Here's an activity for you. Search the Internet for music that
purports to be extreme. If you type the words "extreme music" on
the Google search engine, your search yields approximately 779,000
results. The first dozen or so are exclusively metal-inflected musics
-- death metal, speed metal, extreme metal, etc. -- but that's only
the beginning of it. Perhaps it's no surprise that "extreme" is
one of the more pedestrian, more banal ways of advertising music.
What's extreme about recorded music?
If it's extremely loud, turn it down. If it's extremely quiet, turn
it up. You've undoubtedly encountered rock or rap or metal or industrial
recordings that come with instructions to "PLAY LOUD"; at the other
extreme, the Hat Hut recording of Morton Feldman's Piano, Violin,
Viola, Cello contains the proviso "A lower volume setting will produce
a more realistic sound level."
But by God if I wasn't shocked after
several years of listening to recordings of Feldman's music at relatively
standard volume levels to finally hear solo piano pieces of his
in a concert setting. The occasion was a tribute to his teacher
Stefan Wolpe, and Feldman's pieces were the only distinctively quiet
ones in the program. With the Feldman piano pieces, the sound seemed
to be coming from a considerable distance, even if the piano stayed
in the same place all evening. The sounds were literally dying from
the exertion of traveling all that way to reach the audience . .
. and to think that I had been so blithe about notching up the volume
so as not to miss anything when puttering around in the next room.
As for the reverse, has any Borbetomagus
record ever hurt as much as one of their performances? If you were
to listen today to the yearning, four-tracky, folk-rockish first
Dinosaur album, you would have no way of knowing that their live
shows were delivered at Motorhead volume. And I will forever associate
Tony Conrad, whose recordings produce a pleasant-enough drone when
played at a low volume, with the memory of a well-known Canadian
composer haranguing the manager of a Toronto performance space:
"The Music Gallery should ban music like this! Tony Conrad is a
smart man who must know that he's damaging people's hearing!"
At this very moment, my ears are fried
from listening to Toshimaru Nakamura and Sachiko M's do at a moderate-to-loud
volume. The Tony Conrad anecdote must have come to mind from remembering
a similar quality of ear-burn.