Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Will Tomorrow Bring: The Future of Music

A 14-year-old french kid posted a youtube video a few years ago. Some folks noticed that he had effectively redefined the way music is made using free software and an 8x8 button pad, total cost under $500. By placing clips of "39 songs I like" at his fingertips, ready to be triggered on his command, he created   music from music. Goodbye to medieval mixing and scratching. Hello to the mashup renaissance. Trigger groundswell, millions of views, sensation, fame, and of course a record contract.

What he did was just an evolution on widely-used electronic music methods, but it kicked the art to a higher playing field. Perhaps less acknowledged than the "holy shit he looks 14" aspect or the "woah, his buttons light up like Star Trek" reaction is the fact that he showed the world how this Novation Launchpad could be used to drastically lower barriers to entry in music creation. Yes, you still need artists and instruments. Yes, you still need talent and creativity. Just like remixers needed a song to ... well ... remix, music mashuppers (mashers-up?) start with existing music. The difference is that they deconstruct it more thoroughly into tinier components, extract the most amazing and juicy bits, blend them with other ingredients (including original compositions), and make the old music into something fundamentally different. The entire corpus of human music has become raw material for a slow and quiet teenage-bedroom democratization of music creation. When this spills out onto the popular music scene, things will never be the same.

Lone bards used to travel and sing a capella. Something big started when one picked up an instrument to create harmony and melody to augment his voice. One thing led to another and ... Beethoven's Symphony Number 9.

Phon:  Greek root meaning "sound"
Sym: Greek root meaning "together"

Mashups and symphonies are both the musical equivalent of molecular gastronomy. This is not looking at a goose and thinking "I'll fatten that up and roast it." This is looking at a goose and thinking "foie gras and boysenberry mousse on dehydrated Rogue River blue cheese chips with a garnish of chateauneuf-du-pape pearls." This is meta-meta-meta cooking. It takes a set of skills to run a dairy farm. It takes a different set of skills to create amazing blue cheese. It takes yet another skillset to make blue cheese chips. To achieve the foie dish above, a chef must abstract from all that and take finished products (cheese chips, fois gras, wine, etc) as raw ingredients which he transforms into something new and even more sophisticated. In doing, he breathes new life into old flavors.

Beethoven needed a mind-boggling array of talents and skills to formulate his symphony, but he didn't need to be able to play every instrument perfectly. He was a genius mashup artist, just like Madeon.

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