Black ink impressed on paper in specific patterns is decodable by a very large segment of the population. Part of the infrastructure we depend upon for our daily conversation is the machinery to put ink on paper, produce large numbers of copies and deliver an individual copy to an endpoint for consumption and decoding. Information, thought and opinion is defused into the language of our society to be discussed, ignored, judged and routed or relayed to others. The speed and regularity of this system are a key part of its economics and value proposition.
The discussion around the merits and demerits of classical music is one of the threads delivered through the news/ink/paper system. The other night I went to see Alex Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, in conversation with Joshua Kosman, the SF Chronicle music critic. Ross is touring the country in support of his book on classical music in the 20th century called “The Rest is Noise.”
One of the threads of the discussion addressed the fact that classical music criticism is disappering from America’s daily newspapers. Music critics are being dropped and they aren’t being replaced. The conversation is dying out as expressed through the medium of daily ink. People are still talking, but the economics of daily ink no longer can support it as a venue. Certainly it continues in both weekly and monthly ink. Our daily conversation about classical music becomes a gypsy looking for more hospitable environs.
Rather than the typical ‘the Internet killed the newspaper’ meme, Alex Ross was very positive about how the conversation had moved into a new home and in many respects is now more lively. Ross’s own blog is perhaps a model for capturing the swarming interest around a particular performance, topic or conversation. He can go very deep into an obscure composer, make a stunningly poetic link between Wallace Stevens and Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, or compare Queen and Aaron Copland.
There was a moment in the stream of our public conversation when a publication like Life Magazine could focus our attention on the work of someone like Jackson Pollack. An editor could set the topic and the nation weighed in. We hated Pollock. We loved Pollock. Our kid could do that. We never understood it or knew about it until now. Discovery was delivered to us in our mailboxes. Alex Ross is no Life Magazine, but he now has the tools to put both the major cultural event and the little experimental downtown concert in front of us.