“Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared.”– Bill Drummond
I have long fantasized about hosting concerts early on Sunday mornings, where possibly few people would likely attend, if any. Or, playing shows where my band would set up all our gear on stage – drums, stands, amps, guitars, keyboards, etc., and once everything was set up, we’d thank the audience and take everything down, pack up and leave.
If these events happened, would music exist within them, or would it have disappeared? Anyone who’s been in an audience among people who talked throughout an entire performance might have similar questions.
Certainly, expectations of music are different for everyone. Yet, there are clear attributes we all recognize; things about and around music that seem to define what it is, how it looks, and how it works. There seems to be a hunger for these things in 2021.
As vaccinations increase during the pandemic, the momentum to engage in music the way people used to is growing. Shows are being booked, festivals are getting announced, and recordings are being released. Each of which seem to proclaim, after a long stretch of inactivity, “this is how music should be.”
Thinking about the work involved in this kind of activity; the proposals, the waiting, the designing, the logistics, the travel, the manufacturing, the packaging, the management, the selling, the shipping, the competition, the favors, the connections, the hope, the fans, the talking, the image and the perception, the failures and the successes, it can be challenging to keep sight of where music really is. In some ways, the bigger the project and the greater the momentum, the easier it can be for music to get lost in the shuffle, even when you’re just an independent drummer.
So, throughout July of 2021, I performed a series of solo concerts with no audience. Each performance was arranged with a traditional venue and each concert lasted 30 minutes. But there were no announcements, no audiences, and no merchandise. There was only the performance and the music and my experience with them.
It was strange, yet oddly fulfilling, to go through the act of packing and loading gear, traveling, setting up in a venue, looking out at nothing, and then beginning to play. As my eyes would close during each set, I would be taken to a familiar internal place where I watched my decisions become both physical, and mentally visual, as they swung on a constant pendulum of my own approval and disapproval, colored by shifting waves of emotion and energy. Opening my eyes and expecting some kind of reaction or affirmation from the body language of various people, I was met with only the music and what I made of it.
An audience can work as both a gauge of value and as a guide for the content of a performance. Prior to leaving before my set began, Dan Meunier, one of the venue owners and a musician himself, talked about how he relied on an audience when playing. He explained that an audience’s reaction throughout his set either inspired ideas he could incorporate on the fly, or non-verbally communicated to him to keep things simple. In my case, I had neither of these. Would the work still matter?
Days later, Gina Litherland told me a story about an artist who sent detailed and complex drawings to friends around the US by mail, lamenting to her that he wished he could do something of greater meaning with them, not realizing the profound impact his work was having on each individual that received it.
Ultimately, who does care? And why bother?
I think it’s important to work on these answers.
If we woke up tomorrow and music had disappeared, it might be because we were looking at something else instead; something that caught our attention so strongly that the core thing seemed to no longer exist. Like all disappearing acts, it’s easy to get caught up in the trick.