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Music of another kind

The means of making music or creating music are changing fast

Music of another kind

The music of tomorrow could be anybody’s guess but sure changes are taking place, so much and so fast that it is safer to predict that changes will be at breathtaking speed. But the nature of the change or what it is going to imply is a more difficult proposition to handle. And technologies travel faster than they evolve. So the process of music-making is being rushed through under some kind of a paradigm which creates a great deal of similarity, and is imposed universally from the developed part of the world to the least developed.

It always was, but now increasingly so, impossible to reclaim some pristine bit of composition, some original score cited from an obscure part of the world. Because all music from all over the world is the grist for the mill of music-making or, to put it more correctly, manufacturing which is perhaps still concentrated in certain parts of the world. The technologies may be acultural and above socio-geographical realities and their free flow unrestricted and being cheaper brings it in open confrontation with the view that culture and music is related to land and its people.

In the past, a musician’s legacy was a VHS recording of a concert but now artists are at the cusp of embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI). The amount of data AI can pick up on is so fast growing that the future will be far better anyway.

Usually, the investigation or the probe begins in terms of quantity. For instance, how much the mechanism that used to make music has altered, what is now considered to be something that is conventional and of everyday use was awesome and cutting edge only a few years or even a few months ago. The means of making music or creating music are changing with the implication that music too is going to change in some fundamental way. That the quantity in terms of its size and presence itself will determine the change that otherwise qualifies as qualitative. It was perhaps easier to keep the two away and not be seen as one encroaching upon the other but the immensity of it defies keeping the two away. They insist on running into each other, changing the complexity of the entire thing.

How would you feel as if the singer or the musicians that you see and of course hear are not real persons? One of Japan’s biggest pop stars Hatsune Miku is not a real person but this crucial information did not prevent the humanoid singer from releasing new music videos. Actually more duets too are lined up. Similarly Roy Orbison died in 1988 but now his 3D hologram world tour will come to life, alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His son, Roy Orbison Jr, hopes “his dad’s avatar will one day have a Las Vegas residency”.

Very soon virtual and augmented reality as well as 3D mapping could mean it is all going to be more interactive than ever before. These days the incorporation of visuals and the production that goes on is quite out of this world. 3D mapping manipulates the look and feel of a 3D object. Now people can experience it on the stage with the artists or the performance even moving off the stage.

Music-making was actually working together and evolving a piece of music. It was the result of a shared vision and a joint aesthetic output that was the consequence of pooling in of artistic resources. But these days, musicians do not actually meet each other, for one could be in one city and the other in some other city, thousands of miles away, actually in other continents in different time zones.

It used to be a room with a bunch of people and eye contact but now talking to a musician on an iPad. One could be in northern hemisphere and the other in southern. With new editing programmes, it is possible to be working on the same song in real time in different cities. One has to be creative with the tools one has got and, because of the digital technology everybody can have a really powerful recording studio in ones laptop.

In the past, a musician’s legacy was a VHS recording of a concert but now artists are at the cusp of embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI). The amount of data AI can pick up on is so fast growing that the future will be far better anyway. Now the virtual show can be streamed to people’s bedrooms around the world and the audience can be at the show wherever they may be and wherever the show might be.

Artists “tokenise” themselves, meaning fans who buy the token using the crypto currency can potentially share in his future revenue. Block chain technology will set a direct line from creator to consumer to be able to send things directly, without any form of piracy resulting in subscription platforms and being able to send out exclusives without them being traded or shared in any way.

Are we at another critical juncture like many before; to cite a few like metal taking over the gut as the basic material for a string, the metal replacing the wooden reeds, the invention of recording and its impact on intonation, live performance to its relationship to fixed recorded versions and then a whole lot of invasive technologies that have made the human application of the note secondary to its cold corrective mediations through softwares.

Though as history has shown, it too will be taken in its step by the ability to humanise it all. But another fundamental question rankles — do rational attitude, scientific invention and its resultant technologies arise out of a certain cultural dispensation and so coloured in its hue or are these neutral like a clean slate to be scribbled on by all?

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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