A square, music, and musings on Value

One of the most authentic squares I have ever ‘occupied’ , and one that I consider the best when it comes to symbolizing sustainable living, is in … ..: Well, I’m not going to tell where exactly, otherwise it might become too lively. As the city of Maastricht has experienced a while back. That city is so popular that one day the city center was closed. For pedestrians that is. Yes, you read it correctly: For pedestrians. It was so busy that older people were seriously jeopardized, and the police decided to close the center. I mean, cities already suffer too much from the tourist burden.

But in that place I sat for hours without a single need to do something. And I can assure you that I am usually looking for something to do, as my wife unfortunately has to experience. But not in this place. The perfect feeling: penetrated to the heart of life, of the city or the village. Going further can only mean less. No matter how much charm is in the way, in the journey, you also need to know when you are there, recognize that going further does not make any sense. And that is there, in that place. Do nothing.
And then there is music. The homeless, with a plastic whistle. Tatatata, and the hat goes around for a few cents. Or the music conservatory students. Great music, and too timid to go around with the cap. They are modestly waiting to see if someone indicates that they want to contribute, and after collecting they withdraw quickly, instead of cheekily looking around to see if someone has the guts to give nothing. Like many others who have been in the business for a little longer.

After a while you start developing a rating system, sitting on the terrace. A complicated formula that takes into account the quality of the product, the length of the performance, the number of people in the group, the expected prosperity of the musician, etc. Fortunately the quality is good on average. In some other cities that could sometimes be disappointing. Ans for that a different payment strategy has often already developed : the money is given at the first note. Collect it and move on, is the message. The musicians respond to that , by just starting to go around with the hat ….
Well, it keeps you occupied, sitting on a terrace.

If next a CD is offered … it makes you think about the CD as a product offer , between the performances. What is actually the value of music? It plays a major role in culture, if not one of the largest. But what kind of role? What is the music worth? And no matter how often I play that CD at home, the (spiritual) value of the terrace performance will never surpass it. But I will pay more for that CD than I do for the performance. What kind of crooked world is this?
The CD is only a weak extract, anonymised. And massively produced and sold, no further achievement is added, without extra added value that is, even destroying (materialized) value , embodying raw materials and energy , in production and playback.
In recent decades it has become easy duplicatable and so it is copied. Did Lucebert wrote once: : ‘ everything of value is defenseless ‘ , now it has become: “ Everything that can be duplicated, is in fact “value-free”.

So we have to go back to actually making music: if people want to hear music, they should have to go somewhere, where the music is actually played, where the added value is delivered: the performance, the concert. Then value is earned by the musicians by delivering a performance, with all sorts of other beneficial side effects at the same time: social and cultural development, more time investment (in being present and listening), avoiding other burdens by material value consumption. A concert is an individual, immaterial , and timeless related value. And therefore also sustainable. And the value of a guitar player, for example, is not in the CD but in his performances. And they are not copyable or duplicable .
So if you adapt the system in such a way that makes staying on squares enjoyable , and inviting for making live music or for concerts, and as such decreases the need for ‘ materialistic based music’ , you will kill two birds with one stone: material and energy use will decrease, and the social life, and appreciation for the city, is increasing.

But then what about reading, for example, compared to listening? Does the same approach also apply? In principle yes. The book is an infinitely non-personal copyable something. The real value here is again in the public performance, the story that is told fascinatingly. Something that has become rare , but still daily practice in for instance Marrakesh. Storytellers move around, and in the evening at the square, they sit there, with an oil lamp, tell their story and captivate their bystanders, who then leave some change behind. Fascinating. And it is not for tourists, since told in Arabic . That is human value, an activity without physical burden of sources.
I secretly also long for the Greek and Roman times, the times of public debates: the agora’s where life took place, with the Stoa, the colonnade, for public speech and discussion.

One place where this still happens, is in education. The best teachers and professors are storytellers, people who can interest the pupils and students . In the classroom its paying for itself: In social bonding, fascinating experiences, and value for the rest of life.
The fact that I am writing this down now is in fact contradictory , also a form of anonymous exploitation, which adds little value, except that it documents a -subjective- observation. But it is without social interaction. However, I also prefer to tell a story, present an idea , discuss solutions, and this writing is in fact, now I realize, no more than an invitation, a warm-up. Because lectures and discussions are what I really enjoy. And they are, just like the taste and experience of a beer on this terrace, not digitizable or copyable.

So I order another beer, enjoy the next performance by the street musicians, and calculate what this one is ‘worth’ again …