Which is better, musically speaking, the old or the new? Which are more effective – vintage techniques or cutting-edge technologies? Should we, as artists and fans, look to the past or toward the future?
There is, of course, no true answer and yet, these are questions I find myself contemplating lately. I know I tend to embrace the ancient and archaic, preaching the gospel of tube amps and vinyl records. That’s my preference. It doesn’t make it right.
I bring these rather foundational and fundamental questions up because as quickly as the digital age allows us to flash forward, there’s still significance in doing things the way we used to.
On one side of the argument sits Augusta-bred singer-songwriter Will McCranie. Although McCranie, now a New York resident, only occasionally appears in Augusta, he clearly didn’t believe that was any reason not to have a hometown record release party. In fact, he celebrated his new single, the rather infectious Ain’t That Strange?, with an intimate performance that was Web cast to any hometown than might be interested. His digital campaign doesn’t end there, however.
He has also put together an impressive electronic press kit, a polished making-of documentary and has ensured that the song is available on digital retailers such as Amazon and iTunes. It’s the kind of push that seems more appropriate for an album rather than a single song, but it is working.
People were curious about the event and, by association, have become familiar with the song.
ON THE OTHER SIDE of the coin is the Miller Theater.
On Saturday, I had the very great pleasure to be part of the first audience at the storied Broad Street venue since the mid-1980s. The event was arranged to give those charged with restoring the theater an acoustic baseline to work from.
A small chamber orchestra attracted warm bodies on a cold day, an audience, with the help of some carefully arranging batting, replicated what an orchestra and audience might sound like in the as-yet undetermined future.
The answer – pretty good.
While there is clearly work – a massive amount – to be done before the Miller is ready to again open its doors, chances are when it does the sound will be fantastic. The woodwinds didn’t bounce and echo. The low rumble of the bass and timpani stood out. The strings, unamplified, soared to the back wall, clean and clear. It was remarkable, but not magical.
There is an easy explanation for why music sounded so spectacular in the faded glory of the cold, cold room. That’s the way the Miller Theater was built. It was built with dense brick and plaster. It was built with high ceilings and a low-slung balcony. It was built with comfort, clear sightlines and, most important, acoustics in mind. There’s no digital trickery, no hidden electronics altering what an audience hears. There’s nothing but old fashioned craftsmanship, the kind of craftsmanship that no longer seems to exist.
So what is the answer? Is the future of music to be ceded to the youngbloods or the old school? Will technology lead us into the future or does the very nature of music necessitate taking a more traditional approach? The answer is probably a little of both. I hope so.