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Blog // Creativity
May 9, 2007

The 100% Correlation And The Benefit Of Good Audiences

The memory is still vivid for me of the first time I saw a modern, VHS and TV based home cinema setup in someone’s home. It was a dazzling, black and chrome display of electronic excess. After being run through the features and given a (way too loud) demonstration of the sound, the proud owner […]

The memory is still vivid for me of the first time I saw a modern, VHS and TV based home cinema setup in someone’s home. It was a dazzling, black and chrome display of electronic excess. After being run through the features and given a (way too loud) demonstration of the sound, the proud owner left me speechless by claiming they would never have to visit a cinema again.

I thought – how sad!

For the most part, I love the cinematic experience. Good films, like football matches, comedies and musical concerts are best shared with others, best experienced with crowds and best enjoyed in a collective environment of shared appreciation.

It’s a topic that Steven Everson considers in an excellent piece, Degrees of Silence, in the last edition of Prospect magazine. The home cinema owner was, to an exaggerated degree, only focussed on the negative aspects of an audience, – the inconveniences and potential for interruption. Of course, we would rather silence than distraction; but not all forms of silence are equal.

“The difference between a bored or indifferent silence and a silence of focused concentration is, perhaps surprisingly, keen.”

Everson makes the point that great audiences can bring our better performances from musicians. Moreover great audiences don’t just have a passion for the forms they consume, they are educated in them. One can often get a sense of this by comparing the audiences in the same jazz venues on say, a Monday or Tuesday night, versus the audiences on a Saturday night. Over the years I’ve meet many musicians and music lovers who, given the choice, would rather stay at home on a Saturday than struggle with the crowds on “amateur night.” The same holds true for film – I like weekends for catching up with friends, but if I want to see a serious film, I’ll always go for a midweek session. The best film audiences I have ever experienced were in London’s artier cinemas on weekday afternoons and nights.
The problem is that in many cities (even in London) it is hard to sustain enough events at low enough price to develop quality audiences. Everson puts it this way,

“…knowledge of, and interest in, classical music declines and institutions become increasingly anxious to maintain the size of their audiences, there will be an increasing temptation to market classical music as nothing more than good entertainment for a relaxing night out. If you are going to a concert as little more than an undemanding form of relaxation, however, you are less likely to feel that you can’t chat about the orchestra to the friend you’ve dragged along. Already, at the opera houses and the larger concert halls, the chances are not much more than even of being surrounded by people who are not going to whisper to each other at some point. And it only takes a couple of people to ruin a concert for those around them.”

My heart sank reading those lines, in part because my experiences here in Hong KOng have made me hope that somewhere, somehow, the audiences I adore still exist.
Having seen a lot of films here and not a few concerts, I’ve noticed a 100% correlation. 100% of the time someone near me in a film, concert or other performance will speak regularly and loudly in a disruptive fashion. It isn’t only ex-pats that do it, but it is always at least one ex-pat involved. I’ve never experienced anywhere else as consistently loud (even India!).

I’m trying to understand it, but that’s tough given the people doing it must have come from contexts where it was clearly unacceptable, selfish and plain ignorant to speak so loudly in an audience that people several rows away can hear you.

I hate to admit it, but the home cinema looks suddenly appealing.

[tags] Audience, Creative Class [/tags]

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