“Music is to the soul what words are to the mind.”
— Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
As of late, one of my favorite things to do has been to listen to live versions of pieces of music.
It doesn’t really matter what genre of music it is, nor does it matter what medium the music was used for — I’ve been enjoying everything from rock band concert recordings to live performances of video game scores. But what exactly about live music is so captivating and special?
A lot of people tend to not like live performances of music, at least not when compared to versions of the track that are recorded in a professional studio, then edited by the industry’s finest so that every chord, melody, and lyric fit together perfectly in one flawless form. Music performed live is simply not going to be like this. Even the best musicians in the world will not be completely perfect, resulting in moments where a vocalist begins singing just slightly too early, or an instrumentalist plays their melody at a tempo that’s just a little bit inconsistent. And, of course, musicians like to have some fun by intentionally mixing up some notes or performing mini-solos in the middle of a song.
I can understand why people don’t like when this happens. Complete consistency and uniformity absolutely have their merits, and I think it’s something that should be strived for in certain contexts. If you want a piece of music to smoothly fit into the backdrop of a film scene, for example, noticeable inconsistency may draw the audience’s attention away from the scene and onto the inconsistency itself. That’s not good. But when listening to pieces of music on their own, without any external context to consider or worry about, I think there’s something very special about the qualities of live music. Inconsistency and imperfection, to me, are traits that should be accepted and appreciated.
We, as human beings, are inherently not perfect, and we’re also incredibly far from consistent. Our moods change constantly. We grow to like new things and to dislike others. We fall in and out of love. We make mistakes. And all of that is okay.
For this reason, I feel connected to live music in a very human way. There’s something intimate and soulful about the fact that live music accurately reflects the people who play it, and also the people who listen to it, too. When you take away the effects of the editing room and the producing studio, music has such a natural quality to it that strikes a chord within me.
Take these two pieces of music, for example. The first version is the one that appeared in the full release of NieR: Automata (I’ve written about this game before) while the second is a live performance of the same music played in a special concert dedicated to the game.
Both are amazing. But there’s something I find so charming and beautiful about the inconsistencies of the version played live in front of an audience. The way the audience’s clapping isn’t perfectly on beat, or the way that the violinists in the orchestra change their melody near the end of the song. The tiny differences between each lyric sung by the vocalists. The best way I think I can describe it is that the music sounds textured. There’s a certain kind of depth to it that I think you can only get with these “imperfections.”
Music is often said to be an extension of ourselves, and I think live music and all of its perfect imperfections show that more than meticulously-edited digital music ever can.
If you’re an avid music-listener, I highly recommend that you try listening to live performances of your favorite songs. You will discover, as I have, just how beautiful it can truly be.