Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stop and smell the roses

What a beautiful experiment. What an ugly result.

[There's a cynical statement to be made here as well. How many people would have stopped and listened if they'd *known* he was "was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made". Same kind of folks that comment on an 'insouciant little pinot'... after hearing the price.]

Thanks to Souris, Hustler of (high and low brow) Culture, for the pointer.


Anonymous said...

Here's the funny thing.
The same thing happenned at CES.
Sony hired Joshua Bell to play violin in the middle of their booth amidst all the gadgetry and whirligigs.
I was actually in their booth right when he was playing. Even though he was clearly a 'somebody' (what with the stage and all the hushed people around him), and even though one of the people I was with said 'omigod that's Joshua Bell - that's unbelievable', I gave it a good 40 second listen and then moved on to look at the next bright and shiny gadget. Ahem, did I mention that Sony's OLED displays were really beautiful?

Ben Mattes said...

I don't know what to feel after reading this. When I started the article I felt compelled to seek try and find "Chaconne" to listen to while I read. Towards the end I felt compelled to look up Joshua Bell's personal page and try to learn a little bit more about him.

When I finished reading I wrote him an email to say that his little experiment has made me realise something fundamental about myself. I'm one of those people who likely would have walked right by, not because I don't/can't appreciate musical talent or classical music, but because I can almost garuntee my mind would have been focused on a work or life issues that was consuming me, distracting me from that serendipidous little peace of beauty that life would have thrown my way.

Thats sad. I need to change that.

brian said...

While I was reading the article I was thinking to myself, "Of course that's what happened, how could they be surprised?"

Only after I read the whole article did I watch any of the videos, and Good Lord, his playing is so incredible, it's striking.

I like to think I wouldn't be one of those people who would have walked right by, but it's very likely I would have had my mp3 player going and not noticed.

Reading that actually made me tear up a bit. Not because I think it's wrong that people didn't stop and listen. Even as striking as the music is, that seems like it's to be expected. One of the things that I couldn't handle about San Francisco was just the stimulus density. I think it's like white noise on a TV screen. It's so much information that the brain goes numb and it actually becomes no information at all.

Still, I agree with Ben. It's sad. I was listening to a lecture given by Pema Chodron, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, and she was talking about this guy, Jarvis, who began meditating only after being imprisoned for armed robbery after a pretty awful life, and is now on death row, and got to go outside just for an ear exam, once, and had 2 hours of (highly supervised) freedom. He just drank in the experience of the world, nose pressed up against the glass, and was present for the entire 2 hours.

Pema talks about how she tries to do that as a practice, now, and even for her, 30 years a Buddhist nun, she says it lasts about 5 minutes, or "until it stops being entertaining, really." It's just so hard.

I'm still pretty stunned that more people didn't stop, having listened to his performance. It's just breathtaking, and I know next to nothing about classical music.

Patrick said...

I'm self-employeed, so I could've listened to him for the whole 45 minutes. I would've requested a violin rendition of "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple.

That woman was right, only in DC.

Thanks for linking.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing underscores the power of branding, marketing and context. Basically, this experiment clearly shows that without people being explicitly told that this was something special, they did not have the independent ability to recognize the most mind-numbingly excellent quality product. On the other hand, put a little marketing around an inferior product (Britney) and the masses will come.

But here's the other thing. What if this is actually an experiment in reverse and someone now told us that the article was a fake and that the person in the video clip was just a mediocre violinist. Those of us who watched the videos and responded to this story by asking "how couldn't people have stopped" would now be feeling foolish - they were simply responding to the 'marketing' of the newspaper article...

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