It’s kind of amazing that this needs to be a thing, and can be seen as an avant-garde phenomenon: a distraction-free concert.
In classical circles, a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by a rising-star pianist like Igor Levit would be enough to compel attention…. Yet this week, at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory, Levit’s live performances will be surrounded by an additional artistic program that is meant to complement the presentation of Bach’s enduringly popular piano work. For these dates, Levit is collaborating with artist Marina Abramović on an installation environment, intended to deliver the audience into a collective state of purer listening.
Upon entering the Armory, ticket-holders will be presented with numbered keys, which will lead to individual lockers installed in the venue’s spacious foyer. Inside a specific locker, each audience member will find an initial round of instructions (to surrender their cellphones, watches, computers, and other trappings of the distracted self). Then, in the Armory’s massive Drill Hall space, attendees will be given noise-canceling headphones before choosing one of the reclining deck chair-style seats (arranged in the round).
At first, there will be nothing at all in the auditorium’s makeshift center. And for 30 minutes, listeners will be required to wait, in silence and near-darkness.
The performance will begin after that.
I love the idea of immersing listeners in 30 minutes of silence before the concert (even if some number of them nod off); and doing it before playing the Goldberg Variations will heighten the experience in a way that a half hour of slience before, say, a Mono concert might not.
But it’s also kind of amazing that this is a performance piece, and that we have to have something like this to remind us of the virtue of silence.
Actually, I also suspect that we’re also seeing silence turned into a luxury. Like water, which has gone from a basic human right to just another commodity (albeit one that you can’t live without), I suspect that we may be in the midst of a reconceptualization of silence– and its attendant stillness, a lack of competition for your attention, etc.– as something you need to pay for, like private security or a concierge. Or fresh food.
It would be sad if that happens, but not surprising.