WIP: Location and Nostalgia

It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With
Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the
roller-coaster or the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the home
town or country of our birth. The emotion is Janus-faced: we are torn
between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and
strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have
never known. 
-Carson McCullers

I wrote a little (probably too much) about the hyperreality in which we live today in my last post. As I'm dissecting my own idea of nostalgia into manageable parts (memory, identity, triggers), I began to think more about location and its relation to things nostalgic and musical. I mentioned iPods and the origins of the string quartet, and begun thinking about how location affected musical experience. If you wanted to hear more viola, you had to move closer to the viola. The invention of recorded sound and amplification both altered this relationship fundamentally. No longer do we have to attend a concert in order to experience music, nor do we have to be particularly concerned with where the best seats are in the performance venue. Now the best seat in the house is our own recliner or whatever seat we take on the bus. In fact, location is almost superfluous to musical experience. Much of the music we hear that is written today is composed by a person at a computer, alone in a studio with headphones on. It's experienced in a film, a television ad, at the mall or through earbuds while jogging on a treadmill.

But how does location relate to nostalgia? I know from my own experiences that my feelings of nostalgia are often tied to a location, specific or general.
I recall fondly my experiences living in the South in spite of the fact that those were some of the most painful and tumultuous years of my life. Or The Dorothy Heralds' rehearsal room in Beeftone studios, Angie Plant's kitchen in Minneapolis, my apartment in Evanston. Each location represents a different time that evokes feelings of nostalgia for me. Of course, experience is tied to location and nostalgia a function of experience. So, if location is no longer inexorably linked to musical experience, but is a component of nostalgia; how then to deal with location in a musical work about nostalgia?

Location has been the subject of much thought in music performance and composition over the past century. A small forest has probably been dedicated to papers decrying the social limitations of the concert hall and its roots in cultural imperialism and classism. Ives used musicians located in the audience to mimic the everyday American experience. John Cage's infamous 4'33'' was conceived as a call to experience one's environment as music. Laurie Anderson recently debuted a work in which the listener can hear the music only when standing in a very specific location.

No comments: