I Am the Dj; I Am What I Splay: Unfinished Musics and You
With each new wave of musical instrument technology, popular music changes. I'm sure the technology of the glockenspiel knocked their knickers off back in the day, causing many a meandering troubadour to trill a thankful and hearty "hey nonny non." The technology of the electric guitar rocked their socks off back in the day, causing many a '50s rockabilly crooner to whoop a thankful and hearty "this one goes out to all the rockers in the house!" The beat box spawned disco, the synthesizer spawned techno, and the pan flute spawned all sorts of bad infomercials. But all this is academic.
If an individual advancement in instrument tech can spawn an entirely new genre of music, then imagine what massive paradigm shifts are caused by an entirely new musical medium. Once music became available in recorded form, large orchestras became a luxury. Once multi-track recording became available, entirely new forms of composition were spawned, taking advantage of the ability to overdub and remix, using the studio as an instrument itself. Once MTV infiltrated our homes and minds, the Janis Joplins of the world became much less marketable, and the Britney Spears of the world became much more viable. Think about it, when was the last time you saw an ugly solo pop star, male or female? Marilyn Manson doesn't count; he's in a band. Aaron Neville doesn't count; he was already among us.
With the Internet having officially achieved mass media status, it's probably a good time to examine what effect, if any, this new "global, interactive" medium has had on music. Visually, there's no real advancement. We can still see our favorite star shake his/her respective groove thing on VH1 24/7, so lo-fi concert stills at rickymartin.com aren't exactly rocking anybody's world. The Internet has allowed more widespread distribution of independent music, but this has just flooded the Internet with a lot more crap that no one listens to anyway. No big advancement there.
To realize the big difference the net has made in the nature of music, we have to look beyond Napster and MP3s. We have to look at the one thing the net can do for music that no other mass medium can. The net, with its combination of interactivity and programming, enables the "listener" to co-compose the music. It allows for the possibility of what Brian Eno calls "unfinished music."
The original artist creates a series of discrete loops, and the "listener" is empowered to combine these loops in any manner he sees fit. The original artist composes the source material and sets the parameters within which that material may be combined, and the rest of the control is bequeathed to "the listener." This is a radical and astounding change in the very nature of music.