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Sunday 1 April 2007


I take back what I said about bidding wars. Color me astonished.

Two strangers (well, maybe) are in a competition on who can devote the most resources into giving away music. There's something really moving about that.

Some of you might note that when I talk about "the future of music," I'm not usually talking about sounds, but rather economics, copyrights and delivery formats. This is because I take a sort of a Marshall McLuhan approach. Two hundred years ago, music was something of a luxury. If you were hearing it, you or somebody else was exerting the effort of actually playing it. (There were also mechanical devices, but let's leave those aside.) Music production was a skill - an investment of both time and physical resources in the form of an instrument.

Gradually, music has gotten more and more accessible. You have music boxes, player pianos (which could also function as a MIDI-like recording device providing higher fidelity recordings of some important pianists than surviving audio recordings), then mechanical recordings like records, then analog magnetic and now digital. It used to be that one physical object held up to 3 minutes. Now we can carry around days of music in our pockets and listen constantly. The availability of music has caused it's value to change. It's caused the way we listen to change.

Musical skill is not as valued in the general public as it once was. Simply: not as many middle class kids get piano lessons. They get ipods instead. Music has moved from being participatory to spectator / consumer. The ability to carry around days of tunes at a time has created a very strong demand for those same tunes and raised the amount of resources allocated to music in general. But the amount allocated to each tune individually has declined a great deal. We value music in general more, but each individual piece of it less. (In general. I know you're crazy for your copy of Bleach by Nirvana or the Gould recording of the Goldberg Variations, but you're not crazy for every thing in your collection, probably.)

Given the incredible changes in music and listening that delivery mechanisms and economics, etc have brought about, it seems obvious to me that such concepts are integral to conceiving of the future of music. It might be impure, but there's a strong case to be made that recording technology has been the most influential force for change in music production and performance over the last hundred years. It set the length of pop tunes. It introduced vibrato to the violin. Even the concept of virtuosity - the height of musical purity - was directly informed by recording technology and distribution systems.

So I don't see the business side in binary opposition to the creative/art side. They inform and direct each other and work in harmony (ideally) like yin and yang. Also, there's already a lot of discourse about sounds. There are a lot of people with many different ideas about what sounds to make and how to make them. I couldn't pick one and say "that's the future." I can add to that discussion, but not so well with words. Although, if I had to pick something, I think I'd go with the Long String Instrument. Man, that's something special that ought to be getting more exposure and more gigs.

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