How Technology Shapes Musical Thought

Music technology influences musical creativity in fundamental ways, and in this episode we talk about how the tools and concepts of musical practice are entwined with the expressive and creative ideas being crafted.

We wander into some interesting and unexpected areas, too, as we consider how technology influences musical values, tastes, and institutional models. This episode offers a lot of food for thought, and will hopefully stimulate your music listening.

 

(Playlist after the jump....)

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Why Kraftwerk are still the world's most influential band

From the Guardian, a great piece on the huge (and ongoing) influence of the German electronica band Kraftwerk. As we discussed in the recent podcast episode on the hugely pervasive influence of musical minimalism, Kraftwerk are an important band, but surprisingly many people aren't aware of their extensive influence

The Guardian piece, and Kraftwerk's upcoming appearances at the Tate Modern, will help to increase recognition and enjoyment of their terrific music and legacy.


The Genius of Synecdoche, New York

The always incisive Your Movie Sucks is posting an in-depth look at Charlie Kaufman's movie Synecdoche, New York. This film, for me, packed more emotional wallop than any I've seen, and does it just beautifully and symbolically and allegorically and subtly and confusingly and.....well, you get my point.

I think it a sublime and very meaningful film, as did the inimitable Roger Ebert:

This is a film with the richness of great fiction [...] it's not that you have to return to understand it. It's that you have to return to realize how fine it really is. The surface may daunt you. The depths enfold you. The whole reveals itself, and then you may return to it like a talisman.

He continues:

Here is how it happens. We find something we want to do, if we are lucky, or something we need to do, if we are like most people. We use it as a way to obtain food, shelter, clothing, mates, comfort, a first folio of Shakespeare, model airplanes, American Girl dolls, a handful of rice, sex, solitude, a trip to Venice, Nikes, drinking water, plastic surgery, child care, dogs, medicine, education, cars, spiritual solace -- whatever we think we need. To do this, we enact the role we call "me," trying to brand ourselves as a person who can and should obtain these things.

In the process, we place the people in our lives into compartments and define how they should behave to our advantage. Because we cannot force them to follow our desires, we deal with projections of them created in our minds. But they will be contrary and have wills of their own. Eventually new projections of us are dealing with new projections of them. Sometimes versions of ourselves disagree.

Continue reading "The Genius of Synecdoche, New York" »


Thank you, B. B. King

Well, B. B. King has died. All I can say is, thank you for a truly lifelong gift of music shared with the world joyously. Of all the fantastic performances I could feature, I think the best, and one of the most meaningful to King himself, is from his 1974 concert in Africa:

 


The Story of SMiLE, the American Sgt. Pepper

In a lively conversation we tell the story of SMiLE, the legendary unreleased magnum opus by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks with the Beach Boys, and consider its musical scope and ambition. We also talk about the missed cultural impact of this work going so long unreleased, and, since all of the recorded material was finally released in 2011, what impact it could still have going forward.

It's a fun trip through the work of one of America's most significant recording artists, and what may be the Great American Album.

 


The Maximum Impact of Minimalism

In this epic episode, we examine how the avant-garde movement of musical minimalism was translated into the popular music sphere surprisingly quickly, and how it came to be significantly influential throughout musical culture over the past half century. Short version: it's EVERYWHERE. Long version: podcast episode full of fantastic examples that illustrate this remarkable story.

 

(Playlist after the jump....)

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DarwinTunes, collaborative musical evolution

DarwinTunes started with randomly generated sounds from a computer and then allows short loops to be chosen by anyone who participates. This 'hive mind,' internet-based method of musical selection has proven to mirror organic evolutionary processes. From the abstract of their PNAS paper:

Music evolves as composers, performers, and consumers favor some musical variants over others. To investigate the role of consumer selection, we constructed a Darwinian music engine consisting of a population of short audio loops that sexually reproduce and mutate. This population evolved for 2,513 generations under the selective influence of 6,931 consumers who rated the loops’ aesthetic qualities. We found that the loops quickly evolved into music attributable, in part, to the evolution of aesthetically pleasing chords and rhythms.

Here is a short explanation with examples of the process unfolding interspersed:

It's really pretty cool. I went to the game and played for a bit, creating some 'children.' Here are my three favorites I parented:

Loop 1

Loop 2

Loop 3

 And of course I had to make a short mix of all three:

Darwin Loops Mix

Check it out.


Some context for today: you're going to die

Not to be morbid, but I watch this video at least once per year, if not more often. It reminds me of the unavoidable, inevitable context of my life: that it is temporary, that I am a phenomenon and not a thing, and that one day I will experience the end of myself. 

I find the poem, and the gravelly, matter-of-fact delivery of the narrator, to be immensely comforting. It helps me to spend my time and energy wisely, and to remember what truly matters in life.

The poem is by Timothy Furstnau, the film directed by Dennis Palazzolo and narrated by Vito Acconci:

If you prefer your unflinching life perspective with a little more Shatner, try this.


Why We Should Teach Music History Backwards

THIS. One of the clear weaknesses of contemporary music education in the U.S. at all levels, up through graduate school, is that it does not typically proceed from existing musical interests or contemporary cultural contexts into more detailed and less familiar territory. (There are notable exceptions.) This principle seems essential to me in music education, or any areas of study and work that are strongly connected to cultural practice.

Geoffrey Himes illustrates one way this principle can be applied in his delightful article "Why We Should Teach Music History Backwards." Seriously, this article makes me want to start writing a reverse music history curriculum that would start with contemporary music surveys (popular, concert, movie and game scores, all of it) and work backwards in time, which I think could be fascinating. Call it the "Where Did This Come From?" approach.

(I do realize that this would require a fundamental shift of values in the musical world on all sides, from ones that originate from judgments about means and modes of musical creation to values that emerge from engagement with contemporary cultural practices as they are found. I'm also aware that such a paradigm shift would take over a generation. But, you know, the second best time to plant a tree is now.)


Jonathan Newman talks about his symphony

This episode is a conversation with composer Jonathan Newman, about his Symphony No. 1 "My Hands Are A City."  We also discuss his inspiration from Beat culture, composing symphonies in general, and more. It's an interesting peek into a brilliant piece of music from a keen creative mind.

If you enjoy the episode, you can listen to the recording of the symphony we made while Jonathan was visiting a few years ago, and watch videos of that performance as well as some fun outreach we added to the mix. (Teaser: some very conservative listeners were enthusiastically in love with JN and his symphony by the time we were done.)