Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Classical, Cellos, and Computers are in the orchestra pit. The digital tide washing over society is lapping at the shores of classical music. Bytes and Beethoven. With bows and laptops, the Borromeo String Quartet has enlisted in the technological revolution. Yes, another job, the page turner for musicians has been eliminated. We already lost record stores to I tune codes. We are losing book stores to tablets and now this! What used to be flickering lights in the orchestra pit we now only see the slight blue glow bathing the faces of the musicians as they tap their feet not to keep time, but to send pages of music electronically on their stands.
This particular String Quartet goes a step further, they are viewing the notes to Beethoven’s Quartet in C (Op.59 , No.3) not from printed notes but from the calligraphy of Beethoven’s own handwriting, delivered from the screens of Mac Books. It must be like reading a foreign language deciphering the chicken scratch of anyone’s ancient handwriting but it must be orgasmic to be so close to the master’s vision and to be able to emphasize every note that is written bolder and to learn every phrase mark and notation he generously offered on his original manuscript. Bravo!
“It’s an incredible experience, watching the handwriting of Beethoven as it passes by you,” said Nicholas Kitchen, the group’s first violinist. They have forgotten paper musical parts in favor of Mac Books nestled on special music stands, paging forward and back with repeat signs with foot pedals and not wet thumbs on paper. They have also replaced old-fashioned tuning devices and metronomes to keep timing with programs on their laptops. It represents the cherry on top of the incredible Sunday of technology meets music revolution that has hit the globe with an unbelievable taste sensation since the advent of the boom box.
This quartet represents the ultimate in technology meeting tradition. How traditional acoustic sound is combined with the ultimate presentation of centuries-old masterpieces. The revolution has brought Operas and concerts being projected from live concerts in movie theaters. Before you had to wait months for the concert album to be available to purchase at a local record store. Now we have music being written for cellphone ringers and laptops. Concert audiences are seeing more and more multimedia presentations of full videos being shown behind the band and fire works everywhere with laser lighting. The singer is an acrobat as in “Pink” concerts or at least a dancer while singing. Years ago Nat King Cole sang mostly in a little room called a recording studio and many of his fans didn’t even know he was a Black man selling music in a very white industry at that time.

Now Orchestras use text messages to stay in touch with audiences. Entertainers use Facebook and Twitter to advertise their next engagement and comment their experiences on the way. Very personal stuff but in a very impersonal way. We don’t have to physically touch or see each other to entertain. There is long-distance musical instruction available now through high speed Internet2. You Tube videos are used for auditions, all you need is 100,000 views and you are a star of sorts with a fan base; highly marketable.
The most important achievement in the process is that this technologically astute group has managed to also tape and market each and every performance and save it in their digital library. I always was jealous of the movie star that never gets old on film and has the privilege to be able to re-take every scene until they get it right and then finally produce their best product that lasts forever and can be shown endlessly. Broadway and theater and musicians never had that luxury until now. It is possible to record that fabulous Broadway production with its star at the prime of their life and performance. Ok, they can’t stop the show to do re-takes but it is better than before.
Yes, this generation is heavily involved with our batteries and power. Our present civilization is entirely recorded on a computer of some sort. When we finally haphazardly use nuclear warfare or sloppy protections of power sources that will evidently destroy mankind; maybe then we will go back to simple wooden instruments, and folk songs only known by melodies sung to each other if we survive this technological revolution now heavily involved in our entertainment world.

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