The use of genres to understand music is somewhat of an obsession in our society. You’ll see publications and critics pointing out similarities, no matter how inconsequential, between musicians and then lumping them together in some ultra-specific definition that can’t convey any singular objective description. While comparing the differences between genres might give some kind of understanding of music’s possibilities, it is a superficial understanding. In order to delve into the depths of musical potential, music should be examined in both recorded and live settings.
Recorded music is the apex of our collective control obsession. An artist can re-record, digitally alter, and produce his or her music to sound an exact way, while a listener has the option of playing recorded music whenever and wherever he or she wants. Any passion or spontaneity is reduced to a convention. That is why concerts are so important: In a live setting, the audience and the artist are both forced to confront each other directly.
I was able to view this difference for myself this past weekend when a couple of friends and I drove to New York to see Anders Trentemøller perform at Webster Hall. To say that his performance was stellar would be an understatement. Despite the fact that he is an electronic producer, Trentemøller and his band played instruments throughout the entire set. Most amazing, however, was the actual music he played. Not a single song he performed was merely reproduced off an album. Trentemøller expanded them, drew out the nuances within each song, and exposed the emotion and inspiration that existed within the mechanical structures of his music.
While classification is a natural, human thing to do, we put way too much stock into how music can be defined. You might read every single article on Pitchfork and Resident Advisor and know exactly how the styles of different musicians interrelate, but you will never truly grasp their musical identity until you examine them on multiple levels.