Los Angeles Philharmonic


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With the advent of amazing online videos, why are we still so compelled to experience live performance (music, sports games, dance)?

A recent online debate held by the New York Times asked the question: "Did YouTube kill Performance Art?". Almost overwhelmingly, the gut reaction from the public was a resounding 'no' - that even with the plethora of online videos from independent uploaders all over the world on platforms like YouTube, and even recorded sports games, dance, and TED Talks, we are still so compelled to watch the 'real' thing live.
What is it about live performance that makes us keep coming back?

Closing Statement from Robert Gupta

Thank you all for the great comments - I think we all certainly agree that a live performance is far and beyond an 'online' experience, and while YouTube creates a platform for independent expression that can potentially reach the world, nothing can substitute the intimacy of a communal experience taking place within a concert hall, between audience and performer, the performers onstage, and perhaps most importantly, amongst the audience itself. I believe that live performance moves us at a level that goes deeper than words (watch Denis Dutton's talk above), and is a throwback to our most primitive expression - we performed and made music and danced for each other before we had spoken word - and we did all these things to communicate something that would compel us to DO something. The live performance brings back that energy and community around the work of art presented. An interesting point for future exploration might be the biochemistry that takes place in our bloodstream during a communal event like a live concert - does the 'empathy' hormone, oxytocin, shown to rise during bonding and sports games - does that also happen during a live performance? I've certainly found that when I perform for those who may have no background or interest in classical music - the homeless and mentally ill - the same energy takes over a basement on skid row as it does in Disney Hall.

Thank you again for your comments - I wish all of you were in our audiences here in LA! We need more listeners like you!

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    Sep 2 2011: Robert, I think part of the reason why live performance is superior is RESOLUTION. technical resolution, i.e. size of image, SD vs. HD vs. IMAX vs. unobstructed center orchestra view; frames per second; quality of sound, lighting and projection if any; and how compressed and artifact-filled the image is all affect EMOTIONAL resolution. Experiment: watch a blobby low-rez clip of a music performance on youtube. Then watch the same thing on DVD, then a Blu-Ray, then LIVE. It's amazing the difference. Compressed video=compressed emotion.
    • Sep 2 2011: Fantastic point, Tom - the live performance creates the fewest sensory barriers between the audience and the expression on stage.
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        Sep 2 2011: And the fewest barriers between each member of the audience in that communal setting.
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    Sep 2 2011: Nothing beats a live performance for me -- the visible energy and passion of audience and performer alike is incomparable. However, live performances can certainly learn a lot from YouTube (etc.). YouTube videos can be viewed virtually anywhere, are virtually costless (excluding internet connection), and have few barriers to the music. Isn't that a truly powerful vision for classical music in the 21st century?
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      Sep 2 2011: Also, don't forget the "tweener" performances of the LA Phil and the Met at HD simulcast movie theatres...
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    Sep 2 2011: Energy.

    Just as someone can walk into your office and immediately you know they are in a bad mood, we gravitate toward someone who is confident and charismatic; that positive energy is infectious.

    You can watch the masters of our day and age generally on public television and be moved by their performance, but being in a room full of people, all being affected by the performance is a collective shared experience that I think many of us aren't even consciously aware of at the time.

    The same goes for a sports game. I'm not a big fan of sports and don't generally watch it on tv or the internet, but invite me to a live game and I'm there. The tension that strings through fans, the explosion of joy when the favored team scores simply can't be replicated anywhere else.

    The inclusion of technology in our daily lives I think will continue to morph our society, but there are still fundamentals which won't easily change and certainly not within our lifetimes. We're social creatures and we need to be around each other and are often rewarded for doing so. The more neuroscience develops the better the question of "why" will be answered, but I'm content for the moment with a simple "because".
    • Sep 2 2011: well said, Alexis - energy is as infectious on stage as in the audience - but during an event like a classical music concert, where you might not 'get' the music and its context - and are in a way 'forced' to remain quiet, do you still feel the same way?
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        Sep 2 2011: Very much so, yes. It's still an energy. The tone and feel is just different.
  • Sep 2 2011: As a performer, avid concert goer, and music scholar I have to say that the online video can be a great pedagogical tool as well as a form of entertainment, but it will never supplant the act of physically going to a live performance.

    This may be an odd comparison, but a few months ago my husband and I went to a live event of the UFC (mixed martial arts). We have been fans and watch the live event broadcast on pay-per view or cable tv. We are both musicians, so we know what it feels like to perform or see an event live, but had never gone to a live UFC event. Being physically at the arena, seeing two men try to out-wit each other, in the moment, was completely different from watching at the sports bar. The raw energy one feels from the other fans and the actual octagon is intoxicating, and it gives you a high that cannot be experience even if watching the event live over the tv.

    This raw energy that drive one to tears when seeing a Puccini opera, or two men beat the crap out of each other, that's what draws us to the live event.
    • Sep 2 2011: HA! Wow, Marysol - you've inspired me to go see a UFC fight - and certainly, we have our fair share of 'fights' onstage musically during a performance. What a fantastic perspective.
  • Sep 2 2011: A recent talk at TED Global 2011 in Edinburgh by neuroscientist Paul Zak struck me, as he talked about the 'empathy' hormone, oxytocin, which rises during close, emotional human contact, such as in a movie theater or a live sports game. Do you think the same thing happens in a concert hall?
    • Sep 2 2011: Exactly my point! A significant reason I go to live performances!
  • Sep 2 2011: Participation.
    We feel that we are participants when we are at live performances, but not at all with recorded performances. I think this is the biggest difference in the experience. "Yeah, I was there man." ever said that?

    Look, Im participating :D
    • Sep 2 2011: good point, and of course, to 'be there' is always the best. However, would you feel different if there were a live performance streamed over a medium like skype (with near perfect sound, good video, etc?) that made the performance interactive?
      • Sep 2 2011: That is a good question. I think I would feel more like a participant in a live - streaming than a recording (examples being watching the moon landing on tv, or burning man on ustream), but I think that it would be very low level of participation compared to being at the actual event.
        Media quality does help with the suspension of disbelief, but no matter how high the resolution, you still consciously know that you are not at the actual event.
  • Sep 2 2011: While online, virtual, performances have allowed many to access the arts as never before, a live performance is a irreplaceable "connect". The players, the sounds, sung or spoken, the sights are true to who we are. The computer is a barrier to experiencing the entire effect with all senses.
  • Sep 2 2011: I suppose there's also the phenomenon that the more we pay for something, the more value we tend to give it. So the $100 concert was significantly better than the $2 download.
  • Sep 2 2011: To add to my reply re: the connection I feel to a live performance etc... I don't get that feeling when I go to the movies. So it must have something to do with being in the physical presence of the performers as well. Perhaps the energy they are putting out also connects with the audience (me) and that's what brings us together as one unit flowing with the piece being performed?
    • Sep 2 2011: I think it's because you have respect for the live performer - that you wouldn't be so inclined to chat to your neighbor or check your cell phone, as you might during a movie - you know that someone has prepared for thousands of hours to present something to you. That's what makes the performance precious.
  • Sep 2 2011: Interesting topic which you can go on and on on for hours but I think the real question here is "what happens when our reality will melt into the reality of the virtual?" Are our emotions only bound to the ground and to metaphysics or they can simply be jump started through a technological advance/ tweak of the brain? An is that (and I hate using this word) moral?
    • Sep 2 2011: Hi Dino - a good few questions - I do feel sometimes that I can relive my memory of a great performance through a recording - and sometimes, that's all I need to experience the music most fully. The idea of YouTube and online video platforms is simply a representation of the real - so I would say that experiencing music through technology is moral, it's just clouded with noise (see Tom's point above). I think we can absolutely experience art and music through leaps of imagination and technology - and don't always have to be there.
  • Sep 2 2011: what i find most interesting is that the phenomenon of live performance can also be therapeutic to audiences that do not have access to it, or even to YouTube - the same energy that exists in a concert hall also exists when I play for audiences on skid row that suffer from homelessness and mental illness. To actively bring the music to audiences outside the venue reshapes the message of the music itself, and emphasizes the unifying force of a live performance.
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      Sep 2 2011: This also illustrates the point that "the medium is the message." The place that music is made in can have as much of an impact on the audience as the music itself. I hope that musicians continue to explore how space impacts their performance, and how they can change so much simply by taking their instrument somewhere else.
      • Sep 2 2011: do also remember that all TED talks are performances - Sarah Kay's talk above is a mixture of amazing performance art through spoken word, alongside her stunning talk. Bobby McFerrin says more through dancing through musical notes than any of the other neuroscientists on that panel...
  • Sep 2 2011: There is also the wabi-sabi of a live performance. It is imperfect, impossible to replicate, and transient. Such things are infinitely more valuable as they define a singular moment in our personal lives. Does one remember the exact time and place she first saw the youtube video? Does he recall who he was with? The weather that day? What she had for dinner just before or what country she was in?
    • Sep 2 2011: So you're saying there's something special about a live performance that heightens your senses 'in the moment', so to speak. Maybe that's why the whole day might feel special? I can certainly tell you that the performers on stage totally lose track of time. It's amazing when an audience joins us in that feeling.
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    Sep 2 2011: Hi Robert - great timing. I just returned from seeing Philip Glass perform a live, original score to Dracula projected outside on a large screen surrounded by redwoods -- It was AMAZING -- no way could an online video capture or re-create the feeling. Phew!
    • Sep 2 2011: it's interesting - we just did a performance with Philip Glass at the Hollywood Bowl, but the live performance was accompanied with a film - so in essence, we performed the film score with the movie playing. It was an amazing experience to be on stage with him, but I would have loved to have been amongst the redwoods - wow!
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        Sep 2 2011: It's amazing how much a live orchestra (or subset; it was Kronos Quartet conducted by Philip Glass) changes Dracula, one of the few sound films without any music. It's thrilling, visceral and fabulous.
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    Sep 2 2011: Live performance gives the performer the genuineness, and the spectator the genuity.
    In my opinion the reason behind enjoying the live performance as oppose to a "2D" performance is the fact that your favorite music is being played by your favorite artist at your arms reach (of-course you'd have to topple so many others.:D) but you get the idea. The fact that the sound is coming from something visually correct, something that you can DIRECTLY connect to, something from which even your senses feel the vibration from the sound waves (that are coming from the actual thing) is what makes it all worth it. I might be going too deep, but these are the hidden reasons i believe we still enjoy both classical or other genere music up front compared with best sound system out there.
    Its about the depth of what you can feel, compared to what you're willing to settle to. Because we all know, nothing can replace the natural (only attempts).
    • Sep 2 2011: I agree with your point about vibrations - certainly in classical music without amplification, we find that the quality of recordings still can not come close to the live experience. However, what is most special to me about live performances is the communal quality - that we bind together and unify in the experience of the expression taking place on stage. Great point, Deepak!
  • Sep 2 2011: There are several very powerful aspects of a live performance that are entirely lost without that experience. One which I find most meaningful to me is that the performance is not the only thing I am responding to. With a live performance there is also a live audience! How that audience reacts strongly influences our own experience. When we are holding our breath waiting for the next note, how much more special is it when hundreds of others are doing the same? We respond to each others laughter, sorrow, and joy.
    • Sep 2 2011: It's an interesting point, Richard - however, to play devil's advocate - I feel that in many classical music settings, the audience feels shuttered off from the experience, as if they are made to feel that they "must" be quiet - and that experience can lead to boredom. What brings energy to rock concerts and games is the atmosphere, the noise, the crowd - do you feel that same energy in a quiet concert hall?
      • Sep 2 2011: Have you ever heard Itzhak Perlman perform live? The energy in the concert hall was electric! Was everyone excited and involved? I don't feel shuttered off, rather I feel like the hushed silence is like the calm before a storm, or the eye of a hurricane. It is a sign of respect for the audience and the artist. Something that doesn't matter in a recording. You don't get to display your respect and appreciation for someone who you admire and respect.
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        Sep 2 2011: I think the "institution" of the orchestra, as well as the performance halls themselves, often create a clear divide between musician and audience. There is a place (literal and figurative) for audience members and musicians, and this often cannot be breached.

        While I'll give Richard the point that the hush of an audience is certainly reverent, it is this attitude that has contributed to dividing "orchestral" music from "popular" music, when they used to be one in the same.
        • Sep 2 2011: I think that there should be a separation! Not all the time, certainly, and I do recognize that distance detracts from developing more intimate relationships between performer and audience. However I like the variety! Sometimes I want to go to a rock concert, other times to a baroque. I like having that choice, I like the different experiences.
        • Sep 2 2011: This is a great point, Daniel - we do, especially in classical music, create a dissociation between the performer and audience. From the very formal attire, the parking, the 'sit down, shut up, turn off your cell phone', and the ticket price itself, I could see that going to a concert hall can simply be a hassle at the very start - and only a devoted listener, or one open to experiencing the event with an open mind, would gladly go through the first steps. More over, classical music is the only genre of music that is totally not mobile - that you MUST come to a concert hall to "experience" our version of musical culture. I'm not sure, in this internet video age, if that is a sustainable way to continue reaching audiences.
      • Sep 2 2011: The rules at a classical concert are rather stilted. i would like the crowd to be able to applaud after a particularly inspired portion of a piece, or at the end of a movement.
        • Sep 2 2011: they certainly are - and these norms are an old remainder from the German concert-hall age, where you had to be totally quiet during a symphony performance. However, even in Mozart's time, the audience talked, ate, and caroused throughout the performance.
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    Sep 2 2011: There's still a disconnect between seeing something live and watching the raw energy onstage, versus a marketed and pre-cut video that is MADE to look like something. Live performances can give you this incredibly magical feeling in the moment of seeing them.

    I remember seeing Maroon 5 perform live and being blown away by the sounds and experience. I went back to my hotel and downloaded their album the same night and was very disappointed. It doesn't capture the energy that performers put into their piece, which I think is truly special and worthy of being seen and felt by fans and listeners.

    It's the same reason technology hasn't truly replaced physical relationships and direct face-to-face communication. Being in person and experiencing something for yourself with all your senses is a very different experience from simply watching a video performance.
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      Sep 2 2011: Corvida, so you're saying that the energy of a live performance is what attracts you?
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        Sep 2 2011: That's part of it. When simply listening to music, the energy that a singer or songwriter had doesn't always come through clearly in my headphones. You miss a lot of the visual context also. With videos you get the visual context, but it lacks any real depth.
    • Sep 2 2011: I totally agree. Live performances can never be replaced by just listening or watching by yourself. For me, if i connect with the music and performers I feel as if I am part of the music etc. I also marvel at the fact that the audience (myself included) are all connected with the same focus for just that one hour or so.
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        Sep 2 2011: Now that's the kicker Vicky! Connecting with random people in the audience on music and a performance that you both enjoy. It's a pretty powerful moment and definitely doesn't come from watching music videos with friends.
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    Sep 2 2011: Truthfully, I think that the medium that attracts me, at the least, is the idea of supporting the artist. By going to a live performance, not only do I get to physically support the artist by being there and paying for a ticket, but I get to see him replicate his skill on a live basis. While anyone could have one good live recording, a truly great artist is able to replicate, and enhance his performance with each event. Also, I pay directly to him, which allows him to continually make content. So, in visiting him at a live show, I get the opportunity to support him and hopefully, indirectly inspire him to make more content.
    • Sep 2 2011: Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. Even more than that, a live performance is a communal event - I feel that a performance is a throwback to our time dancing and eating around a fire. It goes beyond entertainment alone.
      • Sep 2 2011: It even goes beyond the 'throwback to our time dancing and eating around the fire' . it takes us to an energetic place where we connect as one listening and focusing on music/performance. For that brief moment you loose self and connect to all...
  • Sep 2 2011: Hello there! Robert here - looking forward to beginning a conversation about performance art and its relationship to online video. What is it about live performance that keeps us coming back? I think a TED talk most pertinent to this question might be Denis Dutton's talk on the evolution of beauty - performance grabs us a level that goes deeper than words, and is able to move us from our very cores. Could a live performance be filling a need for communal gathering and experience in a social space?