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June 28, 2005

More Than making Music

Hi Midori,

I'm impressed by how hard you work to not just perform music but try to draw people in to it. Most successful musicians I know these days spend a lot of their time trying to develop audiences. Recently I visited with Wu Han and David Finckel in New York and they took me to the apartment they had bought next door where they had an amazing operation going on.

They were preparing for their Music@Menlo chamber music festival this summer by producing audio notes for each concert. David was writing and narrating the scripts, and an assistant was digitally mixing it on computer into performances by the Emerson String Quartet that they had licensed from his record company.

The deal at Menlo is that when you buy a ticket, the CD comes with it. The discs cost only a few pennies to crank out, but the expectation of the audience is that they've done their audio homework before coming to the concert. I think it must radically change the way at least some of the audience listens. Is this an innovation with a similar impact to opera supertitles? The difference between how an audience pays attention with the titles versus without them is pretty big.

There's also the Concert Companion, which had a few tests last year - handheld computers that communicate information about what you hear as the performance takes place. This sounds a bit like the equivalent of the audio gallery guide that most museums have. I love that there are now even "guerilla" museum podcast guides made by those who want to give an alternative reading of the museum. Wouldn't it be great to find ways to harness that kind of audience participation in classical music?

In pop music, some bands are now offering recordings of performances you've just heard. Come to the concert, sign up to buy at intermission, and 45 minutes after the concert you get a CD or MP3. People buy them as souvenirs (better than a T-shirt), but more than souvenirs, they serve as an ongoing connection to fans.

Lastly, I've been intrigued by the experiments some performing arts institutions have made recruiting some of their more interesting audience members to blog about the performances they see. It works like this: In return for free tickets an audience member writes a review of the performance and posts it to the organization's website right after the show. Easch show has three or four bloggers, and the hope is that after psoting their reviews they'll interact between them and those who read the blog online. These aren't professional critics, but they often have startlingly original things to say. I wonder how it would work if you tried to interact with your audience online after a concert...

There are lots of ideas like these being tried, and I think it's encouraging that artists such as you keep looking for ways to innovate. I'd love to hear more about your Total Experience project...

Doug

Posted by mclennan at June 28, 2005 11:38 PM

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