The Midnight Noise Orchestra

On January 14, 2012 (a Saturday) the Bismarck-based band The Midnight Noise Orchestra (TMNO can be heard here) rolled over on the I-94 to Fargo to oblige a recording with Prairie Public studios. I couldn’t help but thinking of a lot of the recording freedoms technology affords us nowadays through devices that are sensibly priced and that pretty much ensure anyone in any basement or professional studio can capture quality audio and video. It also reminded me of one of my many favorite R.G. Collingwood passages, this one coming from his 1930s work, The Principles of Art (1938). My remarks [are embedded within brackets] like these. Collingwood:

A January 14, 2012 photo of The Midnight Noise Orchestra. The photo was orchestrated about four hours and forty five minutes before midnight in downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

…The printing-press [stay with me here] separates the writer from his audience and fosters cross-purposes between them. The organization of the literary profession and the ‘technique’ of good writing, as that is understood among ourselves, consist to a great extent of methods for mitigating this evil; but the evil is only mitigated and not removed. It is intensified by every new mechanization of art. [italics are mine] The reason why gramophone music [a cutting edge technology in the 1930s much as Web 2.0 and 3.0 is cutting edge in 2012] is so unsatisfactory to any one accustomed to real music is not because the mechanical reproduction of the sounds is bad — that could be easily compensated by the hearer’s imagination — but because the performers and the audience are out of [direct] touch. The audience is not collaborating, it is only overhearing. The same thing happens in the cinema, where collaboration as between author and producer is intense, but as between this unit and the audience non-existent. Performances on the wireless have the same defect. The consequence is that the gramaphone, the cinema, and the wireless are perfectly serviceable as vehicles of amusement or of propaganda, for here the audience’s function is merely receptive and not concreative; but as vehicles of art they are subject to all the defects of the printing-press in an aggravated form. ‘Why’, one hears it asked, ‘should not the modern popular entertainment of cinema, like the Renaissance popular entertainment of the theatre, produce a new form of great art?’ The answer is simple. In the Renaissance theatre collaboration between author and actors on the one hand, and the audience on the other, was a lively reality. In the cinema it is impossible. (Collingwood, 1938:323)

So essentially what Collingwood is saying is that it’s okay to watch TMNO on television, but it’s way better to see them live and in-person because stage actor and audience watchers actively participate in this artistic process and expression. In other words, nothing can replace live music. This as opposed to watching TMNO on television which, as television watching goes, often induces a trance-like coma in the viewer. In this vein Clay Shirky has written and talked and lectured at length on how much energy humanity expended on television watching, also noting the dangers of a society and civilization that knows Hollywood television characters better than they know the next door neighbor (I suppose there is also a danger or sadness in blogging instead of having conversations with the person in the next room). Anyhow, go see TMNO, or ask the person in the next room or text that friend just down the way to see if they want to go get a cup of coffee, real time.

Update: As YouTube continues providing the world with democratized conduit, this an ability to upload localized events and stream them to anyone with an internet connection (Totalitarian Governments are working on ways to curb this), below are some embedded videos that may or may not make or reflect or counter the Collingwood and Shirky point(s) above.

This was filmed at the Belle Mehus in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota.

This video was captured in one of TMNO’s top secret basement recording studios in Burleigh County, North Dakota. The opening remarks have a kind of Motörhead feel to them.

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