No Such Thing as Old Technology

Every now and again, when discussing the notion of computer-generated or ‘electronic’ music, a cry goes up claiming that this is not ‘real’ music, that the technology used by the electronic musician somehow makes the music you create with it invalid, as it simplifies and automates the process of creation to such a point that anyone can do it. This, of course, is a fairly naive (if understandable) argument.

There was a similar outcry upon the invention of the piano, which is of course a revolutionary example of music technology. I read in Rowan Simpson’s Blog today a couple of pertinent quotes from Don Tapscott’s book, ‘Growing Up Digital’:

“Technology is only technology to people born before it was invented” Alan Kay

“That’s why we don’t argue anymore about whether the piano is corrupting music with technology”
Seymore Papert

With regard to electronic technology simplifying the process of music creation, this is undoubtedly true, but the same can be said for the mass production of guitars…once upon a time, a guitarist would have to make his own guitar before he could begin to play – now, modern technology enables everyone to buy one cheaply. This doesn’t make you a better guitarist though – you still have to have ability and dedication.

The same can be said of computer-based music – anyone can open up a few samples, string them together and have a stomping techno tune in a matter of minutes. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s any good – in fact, it will be almost completely unoriginal and uninteresting. To create something unique, you still have to have spend some time at it and actually have the ability and talent to create something unique. Computer technology vastly expands the arsenal of instruments at your disposal – you can command an entire orchestra in your bedroom – but you still need to be able to write the score.

Although the technology makes it easy for anyone to create music, unless you have your own talent then this music will sound exactly like the music anyone creates.


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