I noted sections throughout the book that particularly piqued my curiosity. Yet knowing, like Robert Frost, how way leads on to way, I doubt if I'll be able to come back -- in the immediate, information- and concert-clogged near future.
But, before I set the book on my shelf for an indefinite, dust-gathering hiatus, here's a passage that touches on Gould's withdrawal from the stage into recording and radio studios that speaks directly to the here-and-now:
Gould lay on the cusp of a change in attitude to music. His career spanned the period in which recordings were, for the first time, reaching impressive levels of both accuracy and accessibility. He was bold enough to suggest that recordings are not best viewed as substitutes for live concerts, but are instead a medium onto themselves. This is correct. Where he erred was in thinking that this transition is a binary function: that the new medium will render the old obsolete. As [Marshall] McLuhan could have told him -- indeed maybe did, on one of the several occasions they met or appeared together -- a new medium does not replace an older one, it encompasses it like a new ring on a tree. Recorded music does not obliterate live music any more than television obliterates radio, or radio obliterates newspapers. Having made this elementary error, Gould's basic premise for the subsequent arguments against concerts was revealed as faulty.
The real reasons he was a "concert dropout" are not philosophical, they are psychological. This is not to say they are obvious or easy to understand. It suited him to take this stand, the enter a refusal to an established system: thus the use of the then-fashionable notions of dropping out and going electronic, Gould as classical music's version of Timothy Leary. But it suited him because he found performing unpleasant, not because he found it objectionable. The latter is a construct that at once justifies and conceals the former. And this concealment, apprehended at another level of his psyche, pleased this master of disguise and personae rather too much. Gould did not so much perform his silence as he performed his refusal, a juicy and endlessly repeated exit from the stage.
Nor is that all. The underlying irony is that Gould's apparent retreat into recording is actually the biggest competitive advantage of all, one hinged on the technology of recording itself. Recorded music is what economists call scalable activity: an individual effort that pays off over and over without further exertion. Reproduced and distributed on vinyl, a single musical session can capture a vast audience that was once necessarily divided among many in-person players. Every purchased Glenn Gould recording thus diminishes the chance of another musician being heard at all. Like bestselling books and blockbuster films, hit recordings are part of an inherently unfair winner-take-all market; the difference is that here the rivals are not just other books or movies, but other musical experiences in all forms. Talk about smoking the competition!
There's plenty to think about here.
A digression on live concert-going
In yesterday's blog entry, I deplored the social-status-confirming side of concertgoing. There's another facet to this phenomenon on display among young audiences.
Go to any live concert of popular music, and you see a sizable proportion of the spectators viewing the action on stage through the LCD screen of their video-recording device. This additional layer of mediation in an already over-mediated world strikes me as strange.
I brought the subject up with Mark Kingwell, as we chatted about the Glenn Gould book last week. His explanation made a lot of sense: more and more artists offer free downloads to entice purchases of a deluxe album (Kingwell, a longtime fan of the group, used the example of Radiohead), the next step in leveraging the exposure is selling live-concert tickets.
Being able to attend that live concert becomes a status object, and the cellphone raised in video-capture glory is the preferred way of being able to confirm to the world (or at least your 247 nearest and dearest Facebook friends) that you were able to acquire this object.
Glenn Gould in Russia
Here, in case you have a chunk of free time, here is the first segment of a documentary on Gould's phenomenal visit to the Soviet Union in 1957. Hopefully, the link will follow to the five successive segments posted on YouTube.
Note to the federal Finance Minister: Look at what the paltry sums needed to fund a Canadian artist's travel abroad can do, not just for the artist, but the international profile of a whole country.