Beckoning Beauty – Thoughts on Communication Technology

January 26th, 2013

What a wondrous age we live in: The iPod, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify, Facebook. Communication technology that is completely customizable to our own individual likings. Windows into the world that filter out everything that does not capture our interest. If we don’t like what we see or hear, we can delete it, turn it off, filter out similar content, and take control over what we perceive.

communication technology

We’re finally getting what every person who has ever lived dreamed of: a life of complete control. A life where if we don’t appreciate something, we change it. It used to be that only kings and the very wealthy could decide what art they wanted to enjoy, and even then they had to wait for it to arrive. Today, if we want to see a Monet or hear a Beethoven, we just search for it and it is ready and waiting for our enjoyment. If we change our minds halfway through, no one is offended when we leave our private concert hall or gallery. We just push stop and we are happy again.

communication technology

This mentality has begun to creep into the physical world too, but we’re getting used to it. Students sink into their communication technology kingdom during class. Friends text their digital subjects while spending time together in the uncontrollable physical world. Although employees may not own the world they’re being paid to occupy, they may continually visit a world they do own while on their shift. A father may not have control over his children, but if he lets his children build and rule their own worlds through communication technology, Daddy can get back to controlling his.

Some people may try to convince us that a personal and customizable life is not reality, but real life is generally determined by a conglomeration of experience. Digital life is real life in so far as it forms a part of this conglomeration. Digital life is not a different life, as many have tried to believe, it’s simply a different part of life–a powerful one that allows us to rule our own universe. No matter how much we attempt to separate the world we rule from the world in which we live, these two will always be intertwined.

But I’m outside of my field. I don’t understand the effects of the digital world on relationships and the like. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a pastor or a priest. But I am an artist, and I’m very concerned about the consequences of digital life for people’s aesthetic wellness.

A sociologist’s (Sherry Turkle) views on the effects of communication technology.

See below for the rest of this essay.

Sunset

For the most part, our communication technology kingdoms are only one part of our lives. We still have to travel, eat, sleep, participate in funerals and weddings, work on our houses, cut our grass, and the like. All of these things take place in a world outside of our control. We can’t help that the roof got old, we got tired, or we got hungry. But something we have gained almost inherent control of is the art we consume. For example, if we want to enjoy a fine meal, we either have to cook, pay for it, or let ourselves be at the mercy of a host. But if we want to listen to fine music, the Chicago symphony orchestra is at our disposal for no charge. Is it any coincidence that film, music, photography, and video games are the most popular forms of art? Our aesthetic world (at least for our favorite two senses) is completely under our digital control. Is it a simple coincidence that our favorite art forms give us complete control over our aesthetic environment, or is our preference shaped by our desire to be in control of our universe?

To answer these questions, it is important to realize that beauty’s existence does not depend on our perception. A sunset is beautiful, not because our minds project beautiful feelings onto it, but because it imprints its own beauty on our minds. Unfortunately, we have come under the notion that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Friends, that’s just not biblical. This notion implies that man’s projection of his own beauty onto God’s creation makes God’s work worth enjoying. However, the creation account makes it abundantly clear that the world was beautiful before man even existed. This becomes very evident when God says of his creation, “It is very good.” No matter how passionately our proud eyes try to project our own beauty onto the world we behold, the fact remains that beauty goes into our minds and not out from them.

communication technology

So then, how does complete control over our aesthetic environment affect our appreciation of beauty? Our aesthetic kingdoms are inclination amplifiers that cause us to gravitate even more strongly toward our hearts’ natural tendencies, but without accountability. They enable us to flippantly consume increasing amounts of what we enjoy without the bother of others’ insight. If beauty is defined by God, it is dangerous for us to gorge ourselves on object after object without another’s opinion about what we’re consuming. Ultimately, this leads to the most dangerous aesthetic wellness problem: letting ourselves consume only those aesthetic objects to which we are naturally inclined. The result is that we only consume art that aligns with our personal projections of beauty, while our projections slowly erode into aesthetic chaos. This is not God’s plan for our lives. God does not want us to beckon beauty and shape it with our minds; rather he wants our minds to be beckoned and shaped by beauty (Romans 12:1-8Philippians 4:8, II Corinthians 3:18).

Finally, how does the complete control of our environment affect our community? Art is a tool to bring people together, but our communication technology kingdoms create reasons to keep people apart. Beckoning beauty through communication technology replaces aesthetic participation in our community. If we no longer need other people in order to be fed aesthetically, we won’t attend artistic community events. If no one attends, no one will create. This problem is compounded in light of our diminishing appreciation of beauty. Eventually everyone prefers his own narrow and unique brand of beauty and this drives us apart aesthetically. It’s naive to think the aesthetic world isn’t part of the real world. Aesthetic disconnection is a problem as real as any other. When we drift apart aesthetically, we drift apart. Plain and simple.


Where Is New Classical Music On-line?

June 8th, 2009

A major problem that I am encountering as I am attempting to get into the music industry is that the more obscure composers are extremely difficult to discover.  It’s so bad that it is nearly impossible to discover a new composer without having already heard the name outside of the internet.  And when a composer’s website is found, there are no links going to more composers that the composer is associated with.  In order for our ancient and ever developing craft to not be completely overrun by popular music, it has to be easier for consumers to find us.

Allow me to demonstrate the classical community’s deficiency in on-line promotion with an experiment I did that you all can conduct yourselves.  Since I am also interested in rock bands, I decided to type “rock bands” into google.  Instantly, a site came up that had all of the more popular rock bands listed by genre and country.  I looked through the 64 genres, and quickly clicked on hard core since I am intensely interested in Underoath.  I then clicked on a random band (Every Time I Die), liked it, and plan to check them out further once I have a significant source of income.  I was connected with a new group of artists within minutes and didn’t need more than a basic knowledge of what I was looking for.

I then typed in “Classical composers” and quickly became frustrated with finding the type of classical music I was looking for.  First of all, the classical music I enjoy the most is what is being written right now.  The first link that I clicked on seemed more like a museum celebrating birthdays, dying days, historic musical events, and the occasional announcement of the performances of pieces that were written over 100 years ago.  But I came to the site looking for new music to sample, buy, and listen to, not to become more educated about Prokofiev.  I quickly revised my google search to “contemporary classical composers” knowing that it was the only way that I was going to find what I was looking for (keep in mind, the average music consumer would not know that the word contemporary is significant).  Knowing that wikipedia didn’t have what I was looking for, I clicked the third link and found more dead people.  I clicked the fourth link and had no idea how to go about looking through the site (did I mention that all of these sites are the most boring and flat looking things I have ever seen?).  I clicked the next link and found a site for reviewing a few things I may have been looking for, but didn’t find any new music to sample or buy.  No matter how many links I clicked, I either came to dead people, random samples of music I hated, or unattractive pages that were in complete disarray and ignorant of my generation’s needs for categorized music.

The same problem occurs in iTunes.  When you type “contemporary classical” all that you encounter is a couple of popular classical-lite artists such as Josh Groban, followed almost immediately by pop singers accompanied by orchestras. If you only type “classical” your search results in dead composers.  There are a few exceptions such as Yoshimatsu, who is under “classical,” but his name must be searched for and recognized amidst the dead that come up with him.  The average consumer will not have the knowledge to click his name and will never experience the joy that I do when listening to the second movement of his saxophone concerto.

It is unacceptable that the first sites to come up in a search for modern or living composers are sites dedicated to the continuance of 250, 100, or even 25 year old work.  Because of this, classical music has been driven underground so far that even interested people like myself can’t find new music in this important genre that they enjoy listening to without spending hours looking for it.  Since our music is completely underground (at least to the perspective of this educated composer) and has been for some time, the music industry is continuing to evolve without us and drive us deeper into the ground.  Our dead will not sustain the classical discipline for much longer and if we continue to only promote work that is far removed from our time, our way of creating new music will die.  If we don’t do something soon then the only thing that will keep our educational programs (Collegiate and public) and our disciplined way of creating music going will be government programs that exist only to keep great art from extinction.  Our way to creating music will be confined to a museum.  

What is our solution then?  Perhaps we need to keep music education programs going in our schools or be sure that community performances are being promoted in their areas. This was fine marketing for the 1950’s, but today people look for music on the internet and become confused when some other search pattern is suggested (including myself).  Our solution lies on-line.  It is to find our living composers, unite them, categorize them and their music making it easy for their audience for connect with them.  This is the exact reason that popular music (in the broader sense) is evolving and classical music has become obscure.  I propose an attractive on-line presence that has all living and educated composers and performers in one place categorized by genera, subgenera, location, instrumentation, etc.  This would not take the place of on-line retailers or publishers, but rather make them more effective.  It would be thousands of names and compositions that a consumer could click on and be directed to the best place for them to go sample that music and purchase it. 

The goal:  If a composer has 4,000 people who buy cd’s and scores every time they become available, then that composer will make a living of around $60,000 a year give or take.  If this could take place on a massive worldwide level, there would be a lot more experienced composers writing music and appealing to more people and thousands of fantastic projects would be generated each year.  Then the truly remarkable work would surface and become popular as the lesser composers (4,000 fans to one composer) would be doing their job and promoting the best of us by means of earned appreciation.  This promotion of truly great work would happen due to the nature of google and its favor of sites with multiple links going to it.  Each composer would have to support the work of their favorite living composers by reviewing their work and linking to their sites.  This would not only promote great art effortlessly, but would also educate vast audiences.  This is the ultimate goal that all composers should be seeking in their professions.

(If you’re curious, by my estimate America alone could have up to 75,000 people making livings with nothing but composition.  And that’s assuming everyone only likes one composer and that these composers only write music without doing anything else.)

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