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The Digitization of Music: Platform Wars

In this episode we check out a couple of new releases by Watsky and Weezer, and then we survey the explosion of digital music platforms over the last two decades, outlining significant events starting with the advent of Napster in 1999 and culminating in our current streaming media landscape, noting the tectonic cultural impacts we’ve experienced along the way. It all started in the late 1980s, when Karlheinz Brandenburg created the technology that enables the conversion of analog audio signal to digital information, the mp3 file format. This launched a 3-way race to capitalize on this new technology, among established music industry corporations, Silicon Valley startups, and regular folks in their bedrooms at home.

Starting in 1999, Napster enabled large-scale file sharing by using peer-to-peer software as a connective tissue between disparate individuals and musical communities, and though it was litigated out of existence within two years, Limewire and Kazaa had already emerged to take its place. Pandora merged the internet with terrestrial radio and turned playlist curation into a data science project starting in 2001, the same year that the iPod and the iTunes Store conquered the titans of a century-old industry. Listeners quickly came to expect their music libraries to fit in their pockets.

Youtube (2005), Spotify (2006), and SoundCloud (2007) have since emerged to serve the content of those libraries, and now multiple platforms exist to either sell access to a comprehensive collection of recordings; or to empower creators with the tools they need to publish, distribute, and market their own work. ByteDance (2012) represents a growing tide of listeners and creators from China, while Tidal (2014) is a cautionary of tale of musicians fighting to take back control of their recordings.

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Watsky - Welcome to the Family & Mean Ass Drunk
  2. Weezer - Can’t Knock the Hustle
  3. Combustible Edison - The Millionaire’s Holiday (1999, Sub Pop record, first label to release MP3 format albums)
  4. Metallica - I Disappear (2000, pre-release leak on Napster)
  5. Madonna - Music (2000, pre-release leak on Napster)
  6. Feist - 1234 (2001, primary music for iPod release ad campaign)
  7. Coppe’ - I Lick My Brain in Silence (2005, first music video posted on Youtube)
  8. Radiohead - 15 Step (2007, first major release as pay-what-you-want download)
  9. Gucci Gang - Lil Pump (2017, first major hit released through Soundcloud)
  10. Kanye West - Waves (2016, released as Tidal-only exclusive)

Continual Reinvention of an Old-Fashioned Machine: Hearing the 20th century through the piano

For a lot of reasons, music and music-making proliferated and diversified in many, many directions, throughout the 20th century. Not just because of ideas (i.e., Modernism) and tools (so many new technologies), but the convergence of culture, technology and mass communication enabled a creative crucible that’s unprecedented in human history. Unfortunately, this makes any comprehensive musical exploration of the past 100 years daunting for many, and challenging to the tastes and expectations of most.

In this episode, we hope to distill an amazing century of musical thought and practice into a comprehensible summary, by using a consistent, unchanging frame of reference: the piano. The piano is an instrument that existed in its present form prior to the 20th century, and remains essentially unchanged from that version through today. We hope that this familiar and constant tool for musical creation and expression will help elucidate the amazing variety of ideas and inventiveness of composers from the past century, up to and including our own decade.

Tracks & excerpts:

  1. Johannes Brahms - Six Pieces, Op. 118 (1893) - No. 2, Intermezzo in A Major 
  2. Claude Debussy - Images, Set 1 (1905) - I. Reflets dans l'eau & III. Mouvement
  3. Alban Berg - Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1909)
  4. Charles Ives - Piano Sonata No. 2 "Concord, Mass., 1840-1860" (1915) - III. The Alcotts
  5. George Antheil - Jazz Sonata (1922)
  6. Bela Bartók - Out of Doors (1926) - With Drums and Pipes & Musettes
  7. George Gershwin - Three Preludes (1926) - Prelude 1 & Prelude 2
  8. Aaron Copland - Piano Variations (1930)
  9. John Cage - Metamorphosis (1938) - I. & IV.
  10. Olivier Messiaen - Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (1944) -
    II. Regard de l’étoile & XV. Le baiser de l'Enfant-Jésus
  11. György Ligeti - Musica ricercata (1953) -
    I. Sostenuto - Misurato - Prestissimo & II. Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale
  12. Karlheinz Stockhausen - Klavierstück IX (1961)
  13. Morton Feldman - Piano Piece (1964)
  14. George Crumb - Makrokosmos, Volume I (1972) - 
        No. 1, Cancer. Primeval Sounds & No. 11, Gemini. Dream Images
  15. John Adams - China Gates (1977)
  16. John Corigliano - Fantasia on an Ostinato (1985)
  17. Philip Glass - Wichita Vortex Sutra (1988)
  18. Thomas Adès - Darknesse Visible (1992)
  19. John Adams - American Berserk (2001)
  20. Unsuk Chin - Piano Etudes (2003) - No. 5, Toccata
  21. Mason Bates - White Lies for Lomax (2007)
  22. Missy Mazzoli - A Map of Laughter (2015)

Additional links:


Best Music of 2018 & Other Interesting Things

Well, 2018 was maybe not the greatest year in human history, broadly speaking, but it sure was musically interesting. In this episode, we discuss a handful of the most thoughtful “best music of 2018” lists, and then listen to a few of the recordings shared by those lists, ones that are particularly outstanding and engaging (and that we haven’t already recently discussed).

We also briefly consider some paradigm-shift-type happenings in creative culture: the potential impact of new works entering the public domain for the first time since 1998, and the first Kennedy Center Honors award to a collaborative work rather than an individual artist.

Use the links below to follow your musical curiosity!  

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Robyn - Missing U from Honey
  2. Kasey Musgraves - Butterflies, Space Cowboy, and High Horse from Golden Hour
  3. Rosalía - MALAMENTE (Cap.1: Augurio) and DI MI NOMBRE (Cap.8: Éxtasis) from EL MAL QUERER
  4. Tierra Whack - Hookers and Hungry Hippo from Whack World
  5. Pusha T - The Games We Play from Daytona
  6. Royal Liverpool National Orchestra - On the Waterfront Suite, II. Adagio from Bernstein: On the Waterfront
  7. Yo Yo Ma - Unaccompanied Cello Suite #1, BWV 1007 - I. Prélude and Unaccompanied Cello Suite #6, BWV 1012 - III. Courante from Six Evolutions - Bach: Cello Suites
  8. Wet Ink - Auditory Scene Analysis, Pt. 1 from Wet Ink:20
  9. Janelle Monáe - Make Me Feel from Dirty Computer