I freely admit the obvious; I am in that category of individuals classified as a ‘Senior Citizen.’ On the whole, I like to think I have been adjusting generally well to this change in status. But occasionally I get reminded that I may have become just a little out of ‘synch’ with some of what is going on around me.
In order to not look like a totally unredeemable curmudgeon, I need to also confess I am completely out of step with what seems to be broadly accepted, contemporary entertainment trends. I should have absolutely no expectation that my antediluvian tastes and preferences have any relevance whatsoever. But that reality has never deterred me from the ‘old fart prerogative’ of railing on matters about which others wish I would just go away and shut up.
It seems there are signs that a couple of generations have come along and become the new trend and fashion setters. Back in the U.S., I learned how to pick and choose among the entertainment options to minimize the intra-generational disconnections. But now I am in the process of determining how best to fit into contemporary Italian culture. So more entertainment experimental dabbling is currently going on than I might have risked in the more familiar nine time zones west.
Here in the midst of architectural treasures reflecting multiple centuries, the town of Ascoli Piceno is determined to also show a more contemporary face. During the warm summer evenings when the main town squares become the community living rooms and meeting places, there is a free entertainment event almost every evening. And these events are most often accurately described in Italian as a spettacolare – a spectacular event. This includes a raised stage, incredible lighting complete with smoke generators and of course, a mega-sound system.
Actually, back in the U.S., I didn’t go to many movies because by the time I stuffed almost an entire wadded Kleenex into my ears to protect my aged eardrums, I lost some of the dialogue when it was presented at anything less than the sound of a jet turbine engine at full operational level. Needless to say, unlike some of my generation, I didn’t frequent many Pop Music concerts. As a result, I missed out on acclimating to the whole experience of being viscerally involved in the performance by subjecting my internal organs to rearrangement by high levels of sonic energy.
Here in Italy, I have been brought out of my self-imposed banishment from the modern entertainment world by attending events in the Renaissance Marble Piazza here in Ascoli. It is very evident to me that an international, sonic energy, arms race is underway. I had mistakenly picked up the impression the Italians were very concerned about the adverse aspects of nuclear energy. But to run these extreme light, sound, and smoke displays without dimming every other light in the entire Province they have to be employing a portable, nuclear power source.
A natural and polite conversational question the day after a spettacolare might be, “What did you think of the performance?” I would have to respond that I didn’t know for certain. Considering the amount of anything I could find loose that I had rammed into my ear canals for protection, plus the distortion of amplifying a reported human voice to a point beyond recognition, plus the distraction of having my ancient body pounded by sonic bass pulsations, not to mentioned the blinding lights projected and flashed into my eyes to the point of risking retinal separation – all make it more difficult for me to be sure what was actually being presented. But, the intent was accomplished – I did feel it!
Speaking of the presence of sound in the bass register, upon arriving early in the Piazza, I have looked over the sound and lighting equipment. Mind you, I’m not a total Luddite. I enjoy working with digital imagery and am very defensibly ‘geeky’ in my approach to my Mac computer equipment. So there has been some level of curiosity about all the wires and stuff in these concert venues. But when I see four so-called Sub-Woofers, each approaching the size of a Fiat Cinquecento automobile, I know we are in trouble. These ancient walls probably haven’t felt this much assault since the siege of the troops loyal to the Borgia Popes.
And, you also have a Festa – a big communal party where vendors try to outdo each other sonically. There was a big, all-night Festa on a recent Saturday evening. We strolled through the Piazza early to see what was going on as each competing venue started powering up by pulling out the control rods on their respective nuclear reactors. This was clearly to be a high stakes, high energy, sonic-testosterone contest – the prospect of which did not bode well in my mind.
Then, on a side street, we happened upon one of our favorite restaurants that had set up a real grand piano outside in front of their establishment. It was early and the piano tuner had just finished his ministrations and another individual sat down to see if the piano was in order. The pianist started to play Gershwin and Sondheim with incredible virtuosity. As we stood in the stone street listening to this wonderful, purely acoustic piano playing naturally reverberating off ancient pavement and stone walls – we were transported. But then the sound-system geek guy showed up and started setting up the nuclear reactor. The piano playing stopped and we did not go back.
One evening just a few weeks earlier, we had attended a free concert of sacred music in the Cathedral of Saint Emidio here in Ascoli. The program was Schubert and Mozart presented with a full concert choir, a full orchestra and four very excellent soloists. Not only was the quality of the musicianship excellent, it was being presented in the kind of acoustic venue that the composers had in mind when the works were created. The music reached our ears acoustically, directly from each musician. There was not a piece of electronics in sight. For me, the experience was incredibly rich not only for the quality of the presentation but also, in part, because I could risk having my ear canals open to acoustically direct, un-manipulated, fabulous sound.
OK, so I admit it – I’m the one out of step! But in self-defense maybe the real point is that each generation affirms itself as distinct from the previous one by setting their own unique styles and preferences. I hope I’m not a snob when it comes to music choices. I like to think I have a rather wide range of preferences from jazz through whatever classical music is supposed to be. I seem to have a preference for a melody and musical tempo I can follow and a more intimate, direct, acoustical experience that does not risk doing me bodily harm.
Back when my musical tastes were being formed we didn’t have nuclear reactors at our disposal to sonically, directly involve our internal organs. If there had been, I hate to admit it, we might have used them too. But in the here and now, for me if there are electronics involved, I don’t want it running rough shod over the acoustical performance nor being an assault I have to defend myself against.
So quite predictably, I’m back to where I was in the U.S. I’m really content to let those who want a more high energy, intensely viscerally involved form of entertainment enjoy it to their hearts content. The obvious truth is there is really not a damn thing I can do about it anyway– except stay home and listen to one of my Brubeck or Oscar Peterson, or Bach B minor Mass CDs. Plus, thank God, there are still some isolated pockets of ‘old farts’ like me who gather to listen to, rather than being bombarded by, music. Another generation prefers their choices and I prefer mine. Not a bad resolution actually. I’ll really try and stop bitching about their choices and hope they don’t bitch too loudly about mine.