Technology and the Future of Music
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard
Anyone pursuing music, either as a composer, a performer or a listener, cannot escape technology. Virtually all of today’s popular music uses electronic instruments. Almost every singing voice is enhanced by a microphone, if not more elaborate devices. Many concert halls have begun to employ electrical sonic enhancements of some sort. Most of the music we’re exposed to nowadays reaches us through radio or recordings, both products of 20th century technology. And, of course, anybody reading NewMusicBox is interfacing with music in ways that would have not been possible without the technological advances of the past few years.
So how will the most recent cutting-edge technologies effect the way we experience music tomorrow? Will listening be the same experience in another 20 years?
We’ve asked Tod Machover to serve as the Guest Editor of this issue which explores the impact of technology on the future of music. Tod juggles an international career as a composer of music employing forward-looking technologies with running the Hyperinstruments/Opera-of-the-Future group at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge MA. Joe Paradiso, his colleague at MIT, has provided us with a complex web of information in his hyperhistory of electronic music interfaces. We’ve asked some of today’s leading exponents of electronic music — Morton Subotnick, William Duckworth, Pamela Z, and Paul Lansky -– to predict how technology will affect the composition and performance of their music in the next 25 years. And Tod and I like to find out what you think about some of the strange new instruments that are being developed at MIT, which include a fabric ball and a musical denim jacket!
On other fronts, this month’s SoundTracks allows you to “technologically” discover 24 new CDs of American music, only 2 of which feature electronic music, per se. And Hear&Now is chocked full of good old-fashioned concert listings. Most of this month’s news items are not technology-related, although we’re happy to report that BMI has announced a licensing agreement with one of the leading sellers of downloadable music on the Internet.
Into a New Century with Music and Technology
It would be hard to overestimate the impact that new technologies – first mechanical, then electric, finally computational – have had on music over the past hundred years. From player pianos to victrolas to radios to theremins to tape recorders to oscillators and filters to synthesizers to computers to samplers to MIDI to MAX to MP3 — there has been an incredibly rapid succession of revolutions in instrumentation, performance, and musical thought. Many of these new technologies have been embraced and absorbed quickly and effortlessly by musicians, but others have been ignored or even spurned by the classical and new music establishments, and this trend seems to be growing. These days, it is somewhat more likely to find music technology innovations coming from the entertainment industry, rather than from the conservatories or concert halls, a situation which has changed drastically since, say, the 1950′s, when visionaries like Cage, Babbitt, Stockhausen, and Xenakis set the international musical agenda with their radical electrified soundscapes.
In fact, the technologies themselves have never grown faster, and it is more important than ever to make sure that expression stays ahead of technical constraint or imperative. And the potential of emerging technologies is enormous. Some of this potential is in enhanced sonic resources or hyper-performance capabilities for professional musicians. Some is in the active engagement of the general public — young and old — in musical experiences. Some is through new models of music distribution. Some is in the creation of new forms of media opera that will approach Wagner’s ideal of a Gesamtkunstwerk. Some is through designing “interactive musical accompaniments” to everyday life, realizing Glenn Gould’s 1967 vision of an invigorated “elevator music” that would literally elevate music — through subliminal ear training – to replace words as our currency of emotional exchange.
In this issue of NewMusicBox, we have tried to examine some of the most exciting applications and implications of music technology, exploring both precedents and possibilities. Now is an ideal time for the most imaginative musical minds – and most innovative performing, presenting and training institutions – to creatively engage in using and shaping new media technologies. If we don’t, we risk having a major chapter of music’s future shaped for us.