Please Don’t Like This

Cartoon by Amy Kurzweil

In the summer of 1962, the world-famous pianist Glenn Gould performed an all-Bach concert at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. The second half of the program was devoted to The Art of Fugue, and Gould did something radical before he started playing the piece—he asked the audience not to applaud.

This wasn’t the first time Gould publicly expressed his discomfort with audience applause. Earlier that year, he published an essay in Musical America called “Let’s Ban Applause!” He argued that the best way to consume art was to internalize it and reflect on it in a quiet, deliberate way, instead of making a flashy public response in the moment.

In the essay, he jokingly proposed something he called the Gould Plan for the Abolition of Applause and Demonstrations of All Kinds, or GPAADAK. Under GPAADAK, applause would be allowed only at weekday family concerts, where “the performers, naturally, would be strictly second-team.” For the no-applause concerts, Gould suggested that solo pianists be conveyed offstage on a giant lazy Susan while still seated at the instrument, to prevent any awkwardness over having to walk off the stage in silence.

For Gould, who ultimately retired from concert life in 1964, audience applause was distasteful for a number of reasons: It evoked a gladiatorial vibe that was at odds with the reverence he felt the music deserved, and it didn’t give him any real feedback. I see this today with standing ovations—I can’t remember a single classical concert I’ve attended or performed in (I play violin in an amateur community symphony) where the audience didn’t automatically rise to their feet at the end. Surely not every performance deserves a standing ovation, yet concert-goers feel compelled to do it. I can see why Gould found the whole business kind of annoying and meaningless.

In the latest episode of Rework, we start with Gould as a way to frame a debate we’ve been having at Basecamp about the Applause feature in Basecamp 3. DHH wrote previously about the red flags that the feature started to raise for him and others at the company, and how we decided to kill the feature (internally) as we decide its ultimate fate. You’ll hear more from DHH, as well as iOS designer Tara Mann, in this episode, which covers the broader theme of seeking validation on social media.