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Music and technology

Related: music - music industry - studio - synthesizer - technology

Technology and pop music

Postwar [pop music] is predicated on technology, and its use in mass production and consumption. Today's music technology inevitably favors unlimited mass reproduction, which is one of the reasons why the music industry, using the weapon of copyright, is always fighting a rearguard battle against its free availability. Just think of those "Home Taping Is Killing Music" stickers, the restrictive prices placed on every new Playback/Record facility (the twin tape deck, the DAT), the legal battles between samplers and copyright holders. -- Jon Savage, The Village Voice Summer 1993 "Rock & Roll Quarterly" insert

Recorded Sound [...]

Sometime in the middle 20th century, listening to music through a recorded form, such as sound recording or watching a music video became more common than experiencing live performance. Sometimes, live performances incorporate prerecorded sounds; for example, a DJ uses records for scratching. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_recording

Japanese music machines [...]

Philly Disco + Japanese Music Machines=House Music (1978)
Much has been written about Kraftwerk being the originators of house. While this is a nice idea, the truth is far more complex. Due to the relatively cheap availability of drum machines and synthesisers from Japanese companies like Roland (the feted 808 and 909 drum machines both originated in Japan) something was bound to happen anyway. -- John McCready

Where Music Will Be Coming From - Kevin Kelly

Technology is changing music. But then again, it always has. The invention of the piano 300 years ago centered Western music on the keyboard. Electricity's arrival in the late 19th century enabled the duplication of performances and, later, the amplification of instruments. With digitization, the pace of upheaval has further accelerated. Digital file-sharing technologies -- Napster and its offspring -- are now undermining the established economics of music. And everything we know about digital technologies suggests that Napster is only the beginning. --Kevin Kelly, New York Times Magazine, March 17, 2002. [...]

Radio [...]

The record industry had spent the first twenty years of the century convincing the public that they needed a source of music in the home but they didn't foresee the possibility that it may be free. Unfortunately, The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) had by the early 1920s started mass-producing commercial radios which, while acoustically inferior, offered a far wider range of news, drama and music. The Record Companies retaliated by drawing up contracts for their major artists, forbidding them to work for this rival medium. This move to limit radio's output was doomed to failure as new vacuum tube amplification rapidly improved reception and sound quality. Record sales plummeted.

The secret history of technology and pop music

When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, he accidentally invented the music industry. The last thing on the inventor's mind was using his new device to record music. He figured there was a better market in dictation equipment that could record contracts and business letters. Recordings don't lie, he said.

In fact, he resisted music as the "killer app" for the new technology, until competitors proved there was a market for it -- a big one.

So big, in fact, that nobody who made or listened to music could ignore the phonograph and the industry it created. Songwriters shortened their compositions so they'd fit on one side of a 78 rpm record. Singers worked on their projection and enunciation so that the primitive recording technology would render their voices at least halfway decently. And fans got into more kinds of music than many had ever known even existed. --Rick Karr, TechnoPop The Secret History of Technology and Pop Music, http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/technopop/


  1. Strange Sounds: Music, Technology, and Culture (Routledge, 2001) - Timothy D. Taylor [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Clearly technology has added a "voice" to music, but how does that voice affect the traditional human craftsmanship of music? In other words, can the music created still be called one's own? In Strange Sounds, Timothy Taylor addresses the anxieties provoked by technology's role in music composition since World War II. In this accessible and comprehensive study, Taylor discusses the nature of technology, its use in making music, and the inevitable fears of losing one's agency further with the new digital technologies being developed. From the early tape music of France and the "space age pop" of 1950s America to the numerous electronic dance music genres of today that detour into "illegal" activities like those argued in lawsuits over the sampling of traditional folk music, and the trance club scenes in cities like New York and London that have become synonymous with the drug ecstasy, technology has irrevocably penetrated the production and consumption of contemporary music. --Book Description, amazon.co.uk

  2. Music and Technology in the Twentieth Century (2002) - Hans-Joachim Braun (Editor) [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    From the Publisher
    "A surprisingly good read, with a depth and coherence . . . Pays attention to both sound production and sound recording, as well as economic and social factors that have shaped the 20th century music industry . . . This is a very strong collection written by leading researchers in the field."—Mark Clark, ICON, Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology

    About the Author: Hans-Joachim Braun is a professor of modern social, economic, and technological history at the Universität der Bundeswehr in Hamburg, Germany.

    Technology has always been inseparable from the development of music. But in the twentieth century a rapid acceleration took place: a new "machine music" came into existence, electronic musical instruments appeared, and composers sometimes seemed more like sound technicians than musicians. In this book Hans-Joachim Braun and his co-authors offer a wide-ranging and fascinating look at the relationship of technology and modern music. Topics range from the role of Yamaha in Japan's musical development to the social construction of the synthesizer; from the player piano as precursor of computer music to the musical role of airplanes and locomotives; from the growth of one independent recording studio (from "Polka to Punk") to the origins of the 45–RPM record. Other chapters consider violin vibrato and the phonograph, Jimi Hendrix, and the aesthetic challenge of soundsampling. The book concludes with a look at the current situation, and perspectives for its future in! electronic music. Contributors: Barbara Barthelmes, Karin Bijsterveld, Hans-Joachim Braun, Martha Brech, Hugh Davies, Bernd Enders, Geoffrey Hindley, Jüergen Hocker, Mark Katz, Tatsuya Kobayashi, James P. Kraft, Alexander B. Magoun, Rebecca McSwain, Andre Millard, Helga de la Motte-Haber, Trevor Pinch, Susan Schmidt-Horning, and Frank Trocco. --Book Description via amazon.com

  3. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2003) - Jonathan Sterne [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    "Jonathan Sterne’s The Audible Past boldly stakes out a largely neglected but important topic, the history of sound in modern life."—John Durham Peters, author of Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication

    "Jonathan Sterne confronts what is certainly the most challenging topic in the study of auditory culture—what happened when modern technologies came crashing into ways of sound making, communicating and listening—with outstanding results. Through disciplined arguments bolstered by plenty of original research, and with refreshing critiques of many cherished notions, The Audible Past forms a basis from which to address central questions of communication studies, musicology and music history, film sound and media studies, perception and culture, all those areas where listening and sound impinge upon cultural history and theory."—Douglas Kahn, author of Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts --From the Publisher

    "Jonathan Sterne’s The Audible Past has come along to set the record straight on the cultural origins of sounds and systems, machines and the mechanisms of culture. He’s come here to give us the lowdown on how the technology evolved. Think of the book as a kind of sonic map of the origins of the way we listen to things around us, as a primer for the sonically perplexed."—Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid About the Author

    Jonathan Sterne teaches in the Department of Communication and the Program for Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He writes about media, technology, and the politics of culture, and is codirector of the online magazine Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life.

    The Audible Past explores the cultural origins of sound reproduction. It describes a distinctive sound culture that gave birth to the sound recording and transmission devices so ubiquitous in modern life. With an ear for the unexpected, scholar and musician Jonathan Sterne uses the technological and cultural precursors of telephony, phonography, and radio as an entry point into a history of sound in its own right. Sterne studies the constantly shifting boundary between phenomena organized as "sound" and "not sound." In The Audible Past, this history crisscrosses the liminal regions between bodies and machines, originals and copies, nature and culture, and life and death.

    Blending cultural studies and the history of communication technology, Sterne follows modern sound technologies back through a historical labyrinth. Along the way, he encounters capitalists and inventors, musicians and philosophers, embalmers and grave-robbers, doctors and patients, Deaf children and their teachers, professionals and hobbyists, folklorists and tribal singers. The Audible Past tracks the connections between the history of sound and the defining features of modernity: from developments in medicine, physics, and philosophy to the tumultuous shifts of industrial capitalism, colonialism, urbanization, modern technology, and the rise of a new middle class.

    A provocative history of sound, The Audible Past challenges theoretical commonplaces such as the philosophical privilege of the speaking subject, the visual bias in theories of modernity, and static descriptions of nature. It will interest those in cultural studies, media and communication studies, the new musicology, and the history of technology. --Book Description, amazon.com

Playback: From the Victrola to Mp3, 100 Years of Music, Machines, and Money (2004) - Mark Coleman

Playback: From the Victrola to Mp3, 100 Years of Music, Machines, and Money (2004) - Mark Coleman [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

"BEFORE THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, listening to music was a tem , fleeting experience-and a rare treat..." (first sentence)

From Publishers Weekly
This short and sweet historical overview of the connection between music, technology (primarily the "playback" function) and the "systematic marketing of recorded music" is the perfect gift for aging boomers who, like Coleman, were caught "completely unawares" by the Internet and related developments such as the MP3 file-sharing format and Napster, which brought MP3 file sharing to the world. Coleman, however, has the advantage of being a rock critic who brings a formidable range of knowledge about his subject. He is as comfortable writing about how pioneers such as Edison and Bell were "blind to the full significance" of their sonic inventions as he is about lesser-known luminaries such as Dr. Paul Goldmark, who invented the "microgroove" LP for CBS. He is also consistently excellent and authoritative on the myriad ways over the decades that the art of making music has shifted away from audio documentation and moved toward "aural creation." While his survey of '60s rock and radio trends will be familiar to any fan of pop music, it provides numerous interesting related observations, such as how the LP "stands as the most enduring cultural legacy bequeathed to baby boomers by their parents." The highlight of the book is its final section, a near-definitive review of recent trends in computer-based listening habits that persuasively argues that "the seductive allure of the MP3 format is all about selection and portability, not thievery and deceit." Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

See also: playback - music technology

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