Chambers’ research, which included interviewing people after concerts, found those who approached unfamiliar music with curiosity were more likely to be engaged by it. He points to the way exhibitions of contemporary art are marketed around the idea of discovery and arousing intellectual curiosity, sometimes integrating back-story of what an artist is trying to achieve – which is rare in curating music.
Often our reaction is reduced to “like” or “not like”, which plays into the binary “thumbs up/thumbs down” presentation of music digitally. This pushes people into such sealed content bubbles that up to 20 per cent of Spotify’s music has never been listened to. The algorithms applied make it almost impossible for someone to have an epiphany by discovering something wildly different which they love. Nor – unlike the careful programming on some specialist radio stations – will listeners be eased into the esoteric via the reassuringly familiar.
Beyond unfamiliarity, another hurdle is duration. When one is used to music coming in three-minute bites, the sheer length of a Mahler symphony or an extended improvisation can be daunting. Half a century ago rock smoothed the path by employing its own extended forms, and these days contemporary ensembles like The Necks do their bit by playing hypnotic hour-long improvisations that attract a loyal, worldwide following.
Concerts are clearly the most effective way of converting people to new music. Chambers has taken people to austraLYSIS performances who would not usually have attended. “When you sit them down and expose them to it,” he says, “they’re quite amazed at the kind of sounds that reach their ears.”
He applauds discursive introductions that help people make sense of the sounds to which they’re being exposed. The late music educator and conductor Richard Gill used to do this brilliantly with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Another useful starting point is film scores, which can tune people’s ears to more adventurous sounds via the dissonances and jagged rhythms routinely found in thrillers, for example.
The challenge is putting people in the room in the first place. Dean and austraLYSIS are hoping to expand people’s listening habits via a series of hi-resolution videos that combine concert footage with discussion and explanation from both creative and scientific standpoints.
These are available online now.
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