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Pearls Before Swine...er, Breakfast?

by April 09, 2007

I knew that our population as a whole was drifting away from an appreciation of fine music and making its way towards the apathetic digestion of MP3 and spoon-fed label music. I knew this because of the many signs and indications we've seen along the way since the introduction of the iPod back in 2001.

What I didn't expect was that the general public could ignore a masterpiece when it was staring them in the face.

I was wrong.

The Washington Post, one of my favorite political and editorial rags, decided to see exactly how far we have gone away from appreciation of the fine arts. To provide the basis for this test, they hired none other than Joshua Bell - internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso to position himself at L'Enfant Plaza in downtown Washington DC.

The results are humbling and tell at least the partial story of why we will never EVER see a dedicated high resolution audio format ever again. It is unmarketable. Given the results of this test - there is no reason any company, manufacturer or industry organization should ever spend any serious efforts in deluding themselves that the public really wants high definition. They don't. And when a $100/ticket (cheap seats, mind you) artist is plunked down (with reasonable acoustics I might add) a scant 10 feet away, the resulting apathy is deadening.

I for one, can't say for a shadow of a doubt that I would have stopped to listen - but if past indication means anything I would have. Alas, to me this is a social commentary - not to be diverted by the whims of audio aficionados or enthusiasts.

Joshua Bell played for 45 minutes in downtown Washington DC near the metro and only seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance. Twenty-seven people gave a grand total of just over $32, most without breaking stride. That left, according to the Washington Post's count, 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious to the performance, some only a few feet away.

A sad commentary indeed - but informative to those who wish to get a good look at where our society is and how our fast pace may be robbing us from even the smallest enjoyments of life itself.

Read the original article at the Washington Post.

About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Rock&Roll Ninja posts on April 12, 2007 14:55
Hmmm….. people rushing to work didn't stop to watch a guy dressed like a bum (in the financial district Bell was dressed like a bum) play the violin and somehow culture is dead? Please. People just dont want to lose their jobs.

Put him on Time's Square and he'd make $300/hr from the tourists.

Central Park has a variety of FREE classical concerts during the summer and always have crowds.
ddubb posts on April 12, 2007 04:30
So not everyone can appreciate the difference between someone who may have been classically trained, is really really good but just barely not up to par for making a living at it, and someone who really is cream of the crop. A co-worker of mine has a son who auditoned and got a job with the Milwaukee WI symphony. His instrument is the tuba and there were 600 applicants.

I wouldn't have noticed Mr. Bell's special talents. Had I been in NY on that day, it would have been as a tourist. I love street musicians and definitely would've stopped. I'm sure I would've been impressed. But I probably wouldn't appreciate fully his special ranking as a musician. I don't know **** about classical.

Now if Ron Carter had been out there playing jazz bass, I would've been stopping strangers on the street to convince them that this guy is way better than the majority of jazz bassists in the world. I would've recognized his talent in a second. He's one of the musicians I've been using to test speakers as I've been recently shopping.

CD's are slightly less sound quality than vinyl, but the trade off of convenience is worth it for most. Mp3 is lower than CDs but the convenience trade off is worth it. Pirated mp3s are even worse. The world's most popular digital music player won't even expose the difference between a song ripped at 320 kbps and one much lower, ipod sound quality is worse than a decent CD walkman… but the convenience trade off…

The backlash is inevitable and already occurring. A recent local newspaper interviewed a small record store that's been selling fewer CDs but has seen a resurgence in vinyl sales.
Rob Babcock posts on April 11, 2007 17:41
I was discussing the article with a coworker; he hadn't heard of Bell by name but is a musician and appreciates classical. He made the point that if he'd have been playing in a park he'd have probably gotten a better response. In the station people were on a schedule and many didn't have time even if they had noticed. But in a part presumably people would be more at ease and engaged in leisure activities, thus more predisposed to stop and appreciate a great artist.

Me, I'd have stopped! Unless I knew I'd get fired or miss an appointment I dare not miss, I wouldn't have blown a chance to see a legend play a $3 million dollar violin ten feet from me! And I'm familiar enough with him to be pretty sure I'd recognize Bell. Maybe I wouldn't if he sat next to me in a bar and ordered a beer, but combine the face with the sublime sound and you'd have a dead giveaway!
captain_tinker posts on April 11, 2007 16:34
Somehow I got a gray chiclet for my reply… Not sure, is a gray chiclet good or bad or what? Not that I really care, I stand by my analysis, and after reading some of the other posts, I can also see their point of view too.

-capT
Jack Hammer posts on April 11, 2007 05:06
After thinking about it a bit I came to the conclusion that this test was flawed and biased from the onset. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the people who dreamed it up actually expected results similar to what they ended up with. Based upon my personal actions and experiences I think they would have gotten dramatically different results if they had chosen someplace outside, be it a park or a city sidewalk.

The majority of people who are going through a city train station have been ‘conditioned’ to ignore the bums, panhandlers, musicians, singers, and whatever else comes at them. This is magnified when trains are leaving every few minutes. When one has 15 minutes to wait for the next train, they relax and begin to pay more attention to their surroundings. When the next train is pulling up any minute you still feel pressed to reach your goal of getting on it.
The focus of attaining this goal leaves them predisposed to ignore the distractions that may otherwise nudge at their attention.

To really put forth an honest experiment they should have done something similar on a sidewalk. I think that more people would have listened to the music and spent a minute or two to stop and appreciate it.

Jack
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