Cell phones are hypocritical. We have them to stay connected. We can call or text our loved ones from practically anywhere. We use social media to feel like we are "in the know" and to broadcast our successes or thrills to our friends, family, and frankly, anyone who will listen. We live in such a small world now. However, sometimes the connection we believe we have is only an illusion. Often, when we are so absorbed in these technologies that were initially meant to connect, we are no longer involved in the world around us.
There have been many articles written about how social media impacts us. Maria Konnikova of The New Yorker, writes about how social networks, such as Facebook, actually make people feel lonely. A study by psychologist Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan found that the more time people spent on Facebook might cause feelings of jealousy or envy. Konnikova notes that the way we use social media results in our general feelings. If we are active, then we feel better, and if we just passively look at posts, loneliness creeps in: "The passive experiences, no matter the medium, translate to feelings of disconnection and boredom.”i
Regardless of whether Facebook is a cause or a symptom, people are often finding themselves unable to interact in society without devices. We use our phones to avoid eye contact with the humans who are actually near us. We look for acceptance online rather than having meaningful conversations with friends. We have become obsessed with taking our own pictures, showing people an image of who we think the world will approve of instead of showing the world our ideas, what we can create, and what we can do for others. We don’t know how to occupy our time without electronic media, and we are often not content with reality.
There is something about interacting directly with people, being aware of what is going on around us, and using creativity to rid ourselves of boredom that makes us feel good, makes us feel alive. And although our digital technologies are often the culprits, they do not have to be. Being aware of how we use social media, the Internet, and our phones can be the difference between connection and detachment. As Daniel Burrus states in ‘Is Technology Good or Evil?,’ “If we want a more human world, rather than a less human world; if we want to be a more enlightened planet of human beings, rather than less enlightened; and if we want to use technology to do more good than bad, then we have to take action to make it that way.”ii Let’s use our digital devices to learn and research interesting things, to invite people to events, to spark worthwhile discussion, and to share our creative projects. Let’s make technology our muse.
By Anna Brake, author of Music Trends of the 21st Century: Technology Influencing Culture, available now on amazon.
i Maria Konnikova, “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy,” The New Yorker, September 10, 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/how-facebook-makes-us-unhappy
ii Daniel Burrus, “Is Technology Good or Evil?,” Huffington Post, August 24, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-burrus/is-technology-good-or-evi_b_1826270.html
Who uses paper and pencil anymore? With laptops, tablets, phones, and speech to text technology, many people have moved away from longhand. Using technology cleans up clutter, the note or document can be reached by any devise when it’s put into a cloud, and digital text can be shared directly and instantaneously. Copy and pasting is convenient and spellcheck is extremely handy. The importance of learning how to type has surpassed the necessity to learn how to write in cursive. Not only has digital technology changed how we write notes, articles, papers, and books, it has also changed how we write music.
Just as it is easier to type up a document, it is also simpler to create sheet music or a score using music software. Programs such as Finale and Sibelius can be used to write music quickly and efficiently. There are quick ways to enter musical notes using a computer keyboard, or a MIDI devise, such as a piano keyboard, can be hooked up to transcribe whatever is being played. This saves an immense amount of time for the composer. The notes can be entered easily, and then the music can be played back instantly. There are copy and paste functions in these programs as well, and with a simple command, individual instrument parts can be extracted from the full score. As an already prolific composer, think of how much more prolific Haydn would have been with this technology!
Although these technologies are wonderful in many ways, how do they influence us as musicians? In the case of transcription software, the composer must still know how to write for different instruments, and they must be literate in notating rhythms and articulations. With some software however, this is not the case. With Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), such as LogicPro or Cakewalk Sonar, the user can import audio files, choose from loops in the library or record directly into the software. A major difference between these and the software mentioned above is that staff paper is no longer necessary, which means that musical literacy is not required. “The introduction of sequencing, sampling, scratching, Garaeband, MIDI and VST systems make composing and performing available to anyone who is literate in basic computer skills,” notes Chris Rojek in Pop Music, Pop Culture.[i] With these technologies the user does not need to know music notation or orchestration. “Synthesizers, sampling and MIDI systems destabilize traditional models of musical competence, credibility and relevance,” Rojek continues, “It is no longer necessary to be a trained or self-taught musician to be taken seriously.”[ii] It is true that basic music skills are not essential to create a song anymore, but there is more than knowledge at stake.
Creativity is also hindered. With meters, keys, rhythms, phrases, tempo and sometimes, even melodies (in the case of loops) all pre-set in music software, people have to go out of their way to create outside-the-box music. Musical form is more likely to remain basic using software too because of the effortlessness in creating repetition. With the perimeters already established, creativity can be stifled without the creator even being aware of it.
Although technologies have made life easier for musicians and writers alike, the product will be better with a knowledgeable, literate, and creative musician, and many times the technology in question can be diminishing the skills and traits that made them artists in the first place. I’m not asking you to do anything drastic; you don’t have to go back to how it was before we had these tech luxuries. But try getting out that daunting, yet thrilling, blank sheet of paper and sharpened pencil to see where it will lead you.
By Anna Brake, a composer who still begins every piece with an empty sheet of paper and a pencil. Find out more about how technologies have impacted musicians in Music Trends of the 21st Century: Technology Influencing Culture now available on Amazon.
[i] Chris Rojek, Pop Music, Pop Culture, (Cambridge, U.K.:Polity Press, 2011), 177.
[ii] Rojek, Pop Music, Pop Culture, 16.
What do Amadeus Mozart, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, The Beatles, and Lady Gaga all have in common? They are all musicians, obviously. But also, popularity. Mozart was able to make a living as a freelancing musician in a time when other successful musicians had salaried positions.[i] Liszt had fame as a concert pianist, which was heightened by well-known affairs with elite women all over Europe.[ii] After the debut of Strauss’s opera Salome, “the crowd roared its approval,” it was staged in 25 different cities, and Peter Rosegger, poet and author, remarked “Vox populi, vox Dei—or the voice of the people is the voice of God” according to Alma Mahler.[iii] The Beatles had fans ranging from hormone-driven women to fellow musicians admiring their craft. Lady Gaga has had three number one selling albums with a total of about 28 million purchased and an additional 140 million singles sold worldwide.[iv]
How has the popular music shifted from complex works of art to “art pop”? Although there are many reputable hypotheses to this question, one of the key points regarding this change is the changing of society and technology that occurred in the middle of the 20th century.
Electronic music was developing in the classical music circles of Paris, Cologne and America. The Theremin was invented in 1924—originally popular for performing classical repertoire and later was found in music by the Beach Boys and the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey; the Spharophon developed in 1927; the Dynaphone was invented in 1927-8; the Ondes Martenot in 1928—most often associated with the composer Olivier Messiaen, but more recently has been heard in songs by Radiohead and Daft Punk and in soundtracks including Ghostbusters and Hugo; and the Trautonium was invented in 1930.[v] These new instruments were meant to incorporate the sounds of the industrial age into music of the time. Composers were trying to develop music that was connected to their changing times, to mimic the machine age. What began as a search for new timbres and sounds, turned into a new way of producing music.
Electronic music was not only capable of producing new sounds, but it also suited extremely complex and analytical composition. The serialist composers of the 1950s pulled electronic music away from the everyday life sounds heard by everyday life people towards highly intellectual musicians. Because electronic instruments did not restrain composers to write with less difficulty and precision as live musicians playing acoustic instruments did, the gap evolved to a new level. Composers no longer needed performers. In fact, they no longer sought an audience either. Milton Babbitt saw it as a relief, that total serialism (his composition style) was not practical for human performance. In an article entitled “The Composer as Specialist” headlined “Who Cares if You Listen?” by High Fidelity magazine, he writes, “I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total resolute and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. By doing so, the domains would be defined beyond any possibility of confusion of categories, and the composer would be free to pursue a private life of professional achievement, as opposed to a public life of unprofessional compromise and exhibitionism.”[vi]
Although there were many other things happening at this time that led to the gap between studied art music composers and general listeners, this was a pinnacle moment of separation. Since then some have succeeded in overlapping art with popularity, such as Philip Glass, but our current musical society has not reconciled. There is a new age of musician wanting to mend the animosity between art musicians and the general public. They have approached the issue in many ways, from orchestras playing movie scores to audience involvement. But, without literacy and appreciation, the struggle will only continue.
by Anna Brake
Find out more in Music Trends of the 21st Century: Technology Influencing Culture, available on amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Music-Trends-21st-Century-Influencing-ebook/dp/B013W0FEXC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442073879&sr=8-1&keywords=music+trends+of+the+21st+century
[i] Peter Burkholder, Dounald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 7th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), 551.
[ii] Burkholder, A History of Western Music, 626.
[iii] Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 9-10.
[iv] “Lady Gaga To Receive First-Ever Contemporary Icon Award,” Songwriters Hall of Fame. April 23, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2015. http://www.songhall.org/news/entry/lady_gaga_to_receive_first_ever_contemporary_icon_award
[v] Peter Manning, Electronic and Computer Music 4th ed. (New York: Oxford Press, 2013), Kindle edition, loc 203.
[vi] Milton Babbitt, “Who Cares if You Listen?,” High Fidelity, 8:2 February 1958, 126.