Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Martinu, madrigals, and the mind

My younger son and I attended an excellent concert last night. Three musicians from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra – a flautist, a violinist, and a violist – performed a series of duos and trios. My favorite piece was Bohuslav Martinu's Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola, especially the lyrical second movement that gave the two players enough music to keep a string quartet busy.

After the concert, my son listened to me dilate on the beauty of the Three Madrigals and suggested that I buy a recording. While I will probably do this, what I really desired was to experience all the sights and sounds of the concert again. I wanted to once more watch the violinist concentrate as he played the difficult double stops. I wanted to watch the violist toss off some playful arpeggios. In short, I wanted to relive the concert.

A CD recording can faithfully reproduce the notes. A DVD video recording can give you all the notes plus the camera's view of the performers. But I wanted all this plus the freedom to look across the hall and see the reactions of other people in the audience. What does that plump lady think of the music? Are those shaggy-haired students affected by the playing? I wanted the complete human experience.

I suppose that modern science could record all that I saw and heard during the concert. A wide-field forehead camera controlled by two sensors that tracked my eye movements – all of this merely an application of electronics and geometry – could capture everything that I looked at. And microphones clipped to my ears could record the exact sound that I was hearing directly from the violin and viola and from their sound bouncing off the curved wooden panels behind the stage. Then it would be a straightforward matter to design a pair of wrap-around electronic goggles to project before my eyes what I had viewed during the concert, complete with images seen in peripheral vision. Put a good headset on my ears for the sound and presto! I would be essentially reliving the concert. (Sight and sound are sufficient for my enjoyment. I wouldn't care to relive the hall's chilly temperature, which caused me to pull my jacket close around my neck.)

In the distant future, electromagnetic fields might be used to excite neurons and allow us to directly replay concert memories as if they were CDs. We could watch the concert again in a trance state. Or perhaps we will avoid the bother of even attending the concert by having the concert directly downloaded onto our neurons, allowing us to relive an experience that we never actually lived before. Imagine the convenience. But there is no reason to restrict this scientific wizardry to musical concerts. I'm sure someday there will be a market for a futuristic Netflix that downloads nature walks, tourist visits to the Eiffel Tower, and honeymoon cruises straight to the mind. I hope that I live long enough to enjoy such a fancy, high-tech, neuron-stimulated life. For now, however, I'll try to make do with my own plain, simple, do-it-yourself life.