Right before I began blogging tonight I had just finished attending an amazing and flawless performance by Paul Simon. While reviewing some passages in Benjamin's essay, "Art in the Age of Mechanical Production," I started to wonder about how the depreciation of the quality of presence in art might relate to one listening to a CD as opposed to attending a live concert. Benjamin, talking about how a work's "copies" can reach environments or situations the original could never on its own, says, "the situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated" (70). This is to say that a reproduction can never be as good as the original, because it lacks the affectation of "historical testimony," and as an object, loses it's authority.
But my question is, so what if you're not seeing the original? In a new age there are new ways of perceiving art as well as literature and any other discourse. Every book we read is written in a past time, then mass reproduced. Hardly anyone comes in contact with the original version of famous novels, yet thousands of people come into contact with the distributed copies. So the original has a more powerful "aura" than the rest, simply because it was written first. But wasn't it also revised and drafted several times before the first copy? I don't know if the original piece is really all that much more significant than the others. With our technology today you can see art through whichever lens you choose. We have programs at our fingertips that allow us to distort our perception of light and shadow to obtain information from a painting that would escape us if we viewed it with the naked eye? The original is important because it is a symbol of a completion of work, but does it really make that much of a difference?
Paul Simon, as you know is part of the duo Simon and Garfunkel. He performed songs from that group as well as choice songs from his own solo albums. I noticed (and a lot of artists do this live) that his melodies were often different from the original recordings. And thinking about it, it makes complete sense for them to change over the years. I figured that as a musician one would keep creating and shaping the song as you aged, even if you wrote it over twenty years ago. So even though he didn't sing it straight through like he does on the CDs, each time he represents a song he does so at that moment, unique from his other performances.
I've just got to say that it was truly a phenomenal performance and if you are not a fan of Paul Simon to seriously check him out on Spotify or iTunes. It was a great feeling to see an artist's presentation of his work right from a stage a few dozen yards in front of me. People will often agree that seeing a band/musician live is better than listening to the mp3 off of your computer.
One question I have to ask about this is, which one is the original - the song that has been introduced to the public, or the same song reproduced in a live performance by the musician himself? Can we compare one to the other, even if they are both in essence, originals?