Sunday, November 13

a few things..

Had an interesting comversation with my friend. She was saying that in rehearsals and writing - everything that comes before a performance - there is inevitably an audience in mind, a preparation, an awareness that decisions made will form an image and create a specific effect. In the actual show, though this thought process has gone into it, there 'now' element of live performance means that there is no time to prepare and plan - you have to think impulsively - if things go wrong you have to deal with it - and this, she thinks makes live performance very honest - even if an image has been created, there is something very instinctive about the behaviour of a performer when on stage, because they are in front of an audience and does not have time to stop and calculate.
Its an interesting idea, i hope i've explained it properly. And I think there is some accuracy in it - for some style of performance more than others of course.

One thing I realised recently is that in live performance music there is also a whole range of absolutely 'real' emotions which are at play that have nothing to do with the song subject necessarily - being nervous, being excited, feeling angry because people are not listening - all these examples though they might not be the emotions which belong to the lyrics, are real, and therefore make live performance perhaps more truthful than recorded music - more immediate at least. I think these elements can be utilised and channelled into the performance sometimes. Also there are tehcnical elemtns of course - having to concentrate on hitting the right notes, playing an instrument..
Maybe it seems an obvious and strange thing to say, but i think that live performance is real, is truthful, because the performer is real, is there in the flesh, having to think about real things - even if it is the most dishonest performance ever, a big show, they are still there doing an big show dishonest performance! Maybe they are performing, maybe they are acting - but whatever they are doing, that is exactly what they are doing right there on the stage, so it is actual, it is the truth.
Ok possibly this is a bizarre and pointless thing to say, but maybe also its important.

I've been thinking a lot about the Goffman school of thought - the performativity of everyday life, how everything we do is a form of acting. I do believe this; i think its unavoidable. A little depressing, a little disturbing, but i've come to see it as fact, as a given - we cannot do other than present an image of ourselves when we interact with other people, even when we are alone (though i'm not syaing we do this consciously).
Having said that, however useful it was for me to go through the process of understanding that, i feel like now that i've established that in my thoughts, it is not necessarily useful for the this project. In looking at the performance of song, and especially at honesty in performance, there is little point in applying that view to discussions, because it just dismisses everything trying to assess a singer's performance, however 'truthful' they might seem, you can always come back with 'yes but everything is an act, so it can't be truthful'. More interesting, i think, is the difference (putting aside the understanding that everyday life is performative) between the honesty in everyday interaction, and that on the stage. And there i would say, there is still a big debate as to how different singer-songwriters perform, whether they are putting on an extra layer of 'performance', or whether, in fact, some are being more themselves (whatever that actually means) when singing, than they are when talking to a friend.
My tutor the other day asked me whether a performance which is a premeditated attempt to be honest, which declares 'i am going to be honest', is not automatically less honest than when a person says something unexpectedly honest in a conversation - unplanned, spontaneously.. I would say yes, maybe. But not necessarily - first of all just to make clear, i dont think the point is for a singer to declare'i am going to be honest now' - its not like that, the honesty is there in the writing, in the voice, or its not - its honesty about the topic of the song, not honesty for the sake of being honest. I would also say that honesty isn't mutually exclusive with spontenatity.. maybe when you say things without thinking that is one type of honesty - the truth of what you think just slips out. On the other hand, without thinking, who knows if that is what you really think outside that instant.. Song form allows you to consciously address emotions, events, beliefs (in whatever degree of honesty you decide or manage to work at as an artist) and translate them into a form which communicates to an audience. It is premeditated, for sure, and the performance presents things that have been calculated and experienced and digested, and are at different stages of being processed - but this material can be an expression of that persons truth - a political song, for example, can communicate an ideology that has developed over years and years of struggle - it is not honest in the way that a confession of 'i love you' comes out without being planned - but it is a strong rooted, genuine and deeply considered truth.

And then comes the factor of immediacy, the actual moment that is live performance where the singer must present: here, this is what i believe and have thought about a lot or have genuinely felt and dealt with; listen. In a way this is even harder to do, because there is more investment and confession in that than in a late night conversation where you suddenly decide to be deep and meaningful. This is why I do not think that song-form, which is presentational, has to be in any way contradictory to the notion of honesty. I guess that honesty can mean maybe different things and take very different forms, it just depends how you look at it.