Sunday 29 April 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

I was recently at a concert by the Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca at The Barbican. He was already into the third track of a superb set, one where he was showing off the skills that have marked him off as the must-watch musician from the Caribbean island in the last couple of years, when my attention was diverted to a small light flickering on and off to my right. Whilst a silence, so dead that you could've actually heard a fly let one drop, reigned in the auditorium, a punter busied himself with taking photos of the Cuban prodigy on his cameraphone.

Now, mobile devices operating as descendants of Louis Daguerre's famous invention are nothing new. Their ubiquity is part of this century's landscape. But there's a time and a place for everything and I just feel that we've sacrificed our common sense to modern technology.

When that phone lit up to my right, followed by equally small flickers here and there, Fonseca was halfway through one of the stand-out numbers in his latest album, "Yo" ("Me"). Quien Soy Yo (Who am I) is a piano-driven ballad that aims to explain somehow the solipsistic title of his new record. By opting to use his phone's built-in camera instead of the natural lenses he was given when he was born, this spectator was not only ruining his experience of the show (his choice) but also mine (albeit partially; luckily, I can easily block out most unpleasant "intrusions" like that one). As it's often the case when I've been confronted with a similar situation in the past, my reaction was to question the motives behind his action.

Let me make it clear that there was no noise coming from the device. Everytime the shutter tripped, there was just silence in its wake. But that still doesn't make what happened right. The mobile phone's screen was large enough for me to take an interest in what Roberto Fonseca looked like on it. And, of course, I didn't want my eyes to turn in that direction. Furthermore, the punter's camera seemed to be the signal other members of the audience in the same mindset were waiting for and within seconds, minute bursts of light appeared in the theatre, like fires lit by cavepeople attempting to communicate with each other.

What was this person's motivation when he pulled out his Lilliputian photographic tool? Did he want to hold on to this moment for eternity? No, I don't think so. If so, why record this instant on a gadget where it's so easy to lose it? Press the wrong button afterwards and that image of a fuzzy, shaky Fonseca will end up in the same place as that beach in Cornwall, or your partner standing next to one of the lions in Trafalgar Square, or your sister making faces with a wig on, or your little nephew attempting his first cartwheel. In the virtual bin. Was his motivation then part of the modern compulsion that dictates people live their lives online 24/7? More like it. The likelihood is that both the photos and clips taken on that cameraphone ended up on You Tube, Vimeo, Facebook or any other social platform. Notwithstanding the fact that the unsteady handwork probably rendered the final product unclear and jerky, resembling more a male adolescent's spasmosdic, nocturnal excursion into Eros' country.

Time was when the only mementoes with which we walked away from a concert were a T-shirt, a cap (or beanie hat nowadays), a copy of the album by the artist we'd just seen (especially if it was, as at Fonseca's concert, a new record) and the ticket stub, which overnight became one of the most valuable keepsakes in some people's lives. But now, with the advent of cameraphones, all that is almost gone - there was still, I must admit, an orderly queue outside the auditorium at the end of the concert with people waiting for Fonseca to autograph their copy of "Yo" - and what we have instead is a collection of blurred images, bad audio and distraction to others. Which makes a flatulent fly a more welcomed pleasure.

© 2012

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 2nd May at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Quite. There are places and occasions where it is only polite and thoughtful to be still and quietly pay attention. And I think that by devolving some of our brain's responibility for remembering the memorable to silicon chips, we risk deminishing ourselves.

  2. As always you have such insightful posts about subjects that have to do with society. I agree with you on the phone camera. Geez, half the time those pics are dumped on a computer and never looked at again. It's so much better to watch and remember. Courtesy to others has taken a backseat in recent years.

  3. Loved that last line of your post! :)

    As for the unwarranted distraction you had to sit through, I'm glad you were able to ignore it for the most part. I would have had a stronger reaction to it.

    I've always failed to understand people's dismay when I said I didn't take too many pictures or videos while on vacation. How could I explain to them that I much preferred to lock the beatiful memories inside me, where they would forever be meshed with the sounds and smells and the emotions the moment inspired in me?

  4. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Hema, welcome back! I'll be popping over your blog later. Im sure you have lots of stories to tell about your time off from blogging.

    Greetings from London.

  5. Will it be possible to have an un-mediated experience. Everyone seems plugged in.

    Every person at the cafe this morning was gazing into a screen.

    It's lovely to gaze out of windows.

    Regards from Boston

  6. Recently we saw Straight No Chaser. The flashes and flickering lights WERE distracting.

  7. What was this person's motivation when he pulled out his Lilliputian photographic tool? Did he want to hold on to this moment for eternity?

    The exact thought that has occurred to me so often in these situations - still have no answer, though. If he'd been recording it would at least have been more understandable.

  8. I wonder how historians will evaluate this moment in history when the ability to monitor and record everything is ubiquitous. Will they say that Big Brother arrived, though not in the form of government control and oversight, but in the citizen neighborhood watch facilitated by modern technology? This is a far cry from the flashing light that disturbed your concert experience, but I can't help but be grateful that the flashing light can alert us to what is going on. I suspect most of the time, we simply will not know.

  9. I totally get your point Cubano. It takes away from being in the moment when you feel compelled to record every nuance of what's happening. Although I rarely take pix during concerts, I am guilty of taking pix (with my camera) everywhere else for stories or posts. I do get looks sometimes but I've never regretted a photo I took.

  10. i'm with dave king.

    the flickering lights can be so distracting.
    quite annoying!

    you're a person of a great taste, cuban! i always enjoy your thoughtful posts.

    i totally loved the bottom line of your post.

    have a great week ahead!

  11. I cringed a bit when I read this, as I've been guilty of exactly this behaviour at a concert. Just once, mind you, and the pianist was someone I knew, but still. I took still pictures, surreptitiously (I thought) and silently, but someone several rows over glared at me and I was too embarrassed to continue.
    People do this just because the technology allows it, and because we're in a tell-all world. Guess where I was last night? Here's the proof! It's pretty pointless. My actions were too, as I have only looked at the pictures once and never written the piece that should have gone along with them.

    And is 'punter' always derogatory?

  12. I hate when people destroy the ambiance with their mobiles or cameras. Even worse is when they are texting or surfing during a live performance. We seem to be on a similar wavelength this week with our technology posts.

  13. Thanks a lot for your kind comments.

    Deborah, "punter" is a slang for customer over here. Nothing derogatory about it. :-)

    Greetings from London.



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