It’s over a year now since we performed in public, the last time I performed was the South West Brass Band regional competition in Torquay in March 2020. Whether that should have gone ahead is a matter of debate, but it recently set me thinking about the nature of the new world of performance that we moved into.
Performance generally has been a concert or a competition on a stage with lots of people in the audience, the buzz of anticipation and just a sense of having a lot of people around. That has all gone temporarily but what has actually replaced it?
Most bands won’t get onto TV so that avenue isn’t really open to us, radio is a little different as there are some specialist online brass band radio stations around and does give some bands an opportunity to air their music. What the lockdown has done though is to open up a whole new genre for music performance, ie video performances over the internet. When we first started online we tried to organise some live rehearsals which, to be honest were a disaster! Zoom doesn’t work well if more than one person is playing at a time, internet lags mean that it is impossible to keep everybody playing together, all you can hear is a cacophony. One of the things that did work really well though was the virtual concert, where individuals recorded a piece which was then collated with those created by others and broadcast as a normal concert would be. Accompaniments could be added, either played with the recording or mixed afterwards, which would make a perfectly good evenings entertainment.
But what of the experience compared to a normal event, well that largely depends on the quality of the recording. A good one can highlight the musical moods and expressions equally well but the sound quality can be variable. So what about the 2 dimensional nature of the computer screen that these videos are broadcast on? This is the main problem. When a piece is performed in a live concert all sorts of messages and nuances are received by the listener from the hall where it is being played. Sounds bouncing off walls and ceilings are added to those coming from performers in different places on the stage, to create a vibrant surround-sound experience as the ear gets information from multiple sources. Visually, an online recording only has 2 dimensions and the loss of the third dimension means it is more like watching the TV or film. Sound wise, many videos can create a simulated stereo effect where the creator can pan the sound so that a player on the right hand side can be heard through the right hand speaker, and a player on the left can be heard from the left hand speaker. This is unlike a concert hall as there is very little resonance and the sound comes from only two directions, leaving the experience somewhat flat in comparison.
Videos may not be perfect from a technical point of view but they have had many benefits over the past year. Many bands have recorded online videos, allowing individual players to record their own parts at home, and someone who is a bit tech-savvy then collates them and mixes them together to create a complete performance. What is surprising about these is that when you record a part on your own at home it sounds a bit flat and dull. When it is mixed with others it provides a more vibrant sound, almost like a live band and can make a pleasantly blended sound. There are plenty of examples of this type of work on Facebook and Youtube. Of course, they aren’t the same quality as a live performance for all the reasons stated above. The players don’t have the luxury of being able to listen to others around them for tuning and togetherness, but they have provided an outlet for musicians when they were unable to do anything else.
Video performances are a new and different performance medium for bands to exploit and it would be nice to think that this format will be developed even when things are back to normal. Musicians can reach a much wider audience online than in their local communities, so as a marketing tool it could be useful for a bands profile.
The biggest benefit though is the development of new skills, particularly technology. Before March 2020 how many of us could, and would, think about recording in the way we do now. How many of us knew how to produce a reasonable quality video, and how many of us could use editing software to make a multi-player recording remotely over the internet. That is a challenge that many musicians have risen to; my hat goes off to all those amateur players who have engaged with this.
Lets keep it going in some form or other.