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David Byrne at TED – The venue determines the music

I enjoyed David Byrne’s talk at TED today. He put forth a theory of creativity that runs contrary to the romantic model. Instead of thinking of creativity as a thing that emerges from the force of soemone’s specific artistic bent, he walked through the history of music and showed how music styles have been highly determined by the venue in which it was played — gregorian chants in the cathedrals, lilting Mozart pieces in parlors, subtle classical in giant concert halls, punchy rhythmic music in small venues where you have to be heard over the crowd, crooners and singers abetted by the microphone to whisper in your ear. Creators think ahead to the space in which the music will be heard, and create for that venue.

I think there’s a strong analogy to the evolution of the moving picture, from those strangely lascivious brief dramas of the nickelodeon to the Academy ratio of the silver screen, widescreen efforts leading to visual spectacles, television shows where close-ups have dominated, etc. The space of the filmic presentation guides the creator as to what they will make.

  1. Yes and no.

    Yes, venues, which is another name for audiences, essentially determine the direction of popular, consumer art. It is the survival of the fittest in a given environment. The “fittest” meaning merely what best fits contemporary tastes; not what might be best according to any other standards of quality, strength intelligence or creativity.

    No. As in Vincent van Gogh, who satisfied no venue, who had an audience of one, and that a loving brother. Byrne’s thesis crashes from the force of a unique artistic bent, one that happens to not bend to venue formulae.

    Creators don’t think ahead to the boxoffice, entertainers do. Which is not a fault, merely a stategy for success.

    Did Byrne reflect on musical creators like John Cage and Frank Zappa? Or weren’t their venues large enough to be considered significant? Did they neglect to think ahead?

  2. BJMe, van Gogh became very popular … after his death. His work influenced many … after his death. He is now considered to be one of the greatest painters … all these things happened after he died.

    From the way you’re interpreting Byrne’s venue theory, it sounds like the venue that the artist is creating his work for has to be this solid, tangible entity that already exists (a certain group of people, a particular concert hall, etc…). I think there’s an element of faith in true genius. Who’s to say that van Gogh was not sensing the venue for his art when he created it? Even if that venue and audience was not meant to appear in his lifetime?

  3. D’oh! I totally forgot to answer my own rhetorical questions. Yours too!

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