The danger of background music, which recording has made so pervasive, is that it will be used (by us or the others) to alter our mood in a cosmetic way, powdering over our deeper needs. It is true that active playing or singing can also be used this way, so that all that is accomplished is repression, in the psychological sense – and possibly in the political sense, if some philosopher-king or commissar is forcing you to play his song. But active playing can also heal, as when one plays Mozart sonata and lets its grace fill one's body and soul. Unconnected to the body, records miss a key connection to the soul.
Catharsis, on the other hand, seems to depend on active listening, and here records come into their own. In some ways there are even better than concerts: they address us more intimately and they allow us more choices, so more self-expression. The problem is that our self-expression comes prepackaged; and we lose the desire t0 express ourselves the hard way, with our arms and lungs. And despite Aristotle, despite Nina, my experience as a bad amateur is that that is the best catharsis. It will be a tragedy if, because of records, our standards become so inflexible that we cannot be happy amateurs. Then we will be amateurs of music in the old sense – we will still love her – but as one loves a movie star, not a wife. We won't make love to her. And our souls will have shrunk.
Recording Angel, page 171