Sunday, June 24, 2007

Samuel Delany on How Having an Audience Changes One's Art

Many years ago I was a page turner for the rehearsals of a concert of new music at Hunter College. One piece was written for twelve instruments, all of which had to play a different note of the scale -- except one, which was left out. The melody was really an absence of that note, which moved up and down, working its way through the composition, a traveling silence through a constant acoustic field of eleven other notes.

When the piece was played in rehearsal in an empty auditorium, the missing note was absolutely audible, hovering and drifting through the cloud of cacophony. But when you heard it in an auditorium full of people, the resonance of the auditorium changed, due to the general noise of people breathing, or shifting in their seats, or the new deployment of mass, or whatever. You could no longer hear the silent note.

That has always struck me as a good analogue for the art of the postmodern artist, who works today in a highly refined field. The writer is concerned with small resonances, phrase to phrase, word to word; such effects sometimes simply vanish before the reality of a statistical audience. But if everyone is quiet, sometimes you can hear them.
--Samuel Delany, interviewed in Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s,by Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory, University of Illinois Press, 1987, p. 110.

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