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Can performance in different locations change the meaning of a piece of music?

Musical appreciation has undergone cataclysmic change since the advent of the 20th century. Through ground-breaking developments in the inextricable combination of science, philosophy and marketing, it is indisputable that the listening experience has enjoyed a complete cultural transformation over the past hundred years and continues to accelerate into the future at a rapid rate.

In the past, the physical scenarios in which we listened to music were fundamentally determined by the composer of the music in question. Although inevitably a question of the chicken or the egg in terms of the performative resources available to them; in any case, whether by way of commissioning, social climate or divine inspiration, the logistical nature of a composition as intended by its composer would necessarily provide the starting point for its practical experience by the listener.

Performance Installation and Marketing

In marketing terms, a fundamental factor offered by the recording industry was the opportunity for listeners to choose the quality of their musical experience. By suddenly transgressing the boundaries of cultural location, listeners were offered the chance to directly compare and contrast different interpretations of the same musical works and in doing so, to establish their own preferences and favourite performers. This competitive element in the mainstream listening culture has forced companies to think outside tradition to sell their musical product, very often by installation in an unusual or quirky venue, or using an alternative presentational gimmick. Music intended for intimate performance is regularly installed in mammoth venues such as Royal Albert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl to satiate enormous public demand. It seems fair to say that the experience of live performance can no longer be evaluated on purely aural terms, but now more than ever is crucially hinged on the visual, sociological and general experiential aspects of attending such an event, subjective to the particular desires of the listener.

Conclusion: Musical Meaning

The concept of musical meaning in itself is notoriously elusive and highly subjective, having been the subject of critical discussion for centuries. For some the trophy is conscious and intellectual, based on careful study of musical theory as it has evolved over the course of time, with the result being the satisfaction of historical contextualization. For others, musical meaning is an ultimately sensory phenomenon; harmonies and timbres strumming at the heartstrings. A further branch might consider meaning as referential by way of memory; the song which was played at their wedding, for example, or an alternatively momentous occasion. The physicalities of a performance location will most certainly impact upon the physical properties of its sonic experience, but without criteria for defining musical meaning in the first place, it is impossible to even begin to evaluate this in definitive terms in our pluralistic society.

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