way than audience in the past due to the invention of recorded music.
There is the stereotype of classical music that it is boring and not exciting which on the surface doesnít make any sense when listening to the works of Beethoven or Shostakovich where they have tremendous rhythmic energy and in my view rock harder than any rock artist. However I truly get how that stereotype exist during the live concert. Listening to the last movement of Beethoven 9th String Quartet at home is a handbanging transcendental experience and by pumping the home stereo volume equivalent to a rock concert you really maximised the rhythmic entrainment effects (I suspect the louder volume increase sensitivity of the bass frequency and it has been shown that rhythmic entrainment effects are maximised at lower pitch). Watching the same piece performed live can only capture 70-80% of the experience. Itís no wonder why people who grew up with recorded music listening to loud music at gigs or nightclubs be bored listening to string quartet if this is their perception.
At Beethovenís own time, his music had the same exciting effect on the audience as modern audience has in a nightclub or a rock concert but that effect canít be replicated to modern audience who grew up with recorded music when watched live.
I suspect the solution to this problem is that all chamber music should be microphone up and send through the PA system and blasted loud at the audience so that we can experience the same effects. I can truly imagine people moshing to string quartet music if presented correctly :)
This may be considered for orchestral music although I suspect my experience of orchestra in Australia to be smaller than orchestra in major cities such as London, Chicago, Vienna, Berlin and maybe it is not needed if they have a sufficiently large orchestra.
I believe until this is done, the concert experience from the auditory point of view is significantly inferior to the home experience. Hell, Iím not even mentioning that at home I can react appropriate to the music (move your body, react emotionally to the music) that is considered inappropriate in a live venue due to concert etiquette.
Iíll add that in terms of opera, you have the same experience of having control of the volume listening at home and if you are watch a video of a high-class production (ie Met Opera) you will also get a cinematic experience where the director becomes important and you essentially merge the art of opera with the art of film. You can close views of the performers that is not replicated in a live performance especially if you have the cheap seats from a distance where the performers become stick figures in the distance. Again I donít believe you can present opera the same way to the audience thatís grew up with TV and cinema.
I believe that opera should replicate rock concerts where the performers on the stage are filmed and projected on a big screen at the side of the stage.
I'll keep on watching live concerts and opera of classical concerts however this is due to the intangible of being there in person. However I do believe that I have an inherently inferior experience at the concert hall than my own lounge room.
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