Friday, February 24

Music technology

Before the advent of recorded music, the only way to hear any was in the presence of a musician playing an instrument. Experiencing music was not simply a treat for the ears, as it is today when music is primarily consumed through radios, records, and cd players, but involved the other senses as well: a music lover had to travel to a concert hall, sit or dance for the duration, and of course they could see and feel the presence of the musicians, their instruments, and the other members of the audience. Music was an immersive experience. Furthermore, what that music lover heard at that concert would never again be heard in the same way; before Edison recorded his voice in 1877, music was only ever heard once. Today, anyone can listen to a song or performance literally thousands of times. They can pore over it, focus on a few bars, adjust the sound levels, isolate a single instrument, anything, and as technology develops, a single piece will be manipulated more and more. The listener has the capability to leech every drop of "music" possible from a recorded piece.

How did this transition affect the composer of music? The astute composer of the turn of the last century had to realize that enormous changes were taking place in the way music was consumed. How did a composer change their style in order to satisfy the new listener? I can only speculate. Since a recording could be listened to more than once, although not as many times as today since the methods being used were still rudimentary, did a composer try to make his music more complicated, so the listener could get something new out of each listen? What about the detachment from the instrument and the musician? The listener was no longer forced to associate music with the musician and the instrument; it was possible to hear an instrument many times without ever seeing it. Did these composers begin to focus more on the "sound" that was being created rather than the actual music? Were instruments being used in original ways in order to create new sounds for the stay at home listener? When did the progression toward soundscapes and sonic textures begin?

I know a lot about some music, but not all. I'm next-to-ignorant about composers in and around the development of the first recording technology. Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, what the hell were they up to??

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