Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Sociology of Sound

It matters a lot that our world knows, for the most part, only reproduced sound.  We wouldn't put up for an instant with food treated as badly.

Sounds used to be associated with behaviors, with conventions, with social realities that most people recognized.  Bells, for example, have all but disappeared from modern urban life: every time I hear one I am moved, as it resonates through a time that reaches far back into history, connecting me to people who have heard bells through the ages.

I am re-reading Arthur Loesser's brilliant Men, Women, and Pianos, a sociological study of the instrument as it was played and viewed in various countries since the time of its invention.  He makes palpable the difference between the forced involvement with practice that was to yield an "accomplished" (read, more marriageable) young English woman during the time of Jane Austen, and the real artistry of but a few pianists of the time, notably John Baptiste Cramer (whose etudes have always been among my favorites).

I find shocking the degree to which the cliche of piano playing drove out receptivity to the artistry of the few.  I find shocking, too, how familiar it feels.  Were there algorithms in those days determining acceptable behaviors, as there are now, determining what constitutes saleable songs?