Firstly, I would like to “publish” a short essay that recently struck a chord with me. It was written by my brother Emmanuel Rizzi, a contributor to Cornell University’s The Diplomacist blog.
Why the Music-Artist envies the Literature-Artist
What luck has the Literature-Artist to have an individual spectatorship! The form of literature precludes reading en masse – it is an isolating form that requires the undistracted focus of its reader. It thus takes for granted the reader’s attention and is delivered to the reader’s most vulnerable state. Though the average reader may certainly not be attuned to the author’s subtleties of artistry, he is nonetheless reached at his most vulnerable, his most open — the medium gets the best out of each reader.
What difference with music! The free-flowing, amorphous and drifting form of the medium means that it may — and usually is (prior to 20th century advent of recording, must) — be heard and experienced en masse; the form imposes no barrier: it will reach the enlightened listener as readily as the benighted one. In fact, it has a tendency to often reach the unwilling listener! Music requires no singular focus of the listener, who is free to attend to any and all mental or physical activities while hearing the music. It is the rare listener who makes himself vulnerable — for this reason the medium seldom gets the best out of each listener.
It is serious music’s curse (but the blessing of popular music).
In my mind, Emmanuel’s words ring oh so true. It would be hard, even foolish, to argue otherwise. The appreciation of music has always depended on a reliable attention span, one that is being challenged more than ever in today’s musical landscape.
As of late, I seem to have hit a crisis… I am listening to less and less music, sometimes none at all for weeks at a time. I am inspired by less and less music, and when a song does get my attention, it is rarely for its whole duration. How can this be? I have always had a voracious appetite for music discovery, a boundless open mind for all sounds regardless of genre, and an enthusiasm for active listening rarely matched by my peers. Could this be the “old” me?
Music is now more readily available, more accessible, more plentiful, and on top of that, cheaper than it has ever been. Recording and self-releasing music have greatly profited from the advent of modern technology making it easier than ever to get one’s music “out there.” So why is it I am struggling so much to feel enthusiastic about music today? Could it be that my precious attention span has been eroded by an over-saturation of music? Am I suffering from option anxiety? Perhaps.
Music is everywhere. It’s stored on my phone. It’s on Spotify on my phone. It’s on YouTube on my phone. It’s on Shazam on my phone. It’s on Deezer on my phone. Between all of them I can listen to pretty much every single piece of music I ever want to, and at any given time. And I can connect this to various sound systems wherever I may be, at home, in the office, in my studio… but the sad thing is, I don’t. And I blame the mass availability of music for the sad state of affairs that my music appreciation has become.
I am not going to go on about how the rise of digital has killed off the culture behind owning a physical piece of music and the pleasures associated with it. Too much has already been said on the topic, and in fact I am not one to dwell on the past. The decline of physical as the leading format has always just been a matter of time. The future is now here, technology and hence the music business continue to evolve, and I am happy to be an active part of these changes, both as an artist and as a professional within the industry. But going back to Emmanuel’s essay — there are very few filters left. We get bombarded by an onslaught of music left and right on a daily basis and picking and choosing (i.e. focusing) has become increasingly difficult. Not to mention the competition created by our daily lives’ distractions. Our attention spans have spun out of control. Too much information, too little time.
As is rather clear, this has taken its toll on me personally. I haven’t dealt with it as well as some. But I remain optimistic. The music world is in a constant state of flux and I am sure that my listening habits of old will come back, somehow some way, either through further changes in our industry or perhaps through some further adaptation on my part. Either way, I am excited to find out.