“Computer Application in Music: McLuhan’s Idea Marshals Again?”
It may be the drums of destiny or ‘Determinism' that has charted the course of conventional orchestra or the traditional ensemble of musicians to the museum, yet no one is ready to cry their heart out, as the computer application in music has altogether revolutionized its concept to such a degree where two or three persons can beat a full-member Philharmonic hands down with a few ‘boxes’ and ‘digital poems’, i.e., software programs! This turnaround situation has already received rousing reception from both audience and the music makers, and this trend would definitely rewrite fresh chapters in entertainment industry, where neo democratization is set to take place.
While the sunshine in the digital music industry is all set to annihilate its conventional counterpart, one cannot do without stopping a while in the transit and salute that maverick clairvoyant, Marshal McLuhan, who virtually had predicted all these that are happening today in simple words or phrases with remarkable brevity and utility in defining the dynamics of civilization at its every level, while packing the necessary reasoning and appropriate philosophy in it to feed one’s quest.
In the light of the above, this essay explores the nuances of the digital invasion in music and the essence of McLuhan’s theory (popularly known as ‘4 Laws of Media’) towards establishing the fact that “the vision of Marshall McLuhan has finally established its premise, that none can escape the outcome of tetrad”. Therefore, this essay would present three situations that would embed fragments of McLuhan’s observations and different stages of the music industry to substantiate the aforesaid claim.
1. Every technology amplifies part of our culture
2. Every technology obsolesces aspects previously amplified
3. Every technology retrieves elements previously obsolesced
4. Every technology eventually reverses or “flips” into something else entirely (Herbert, 2008).
Law 1: Every technology amplifies our culture
This is very much applicable to the situation where the digital era has gradually developed itself to a great height and certainly can do more than the conventional music system while using less manpower and equipment. At the same time it has extended the ability of humans too, where anyone associated with music can do more than before. Brief descriptions of ‘Virtual Orchestra’ and the changed role of the composers would explain this, besides the study report of the communication giant Nokia on happening social situations.
Virtual Orchestra: How it Works
It is the handiwork of software programs that generates sequenced music of various sounds set in various parameters, which is known as “virtual orchestra”. There are programs like “OrchEXTRA” which provides “sounds from strings to woodwinds, drums to horns” with varying dynamics and tempo, while “following the singers on stage and the music director’s baton” (Lamb, 2006).
In earlier times the virtual orchestra used recorded music from CD-ROM (in a way, digital music files are also software) with the help of a sequencer, a mixer and the computer, but now things have become more compact where one can do away with one simple all-in-one box and a laptop, where a cumulative program by the duo will cover everything.
Since when the electronic musicians decided to break free from only simulating the conventional music, electronic music is rapidly growing with newer excitements added to it each day. This makes the situation ever changing and the composers have to update themselves continuously with its progress.
The boom in electronic music market has brought in new avenues of business, and “samplebanking” is a lucrative one in it. Sample is a piece of digital music that can be used in various forms, where its flexible parameters enable a composer to easily align it to the requirement. Creating such samples is proving more lucrative than even a composer’s job. This state of affairs is now influencing many composers shifting to the business of samplebanking. This has altogether blurred all of the earlier specialized areas of music creation, as composers of music today are turning out as sample developers. One of the successful persons of this new trade, Wlbert Roget II has recently said in an Interview that he “handles all sales and marketing through his own sample development company” (Latta, 2007).
Since the digital revolution blasted that barrier besides making music industry profitable to whom it may concern, the assembly line of this zone ranges from greenhorns to inveterate musicians and composers, containing digital sound specialists or software program writers between.
Nokia Corporation has already done a study on the future of entertainment industry, titled “A Glimpse of the Next Episode”. How the findings of that study has made them excited about seizing a huge opportunity by its democratization, would come clear from the report placed below (Nokia, 2007).
The startling revelation that adorns the first paragraph of the report based on Nokia’s study is the general people’s active participation in creating, editing and sharing of audio-visual entertainment, which has long been held as the domain of the traditional music groups or entrepreneurs. Nokia names this phenomenon as ‘Circular Entertainment’, where a large chunk of entertaining audio and visual content would be created and shared among peer groups.
Tom Savigar, the ‘Trends Director’ at The Future Laboratory has classified the consumers increasing choice of the perspective of music into three categories like ‘Immersive’, ‘Engaging’ and ‘Collaborative’. He explains, “whereas once the act of watching, reading and hearing entertainment was passive, consumers now and in the future will be active and unrestrained by the ubiquitous nature of circular entertainment”.
Savigar identifies, “consumers’ basic human desire to compare and contrast, create and communicate” as the driving force behind this evolution. However, there are “four key driving trends”, the report says, besides naming them as Immersive Living, Geek Culture, G Tech and Localism.
Close to the heels of Nokia’s predictive report, there are many more private reports based on market research on the future of music industry, have hit the shelf with plethora of options. One of such reports, prepared by Generator Research Limited, boasts about their newfound magic formula of making business in the future music industry Future 2007). Together these evidences echo Law 1, that every technology amplifies our culture.
Law 2: Every technology obsolesces aspects previously amplified
The tremendous impact of digital media with its easy operation and endless possibilities in music creation has already made a big dent in the conventional music industry, resulting a serious threat over the livelihood of conventional musicians.
Protests by the Musicians
Conventional musicians have been opposing mechanization of music since 1930 – when Russian music critic, Boris de Schloezer strongly argued against the acceptance of electronic devices on the grounds like “mechanization of music actually means the increase in the number of intermediaries between the producer of music and the listener” (Virtual, 2008)
A report by Bill Vann details about how 325 Broadway musicians went for strike over “canned” music threat on 7 March 2003 that stopped the show on 20 theatres in New York City. (Vann, 2003). Yet, such protests proved no match for the invasion of digital music. It was the same reporter who covered the outcome of that protest in another report of 13 March 2003 that slashing of jobs would save at least $600,000 a year! (Daniels, 2003).
In his article, “Virtual Showdown” (2005) Jacob Heyman-Kantor opens his protest with the line “Any threat to live music is a threat to musicians everywhere”, while vilifying virtual orchestra as the as the real threat to the existence of live music. (Kantor, 2005).
A news from BBC on 21 January, 2004 informs all about a brewing dispute in West End regarding usage of virtual orchestra, and to be specific, it was Sinfonia machine that was at the center of dispute, which issued a threat of replacing 12 orchestra players and subsequently faced protest from the musician’s union (Virtual, 2004).
Another report, from Independent published on Feb 1, 2004, informs that the musicians of West End were ready to strike over virtual orchestra, as they were “extremely scared and angry” (Bloomfield, 2004) .
If the findings of the Nokia’s report are to be believed, no traditional musician or composer fit into such a scheme of things. This proves McLuhan’s Law 2.
Law 3: Every technology retrieves elements previously obsolesced
The Computer application in music has brought in an endless possibility in music scoring, and thus emerged a good many new ranges of music that contains philosophical content, which even their titles would suggest: “Buddha Bar”, “Meditation”, “Divine Spirit”, etc. These albums contain elements that they claim as influenced by various philosophies. It is the technological power that enables scorings with strange sounds or mixture of various rhythms to create an ambience of philosophy. The conventional music industry could not do much with this line of activity mostly because of its limitations and thus it went into oblivion for a while before electronic music took over. This trend clearly proves McLuhan’s Law no. 3.
Law 4: Every technology eventually reverses or “flips” into something else entirely
“We shape our tools and they in turn shape us” (Marshall, 2007), so said McLuhan, and that echoes his Law no. 4 as well, and a precise indication of that can be found in the incessant march of bad quality music due to the open to all situation in the music industry. Already there are roundabout 200 genres of music created by electronic media and it is still growing, , which one day might influence the majority to either create a new set of music in new mode or having a break from what is so far people perceive as ‘music’!
The various situations of music industry in the age of digital music supports the theory if Marshal McLuhan. Though the digital invasion has already alchemized the mass desire towards democratization of music industry, it cannot escape the Tetrad of McLuhan’s theory where it would enhance, obsolesce, retrieve and reverse its own proceedings by simultaneously taking all these elements under its consideration. Accordingly, it is understood that the fate received by conventional music is waiting for digital music too. Therefore, all evidences justify the fact that “the vision of Marshall McLuhan has finally established its premise and none can escape the outcome of tetrad”.
Bloomfield, S. “Musicians ready to strike over ‘virtual orchestra'”. 2 March 2008. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4159/is_20040201/ai_n12750496>
Daniels, P & Vann, B. “Broadway musicians end strike on ‘minimums'”. 2 March 2008. <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/mar2003/bway-m13.shtml>
“Future of Recorded Music Industry, Part 3: Out of the Darkness, into the Light”. Research Abstract: Generator Research Limited. 1 March 2008. <http://www.marketresearch.com/product/display.asp?productid=1585198&SID= 26576232-406800295-430621391&kw=Free%09report%09Music>
Kantor, J.H. “Virtual Showdown:Musicians Fight Canned Opera”. Allegro, Volume CV No.4, April, 2005. <http://www.local802afm.org/publication_entry.cfm?xEntry=99625412>
Lamb, G.M. (2006) “Robo-Music Gives Musicians the Jitters”. <http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1214/p13s01-almp.html>
Latta, W.B. (2007) “Interview: Indie Sample Library Impact:Steel’s Developer Wilbert Roget, II” 28 Feb. 2008. <http://createdigitalmusic.com/2007/06/20/interview- indie-sample-library-impactsteels-developer-wilbert-roget-ii/ >
“Marshall McLuhan” . School of Communication and the Arts. 2 March 2008. <http://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/rojc/mdic/mcluhan.html>
“Nokia Predicts the Future of Entertainment”. 29 Feb. 2008. <http://www.futureofmusicbook.com/ >
Virtual Orchestra. 27 Feb. 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_Orchestra>
Vann, B. “Broadway musicians strike over “canned” music threat”. 27 Feb. 2008.
“Virtual orchestra machine sparks row”. 27 Feb. 2008. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/entertainment/music/3416413.stm >
 A philosophical theory holding that all events are inevitable consequences of antecedent sufficient causes; often understood as denying the possibility of free will
 The cardinal number that is the sum of three and one
 Creating and maintaining a digital databank of pre-recorded sounds to use in any composition.