Monday, January 3, 2000

Music is Obsolete

When you go to a store that sells records, tapes and CD's, you find music. This doesn't surprise most people at all. But shouldn't it, considering all the audible things that could be recorded and enjoyed? More or less, the only thing available for listening recreation is music. (In the record store you may come across some subliminal weight-loss tapes, but these are generally not used for entertainment. And the artistic value someone might find in stand-up comedy or spoken-word albums can usually be argued to lie in the literary value of the material presented, not in the recording medium itself.) We propose non-musical organized sound as an equally enjoyable alternative to music, with even more artistic validity.

"What is This 'Music'," you ask?

As with any art, each person has his or her own definition. But music is usually recognized as organized sound that follows a particular rhythmic and harmonic structure. Fortunately, this definition is changing, but it's the one we'll use for right now.

Why Did Music Come About?

Organized sound can be enjoyable listening, that's why. But why does sound always have to be organized according to a standard rhythmic and harmonic structure?

Before audio recording, the only semi-practical way to preserve music was the standard musical notation, which assumed standardized instruments playing a standardized series of notes scattered amongst regular predictable beats. This way, music could be performed the same way every time from a standard recipe, using universally recognized instruments (a violin in Moscow will sound similar to a violin in London), and performed by musicians that may have never heard the piece before.

This is why music's standard "beats 'n' notes" format came about. It became necessary to pare down all the possibilities of the sonic spectrum in favor of those that could be easily reduced to standard music notation. Otherwise, a composer would have to perform all music by himself, and multiple instruments would be almost impossible.

Now that audio recording has been perfected, this isn't the case.

The Reasons Music Was Invented are Now Obsolete

Audio recording should be considered the ultimate form of musical notation. It captures all the things that standard music can't: all beats (regardless of how regular or irregular), all tones (whether they can be found on the piano or not) and the sounds created by non-musical instruments. You would have no trouble recording, say, drum sticks on a toaster. But if you were a composer and really enjoyed that sound, you would have no luck writing that on sheet music. And who's to say that your toaster in Boise is going to sound similar to another toaster-musician's toaster in Detroit? Toasters will vary in tone more than other musical instruments.

Which brings up another point. The composer's arch-enemy has always been the musician. Musicians make mistakes and are rarely able to express the "emotion" and other intangibles that the composer intended. Audio recording eliminates "bad performances" of works by doing away with pesky musicians as soon as the recording is finished (or eliminating musicians from the start, if the composer is taking full advantage of the recording medium and forgetting traditional music and traditional instruments entirely).

The composer really can play all the instruments at once now. This way, the recording becomes the best and only performance. And really, now that audio recordings exist, isn't watching a musical performance as absurd an idea as sitting in an audience watching some guy hired by Andy Warhol paint a soup can?

Organized Sound, A More Expressive, Less Limited Audio Art Form Than Music

When photography was invented, the more forward-looking visual artists were freed from their uncreative, robotic tasks, like portrait and landscape painting. It's unlikely that the modern arts of Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism or Cubism would exist if the visual artists hadn't given up competing with the camera, and embraced the new freedom it gave them. But it took some time for the artists to recognize that freedom and longer for their audiences to appreciate it.

Why has it turned out differently in the case of audio recording? Well, there's a massive Music Industry in place that has made audio recording their own. They use it as a product rather than a new artistic tool. Consumers won't go out of their way to find "music of noises" simply because they don't know it exists and therefore had never given a thought to such a thing. Also, there's sort of a negative connotation to the word 'noise', which is unfortunately the only single word that describes non-musical sounds, no matter how pleasant they may be.

What we're getting at is...

The obstacles that traditional music was created to overcome have been overcome by the invention of audio recording. Organized sound composition can take full advantage of the recording medium without the (now) arbitrary restrictions of music.

Commercial audio recording is dominated by a Music Industry that's making great money from a system that isn't broken, and they expect to make plenty of money in the future without the trouble and financial risk of advancing the quality of their product.

Bonefish Sam & his Power Orchestra will continue to provide healthy alternatives to traditional music.

Bonefish Sam is an experimental musician. If there was an experimental musician's union, he'd be in it.

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