It’s hard to imagine a world where all the music of the last 100 years didn’t exist – but there was a time… in 1908 Ragtime was cutting edge, the coolest, latest thing. Scott Joplin hadn’t heard the Beatles, or Steely Dan, or Duran Duran. Yet he created something that at the time was ‘out of this world’. He was creating in a space without so much comparison. The public’s ears were tuned into orchestral music and chamber music, little ditties and fanciful flourishes, but nobody could have said “I much prefer Metallica to Joplin’s ridiculous ragtime garbage. “
100 years on and everyone has heard everything. With each passing moment another avalanche of music is churned out of computers and recording studios the world over. A thousand genres, a million, maybe 100 million artists. Sound designers, scratch DJs, rappers, death metal, black metal, nu-swing, nu-metal – if Scott Joplin were around today, he would simply vanish in a cloud of MySpace pages, yet here I am 100 years on, mentioning his name.
How do musicians reconcile the fact that they are now making music against a backdrop of so much music history? How can anyone write a song now without someone comparing it to something that has already been and gone? How can even the most wild and crazy musical idea not fade into obscurity the second the next wild and crazy idea emerges?
No wonder so many people are being drawn to nostalgic music. No wonder so many new artists are remaking old tunes. We either surrender to familiarity or kid ourselves that our twist on an old song is “original” – when the twist was nothing more than applying a twist, which is no longer clever, since everyone is doing the twist.
Bands think they are being original by getting a drummer who plays like Keith Moon, a guitarist who plays like Keith Richards, a keyboard player who plays like Keith Jarrett and a singer who croons like Keith Urban. But it’s a parlour trick. Musical snake oil. It sucks in the unwitting ear, but the musically educated know juxtaposed rehashing when they hear it.
So what are we to do? How can a musician who spent all their lives thinking they were going to make “original” music face the reality that it’s all been done before – and even if it hasn’t, it still has because what you are doing that sounds original is just “trying to sound original” – just like everybody else?
You can’t even aspire to be a virtuoso any more. In Eddie Van Halen’s day, he conquered the rock world with his playing, which is now taught on tutorial videos to 10 year olds. You can spend 20 years practicing 14 hours a day to play a hundred notes a second – and some Smart-Alec would have spent 21 years, 16 hours a day to play 110 notes a second! Check out Guitar Idol – http://www.gtridol.com/ – the world-wide talent is simply ridiculous.
“That’s just all show – where is the feeling?” you might say. Well the same can be said for emotional performances – vocal, instrumental, whatever. Singers moan, scream, croon, wail, growl, chortle… it’s been said, done, laid down and consumed.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s all some post-modern transient thing. Who cares if it’s been done before, or how it’s being done – who cares if it’s good or bad, if it takes some of the greatest art ever created and craps all over it? The point is that new music is being created all the time – created, consumed and forgotten. Perhaps all that matters is that each individual consumes the music they consume, retains the memories and emotional connections they retain, and so long as it means something to them, all is well in the world. If this is the case, then I guess everything is OK – just keep on recording, keep on writing – rehashing, revamping, juxtaposing, sampling, beat-mixing – so long as someone downloads it on iTunes, your work is done.
We can see where music has come from – can we see where this is all going?
I can only see one way – computer generated sound. All the human musicians in the world are just going to keep creating human music that we’ve all heard before. There will become a critical mass of music – and a convergence of technology – when we just tire of the whole thing and we will look for music to become something completely new. Only computers will be able to satisfy us. Our ears are capable of phenomenal sensitivity, dynamic range and perception. They can hear a lot more than a guitar, piano, drums – even all the techno sounds we hear. Our minds can process any sound we encounter in some way or other. Some sounds might scare us – or turn us on. Some might trigger memories.
Computer- generated sound is the future. Computers have the power to dish up absolutely anything in absolutely any combination. They are way better at mixing notes and tones than a human. And they can learn from us. We can tell them what we like and what we don’t like – and they can adjust accordingly – looking for more sounds that score 5 stars – among the same types of people we think we are. They can make sound go with vision – and we can tell them what we like there too.
I have been a musician for all my life – but I admit defeat. I will always play music, but I am fully prepared to hand it to the world’s greatest musicians to do the playing, and then the world’s greatest computer networks to create the encore.
Coming soon – some sounds to make you think about the musical future – like it or not…