Thursday, January 3, 2013

Audience I.Q.

In a chapter from David Byrne’s “How Music Works” he explains how he invited a famous Peking Opera actor to observe a Talking Heads concert.  One piece of advice the actor gave was that you need to let the audience know something is going to happen before it happens.  When David questioned that advice, (why would you want to ruin a surprise, for example) the gist of the answer was “audiences are dumb”.

Now, this wasn’t meant to insult the intelligence of the members so to speak, but that to state when you’re trying to show the audience this really cool thing over HERE, half of them may be looking over THERE instead.  You see this all the time with people filming taiko – they’ll record 2 minutes of someone playing a straight beat in the back while an awesome solo is happening five feet away.

This phenomenon happens a lot when people make mistakes, too: someone drops their bachi on stage and later a friend or family member says “I didn’t see that!   When did you drop it?”  It’s not always a bad thing when they miss something, but it tells you that there’s truth to the advice given above.

On the other hand, sometimes the audience picks up what no one else caught or thinks about.  We’ve been asked questions about the position of our knot in our obi, certain drum angles, ethnicity and gender ratios, and other questions that would be very hard to predict.  When we started using a different manufacture of taiko, several people noticed the change in sound as well.

Let’s face it – often we are the audience, watching a performance.  We think we’re catching it all but who really knows?  Ever have a friend (or a crowd of people) react in awe to something and you having to ask “what?  What happened?”  It happens to us all.

Sometimes what you plan in your head for a soloing move may not be seen by the audience, even if they’re looking right at you.  Both subtle things and fancy things can easily get lost no matter how much you’ve worked on something, no matter how cool you think it is.  

What the audience does tend to notice is confidence.  Confidence “sells”.  The most practiced, the most comfortable players have that kind of confidence, EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT THE MOST SKILLED.   I can’t stress that enough!  A simple pattern, delivered with repetition by a confident player, will have more impact on the audience than anything fancy or done with a frantic look.  That’s not to say they won’t get bored after 30 seconds of a confident don don don don don don don   Is an audience’s ability to hone in on confidence easily a good thing?  Does it mean they're "smarter" because of that ability or "dumber" because they're drawn to it?
To sum up?  The audience is dumber than you expect, but smarter than you realize.

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