Guided by William Duckworth’s excellent Virtual Music – How the Web Got Wired for Sound, I actually took the time to explore some of the sites and sounds that are currently happening in web-based music.

In my search, the DJ DangerMouse phenomenon stood out: DangerMouse, who likes to appear in a pink fuzzy costume, had the nerve to remix the Beatles with a rapper without any permission and release the result on the internet. The product was wildly successful. After being sued by the recording industry, he has now achieved major status as an award-winning producer, as witnessed by the New York Times article published last week.

We must face the reality that a new leading edge in music is expressing itself on the internet. This means discarding many of the values that we once held dear:
1.Sound quality,‘good sound’ and acoustics in general are completely irrelevant to the medium. 2.Originality of creation of the material is also irrelevant, as people feel free to borrow, steal, share, and collage over any existing material from any source. 3. Individual ownership of a musical composition is becoming obsolete, as people often team up, as scientists would, or reuse material created by others, crediting them – as the Plunderphonics guy whose iconoclastic mixing combinations broke new grounds in the field of creative recycling.

Why don’t you and I do more with internet-based music? Because solving technical problems can get in the way of the creative process, as opposed to encouraging it. Many savvy computer users, still concerned with avoiding viruses, are not so keen on downloading some buggy unknown piece of soft-who knows where… Also, the delay effect – the fact that a signal once transmitted long distance comes back with a delay or ‘latency’, as demonstrated by Pauline Oliveros who actually took the trouble, with a couple of technicians, to send a signal to the Moon and back, finding that the sound delay was about 1.8 seconds – which is, from a musical standpoint, a very, very long delay. Some of the more successful web pieces have actually used latency as a parameter. I look forward to a time when this open jamming process can actually occur painlessly and we can all partake in the emergence of this new form.

I can’t help thinking of this as a ‘revenge of the nerds’: the computer tekkies who used to work behind the scene are now at the forefront of what’s happening, because they are the ones who can make it work.

In this new conceptual music medium, form appears to be more important than content: a piece is not appreciated for its sound or its author’s style, but for its cleverness or freshness, possibly its humor or generally the ideas it offers or simply the fact that it happened despite a technically challenging environment. It is process-oriented composition, music of the mind, music that makes you feel smart (could make you smart as well, as it is by no means facile). Also much appreciated is the interactivity component: the sharing attitude and the collective creative process – but again this may change as the technology advances. One thing we can count on is the constant evolution of the technology. In fact, this conceptual web music may be a historic phenomenon that will be over soon or the budding stage of a huge new trend, technology-driven music-making.

This approach takes after John Cage’s attitude of non-judgmental openness to any attempt to silence that becomes sound, but one must also keep in mind that Tod Machover’s interactive sound environment the Brain Opera – a 3 million dollar mammoth endeavor- was handled like a scientific research project. It could easily be considered the most successful large-scale music project of the 90s, with a world tour starting with Lincoln Center, and now permanently installed in Vienna.

I see a parallel between the reign of the serialists and their followers and the new unexpected reign on the web of post-Cageans experimentalists. It’s funny, though, I always thought that despite his mathematical approach, Schoenberg always managed to make a piece ‘sound good’ so to speak, and not be a bother to listen to. Same with Cage: somehow he made all his ‘musical’ pieces rather pleasant to listen to. But for their followers, those of Schoenberg (who as you know, happened to be Cage’s official composition teacher) and those of Cage, it is not always true. Maybe they take the method – or the lack of it – to the letter? Who knows. For music to sound good seems ‘démodé’ to the new avant-garde, just no longer a valid parameter of composition.

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