Today's world is a curious, even bizarre, mixture of the old and the new, the naturalistic and the synthetic. It is very much a transitional age, an age in which progress away from dualism is becoming manifest in numerous different contexts, not least of all music. We have grown so accustomed to the incongruities resulting from the co-existence of ancient and modern ... that we tend, in spite of ourselves, to take them for granted. Take, for example, the distinction between symphony orchestras and rock groups, a distinction which reflects class differences as much as anything. The orchestral performers, with their bow ties, black suits, acoustic instruments, scores, and conductor, obviously appertain to a very different musical world from the, for example, T-shirted, jean-wearing rock groups whose electric instruments would be capable of drowning out any orchestra in a competition designed to discover who could make the most noise or, at any rate, create the greater volume of decibels. The orchestra clearly appertains to the bourgeois, semi-naturalistic world in which acoustic instruments are taken for granted, whereas the rock group is comparatively proletarian, given their electric instruments of a largely synthetic construction. The two worlds exist side-by-side, occasionally overlapping but, for the most part, remaining distinct - the rock group preferring, as a rule, to evolve further and further away from classical musicians who, as often as not, remain tied to the nineteenth century, if not to several previous centuries. How long, one wonders, can this paradoxical state-of-affairs continue?
My guess is that it won't continue very much longer, since evolution cannot be reversed or impeded for ever! The life-span of the symphony orchestra would seem to be drawing towards a close, although its final collapse may not be for several years yet - certainly not before the second-half of the new century. Whatever happens between the capitalist West and the socialist East in the historical unfolding of our world over the coming decades, I cannot envisage symphony orchestras outlasting the twenty-first century. Even today, with computers, rockets, colour televisions, laser beams, holographs, microchips, supersonic jets, and other such late twentieth- and/or early twenty-first century phenomena, the orchestra appears increasingly out-of-place, a sort of acoustic anachronism in an electronic age. The bowing or blowing or banging of acoustic instruments contrasts sharply with the latest push-button techniques in the manipulation of the most up-to-date electronic instruments, and one cannot help but feel that whereas the latter are very much an integral part of modern life, the former resemble social dinosaurs in their remoteness from it!
Naturally, works for symphony orchestra continue to be composed, but even the most avant-garde compositions are unlikely to be performed beyond the twenty-first century. If these comparatively modern works outlast the orchestra, it will be because they have been recorded to disc or tape, and thus preserved for posterity. The actual performance life-span of these works can only, in the face of evolutionary pressures, be short - far shorter, I would imagine, than the performance life-span enjoyed by the works of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. For as evolution progresses in the modern age, so it becomes ever quicker, and consequently the likelihood of Walton or Honegger or Prokofiev still being regularly performed well into the new century can only be increasingly remote. This is one reason why a contemporary composer who makes the grade is quickly acknowledged with international success and recording fame, his music soon to take its place beside the 'immortal' recordings of a whole galaxy of illustrious predecessors. A Tippett recording is already somehow part of the musical tradition, and Walton is now regarded as virtually one of the 'old masters', to be placed alongside the immortals. Simply to have been recorded is confirmation of one's 'classic' status. And, given the likelihood of the classical orchestra's impending demise, a delay in recording a modern composer could well prove fatal - depriving posterity of access to his works.
But if orchestral concerts are unlikely to be an aspect of twenty-first-century life, the same must surely hold true of jazz concerts and, indeed, the recording of modern jazz. The electric guitar may be a relatively new instrument, peculiar to the second-half of the twentieth century, but we need not expect it to outlive the symphony orchestra by a great many years, since it has already become part of a long musical tradition within the swiftly-evolving context of modern life. Doubtless some form of electric music will continue to be composed and performed during the twenty-first century, but the instruments and instrumental combinations will probably change, as new tastes and evolutionary pressures dictate. The possibility that modern jazz will merge with atonal electronic music, over the coming decades, cannot be ruled out, since the latter seems destined to supplant serious acoustic music and will doubtless undergo progressive modifications in the course of time. Eventually all music should be composed on the highest possible evolutionary level, which means that even pop music will be transcended as society increasingly becomes more transcendentally sophisticated overall, not just within certain sections of the population. Pop music, arguably the musical equivalent of socialist realism in art, may be necessary and even commendable in a transitional age like this, but it must eventually be eclipsed by a more spiritual music, equivalent to transcendentalism in art, if an ultimate civilization, classless and universal, is to come fully to pass.
One reason why recordings of whatever type of music are beginning to supplant live performances ... is that they make for a superior means of listening to music, in which a perfect instrumental balance can be obtained at a volume suitable to oneself and in the comfort of one's home. The use of headphones can further enhance one's appreciation of music by seeming to interiorize it, and one is of course free to select exactly the right recordings for one's particular taste or mood. It may be that in improving the technical aspect of musical appreciation in this solitary fashion, one is obliged to forfeit the social advantages accruing to a public concert, in which a large audience comes to share the same enthusiasm, and, doubtless, studio recordings will never be able to match live concerts for atmosphere. Yet, even then, the advantages of recorded music are too great to warrant serious criticism, and reflect the ongoing spiritualization of art through sublimated means of appreciation. The fact that recordings tend, paradoxically, to undermine the musical necessity or validity of live performances, whether by orchestra or group, cannot be denied, and is a further reason why the latter will eventually die out. When, exactly, the last public performance will be, I cannot of course say. But a world tending ever more rapidly towards the post-Human Millennium, and thus towards the complete dominion of being over doing, won't require people to perform in public for ever. Better that we should just sit still, in the comfort of our homes, and listen to the latest studio recordings at an appropriately transcendent remove from the actual recording session!