Sound and vision historically inseparable, were rudely torn apart at the moment of mechanical reproduction. Edison had wished it otherwise… "All movements of a person photographed will be exactly coincident with any sound made by him..." he proclaimed in 1891. However technical difficulties ensured the twin’s separation. Though reunited in the 20th century, and after Jolson in the mainstream cinema usually inseparable, terrible damage to the relationship had been done. Film though never really silent (its presentation always in some way accompanied) saw itself as a primarily visual medium, whilst the ventriloquist phonograph that could speak and sing without moving its lips accustomed people to sound, and in particular music without vision.
So accustomed are we to the separation that you often see simultaneous DVD and CD issues of the same live material. Why though would one buy the CD, when all you have to do is turn the picture down on the DVD and listen to the music? Logically there should be no reason, but sitting there with a darkened screen when you know there is a picture would be somewhat unsettling. If there’s something to view we feel we should look. You can open your eyes now.
The cumulative effect of music and vision combined though is far more than the constituent parts. When being described the essentials of a case Sherlock Holmes would always sit with fingertips pressed together and eyes tight shut in contemplation, and arguably having no picture should allow one to concentrate on the music. In practice though we listen less without the vision.
None but the most zealous fans, or those practising fro the next Stars in their Eyes will feel able to watch a live recording of a performance of a group more than a handful of times. Yet the same music without the pictures can be listened to repeatedly; over and over, hundreds if not thousands of times. In short the picture being turned down leads not so much to concentration, as the possibility for saturation. We enter a highly artificial condition in which without the vision, which should accompany it, the sound is literally backgrounded.
To hide this artifice of music without vision, recordings became more polished more removed from the live and hence the visual. The multi-track recording combining as it does several performance or bits of performances has no clear visual correlation it is the perfect music for continual reproduction, its location being nowhere in particular.
On the one hand this could be an argument for a return to the “natural” state of sound and vision in unison, but before we all rush down the folk club it should also be seen as advocating a far greater exploration of the possibilities of music and image together. Not as in the misconceived music video which tries to simply add back the visual content stripped out during recording process but in a marriage of music and vision composed simultaneously