Most people find it difficult to understand purely verbal concepts. They suspect the ear; they don't trust it. In general we feel more secure when things are visible, when we can "see for ourselves." We admonish children, for instance, to "believe only half of what they see, and nothing of what they hear." All kinds of "shorthand" systems of notation have been developed to help us see what we hear.Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage
We employ visual and spatial metaphors for a great many everyday expressions. We insist on employing visual metaphors even when we refer to purely psychological states, such as tendency and duration. For instance, we always say thereafter when we really mean thenafter, always when we mean at all times. We are so visually biased that we call our wisest men visionaries, or seers!
In the light of the recent JohnWilliamsgate scandal at the Obama inauguration, McLuhan's comments on Western visual bias seem particularly prescient. For an event like this presidential inauguration, the actual musical content of John William's commissioned work - a wholly innocuous bit of Americana - was trumped by the visual impact of the performance. (Indeed, the racial diversity of the performers attracted more comments than the commissioned piece itself.) Thus, it's almost irrelevant to ask whether the music you hear is actually coming from the musicians onstage. I am less troubled by the report that the performers "lip-synched" to a previously recorded tape (an understandable measure, given the weather conditions), and more troubled by the reports that at least one of the major US networks (CNBC) apparently opted to display the visual of the performance only, dubbing over the audio with a stock market update. His throne may be getting shakier, but the visual image still is king.
McLuhan's reaction to all of this, were he still with us, would probably be a simple "I told you so". If you wanted a more emotionally engaged response, you'd have to go to someone like the composer R. Murray Schafer, who would probably see the whole thing as yet another case of schizophonia; we are so used to hearing music emanate from concealed speakers in restaurants that we have become completely unable to distinguish a "real" performance from a "fake" one. For most of the people in the audience, the performance by Perlman, Ma et al. was probably the only live performance of "classical" music they would hear for some time; what a pity, then, that it turned out to be a mirage.
In case you're interested, I can finally play the Reger. All should go well on Tuesday, barring hurricanes.