06 November, 2016

On Live Music

Photo from Krysti Marie, a fellow concert-goer.
Yesterday, I went to Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, a touring concert that celebrates 30 years of music from the Legend of Zelda franchise.

As a longtime fan of the series, I've been excited about going for quite a while. I bought tickets for (literally) the best seats in the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC. I replayed several games in the series over the course of the past year. I listened to my favorite Zelda songs during my commute to work. But it's not like I did these things just in preparation for the concert; I am a sincere fan of Zelda, having played every non-CD-i game in the series. I've watched every single substantive commentary on Breath of the Wild at least once, including the several hours of streaming done by the Nintendo Treehouse and the two hour analysis from GameXplain. So you might well expect that my experience of the concert would be extremely positive.

Unfortunately, I found the experience disappointing. This isn't because the concert wasn't good. Nearly everyone around me in the theater raved about it, not just by clapping enthusiastically and exclaiming loudly how happy they were when their favorite game of the series came up in the concert, but also by several people after the concert coming up to me organically, wanting to talk about the experience with a stranger they had experienced this event with.

No, my disappointment was not with the quality of the concert, but with the concept of listening to live music itself. This was my first time going to listen to a concert for the purpose of listening to the music. I think I may have sat in a park while music was playing or went to support a friend as they played a small venue, but I've never actually gone with the intention of actually listening to the music being played.

As I sat in what very well may have been the best seat in the theatre, I found myself realizing that the songs I was hearing were songs that I already listen to. Those songs I played during my commute to work were nearly identical to the ones being played at the concert. It's then that I realize that I've already been listening to these songs this entire time, and if I closed my eyes to hear the music, all I could think was "this feels just like I'm on my way to work".

I'm not sure what I was expecting. Lots of people have favorite artists, and they often love to go to live concerts where the artist plays a song that they already have a better quality version of on their phone. What are they getting out of such events? I honestly am not too sure. It can't be the music, as the music is better in recorded form. Is it the company?

To be fair, it was fun to see people cosplaying as various Zelda characters. But even though I do love Zelda, I don't really identify with this crowd at all. For me, playing Zelda is primarily an experience in isolation. Even when it comes to multiplayer Zelda games, I've strongly preferred playing with close friends over the trolls that join public online games of Tri-Force Heroes. I don't see myself acting as a fan in the same sense as the way others were acting at that concert. Perhaps it is because I'm more comfortable being more reserved. Maybe I'm just not as into fan culture. But if being in a group with other fans is what people get out of live music events, then it just isn't for me.

Yet when I mentioned these thoughts aloud, I got back the objection: "That's not what live music is about. Live music is better than recorded music." And here is where I am most confused. The symphonic performers at the concert I went to were quite good. They were so good, in fact, that it reminded me exactly of the recorded versions I'd heard dozens of times before. Their sameness in sound is part of what made the experience dull for me.

Would I have preferred if I could have heard more errors in their performance? Or maybe what I would want is some kind of improvisation?

When I look to something like Michelangelo's David, I'm impressed. But when I look at recently made statues of similar realism, I am unimpressed. I think this is mostly because the skill needed to create such a statue in the past is nothing like the skill needed to do so in the present. Yes, there is still skill in the posing. But the David required working around the good parts of the material, understanding how to scale up the dimensions realistically, understanding the center of gravity, understanding the proper width of needed hidden trusses. Meanwhile a modern statue can be made by scanning a model, scaling it up, and having a laser cut each part perfectly from a piece of marble that is predetermined to perfectly work with those cuts. It still takes skill, but of a different sort. And if you try to do it the old way, it just seems silly to me. Why not take advantage of modern methods to make the finished product better?

So it seems to me with live music. Being able to record multiple performances and edit them into a final product just seems better to me. Sure, mp3s are lossy, but if you use a lossless format and high quality headphones, then I suspect you get the best experience. Far better than live music, which requires you to have to go somewhere in public (ugh, the traffic) and doesn't have the amenities that you may have at home (when I asked for a cola, they said they were out and offered diet cola instead).

With all this said, I do want to say that most everyone else enjoyed the concert. And the venue was pretty good. Having in-seat service is a big plus, even if it was fairly expensive. So if you're considering going to Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, then you shouldn't use my experience as a strong reason not to go.

But the Warner Theatre did run out of dessert before the concert even began, and there was the lack of non-diet cola in the VIP room. All in all, I think I can confidently say that I never intend to go to a live music event again, and if I do, I probably won't do it at the Warner. It just isn't for me.

I think I'll stick to plays instead. I'm looking forward to when Hamilton comes to the Kennedy center.

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