How Technology Changes Art
Technical revolutions create new art. Think of Frank O. Gehry’s work in architecture. His new software tools enable fresh and unthinkably challenging buildings based on original construction methods. The ability to visualize and specify innovative structures and techniques makes the artist ask larger and more ambitious questions. All of this flows from working with powerful and refined instruments.
There was great hope and excitement in the 60’s as computers started singing and synthesizers were heard in popular music. Since then, however, very little in the way of a “New Music” has emerged. The technology has bifurcated placing the convenience of appliance ready instruments into the hands of Rappers and Trance musicians while innovations in computer music have seldom left the rarified world of academe.
Modern music rarely uses modern instruments. Tonalities are mostly limited to symphonic instruments possibly played in an extended manner. When new timbres are introduced it is usually in the form of a prerecorded audio track. Musicians must play against this tape, locked in step to its tempo and dynamics limiting expressive freedom. Progress?
Overcoming this fragmentation and inertia demands a unifying vision. The idea of a live interactive ensemble performing coherent music necessitated a re-invention of instrumentation and compositional techniques. Introduction of new timbres must not inhibit expression. A respect for tradition needed to embrace new technology. A whole lot of things had to change, yet be familiar.
The role of the computer in music has been felt in the studio and in the convenience offered by individual instruments. The application of the computer as the integrator of an ensemble and musical contributor is the next logical step. MAPPS is a first generation technology that allows the modern musician and composer to have a more inventive and iterative relationship to each other and their expanded instruments. Just as one comes to care for a particular violin for its touch and timbre, the responsiveness of the MAPPS system entices and engages its users on multiple levels.
Achieving this “new music system” required nursing hundreds of components through generations of refinement while remaining dedicated to the mandates and rigors of on-stage reality. Early successes expanded the scope of the design. Integrating and coordinating multiple musicians and working with outside composers forced the system to be consistent and extensible.
With the technology behind MAPPS now functional, it is possible to have an idea and hear it live minutes later. The composer can ask larger questions and hear immediate answers. A deterministic row or rhythmic uncertainty can be invoked as easily as counterpoint or a key change. While not unlimited, the tonal, structural and reactive elements team to create an exhaustive easily accessed world of knowable opportunities. The goal moving forward is to facilitate this exploration.