I’ve been reading Bill Drummond’s book 17, about his choir The 17 and his battle against the superfluity and subsequent creative redundancy of recorded music, which he believes has run its course. I became a life member of The 17 by taking part in its performance at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle on 17 May 2006. You can read an account by one of my fellow choir members that very night here. It was a very intense experience. I find some of his ‘scores’ for the choir moving as well as provoking.
Drummond’s work arguably challenges one of the key thrusts of the new Arts Council plan, the ‘digital opportunity’. Is there a responsibility to preserve ‘live’ experiences? Are the performing arts blessed or cursed by the way in which so many shows happen live and you were either there, or you weren’t, and only memories remain? At the end of each performance by The 17, you get to hear the sound of the recording being deleted – how digital a live experience is that? But is the art theory that recording is dead simply that, a kind of art/anti-art gesture in line with many in Drummond’s rather brilliant past?
I’m torn on this. Digital technology opens up new ways of preserving and interpreting past live experiences – it can enrich the participation, as indeed Drummond’s use of multiple websites does for his argumentative art practice. Online distribution could perform the functions village libraries did historically, opening doors to the otherwise distanced.
But then, he’s also right that the very availability takes away the magic. I found a recording of a New Order concert – Blackpool, August 30 1982 to be precise – which I had remembered as one of the best concerts I’d ever seen: that memory was rather complicated, shall we say, by what I actually heard on the recording.
Anyway, I recommend 17 – and indeed his earlier book 45 - to anyone interested in art, music, technology or Bill Drummond: he’s full of ideas worth thinking about. But I’m not getting rid of my records for anyone.