Recorded music realizes a dream of pure magic – but at the same time the end & even death of music itself. A Blakean paradox or mystical dialectic: every phenomenon had a “good” & a “bad” (in some rough sense), an Emanation & a Spectre. When I worked in radio (on WBIA-FM, The Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade) & played rembetica, Ottoman marching bands, Irish music composed by supernatural beings (the Tuatha De Danaan, aka the faeries), Anglican church music from the 15-20th Century, etc., I & my listeners (I hope) experienced the first Emanational aspect of recording – its magic.
But as the MUZAK company understood, recorded music eventually loses its presence – and in its state of absence or deprivation it becomes a potent subliminal form of anxiety, often alleviated by a shopping spree or food binge – perfect capitalist behavior.
Thus music becomes background – in expensive restaurants one is expected to listen (but not pay attention) to music appropriate to a honkytonk whorehouse: rock’n'roll, which should be a highly presentational dionysiac experience – becomes aural vanilla for jaded yuppies. Youth buys its latest “rebellion” from the world of commercial greed & adult condescension called the Music Industry. With headphones & computers everyone composes a soundtrack for their own stupid boring movie, their life as “student” or wage slave & consumer – music as anodyne for the constant immiseration (as the Sits used to say) of Too-Late Kapitalismo.
Finally – recording replaces our own voices with dumbness. We let stars sing for us – we let machines come between us & the divine musician within us. Music attains Spectral status. It haunts us with its own non-presence reduced to residual noise pollution.
I had to give up radio (both as producer & consumer) & get rid of all recorded music in my sphere of influence (basically my house) in order to preserve my relation to music. I don’t dare sing in the street (as everyone did until about 1979) and there is no amateur communal music anymore (recording killed it) – no “music bees” so to speak. Music now lacks all sociality except the ersatz of mass consumption to hear live music sometimes. Usually now when I hear any decent live music I burst into tears. I give it my attention – a process that produces a kind of high or rausch.
If we have to hear a recording let it be a 1911-style shellac disc or even wax cylinder, cranked up by hand, not electricity – a magic music box to baffle the dog with its master’s voice – a cabinet of aural marvels. If we have to be haunted by music’s non-presence (every recording is the tombstone of a live performance) let it be by one of these (see above) graceful ear-shaped or seashell-shaped machines, a Surrealist’s delight (Leonora Carrington’s “ear trumpets”) or Spirit Trumpet for a charlatanesque medium…