Magazine article The Spectator

Only Connect

Magazine article The Spectator

Only Connect

Article excerpt

Music

People who travel a lot are known to become sad people. The very bustle of it all may sound glamorous, until the arrangements go wrong; and then one discovers just how badly human beings can treat each other. The problem for musicians travelling around the world to work is the sheer number of hours spent doing nothing. Whether sitting in airport terminals cut off from one's luggage, or waiting backstage between rehearsal and performance nervously thumbing a book or magazine disinclined to eat or drink, or staring at the walls of another identikit hotel room at 3 a.m. unable to sleep because of jet-lag, it is the same thing: how to get through the hours and still feel one is living a useful life.

Not long ago the standard answer was to read novels, play cards with one's colleagues, do the crossword or watch television. In those days the state of permanent dysfunction and confusion described so well in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, where every venue is interchangeable with every other and no one belongs in any one of them, was ameliorated only by the fact that the television programmes tended to be more regional than they are now. Of course there was CNN everywhere, but at least at the touch of a button one could tap into something local, if life had become repetitive beyond endurance. The other clue was weekends, when concerts for us tend to take place. In old-fashioned countries like Germany or those of Scandinavia the shops would shut sharp at lunchtime on Saturday and not open again until Monday morning. Since this also included shops selling any kind of alcohol, one did well to notice where one was. The US has always been the most accommodating place for the sleepless and disorientated, with New York City the sine qua non.

However now things are gloriously, most gloriously changed. Enter the full array of electronic gadgetdom: cell-phone, laptop computer, email, the Internet, CD-roms, DVDs. In a matter of a few months I have learnt the knack of having something compelling to do wherever I am. It is incredible to me that any of us survived under the previous regime. We must have been vegetables. Admittedly, what I am describing means that every place I visit has now become completely indistinguishable from every other, since I am engrossed in my portable world. …

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