21. The Age of Technological Music?
Sound recording has produced a revolution in the musical lives of people; in order to hear music whenever you want, it is no longer necessary to be able to play. An entire army of singers, orchestras, and performers can now fit into the pocket, and one can listen to any of them at the press of a button. The ability to play instruments, and especially knowledge of notes, are now nothing to the public at large. Performers are coming to the stadiums not knowing a single thing about music grammar – and take pride in this!
A new standard has been established in society, once voiced in a song by Chuck Barry: “Roll Over, Beethoven!” People don’t need to ask musicians for music any longer; they can simply pick out what they want at the store, or online. “You didn’t want to teach us, and now we can get along without you!” is the essence of the current state of affairs between the population and music professionals. Music education turned away from society, and now society faces it with the utmost disdain and apathy.
In musicology, new trends have appeared: they say the ability to write music notation is an unnecessary attribute of the art of music, and many contemporary genres (jazz, rock, folk) simply don’t need it. They even say that the knowledge of music grammar is BAD for the development of rock and pop musicians! Furthermore, they say that by not knowing how to read notes, they’re protecting their own originality.
And in reality, the authors of contemporary pop music really do get along just fine without any serious musical knowledge. It is totally enough for musicians to get by with their music ear alone. Electronic devices grant the ability to unlimitedly manipulate sounds, computers allow for the arrangement of entire orchestras, and software can translate sounds into music notation without the participation of a person. All that the musician needs to do is to think up a melody, play it out, and organize an arrangement over it. Then, the program can translate it all into sheet music, or more often, simply record, and make a soundtrack.
Really, these new possibilities in technology are amazing. But machines can’t create. The quality of the music is a product of the highest human intellect. And, as it was before, and is now, the best, most interesting music compositions are created by those with a higher music education. This is because the mastery of the music language can only be realized through music literacy.
Witnessing the experiences of my fellow Ukrainian compatriots in Houston, Tx, the fate of a verbal language under the conditions of immigration was shown to me. The children of many of the immigrants could only speak in the language of their parents, but couldn’t read or write in it. These kids quickly lost Ukrainian and preferred to think and speak in English. Their vocabulary quickly shrank and dried out, like the ass’s skin in Balzac’s famous novel. This is normal – in order to develop, a language must be nurtured by various sources: books, articles, news, and personal compositions and letters. Only reading and writing can develop one’s vocabulary, and this means creative thought in the language is also required.
The ability to write down music isn’t simply a pragmatic skill. This is the main condition for the development of musical thought and intellect. One can translate sounds into music notation with the help of a machine, but he will never be able to widen his own intellect using this method. In fact, while musicians stay illiterate, their musical thought skids in place. And while it’s stuck in one place, the thought is inevitably reduced to the level of rhythmic cacophonies or primitive, annoying repetitions. It is this very level that has long been demonstrated by club DJs, and the majority of rap and techno groups.
Listeners fed on this type of ‘music’ are unlikely to ever choose something more advanced. A minimum of music and a maximum of rhythm are information not for the brain, but for the reflexes. Just like tribal ritual dances, contemporary ‘dance’ is aimed at primitive instinct and has a rather hypnotic influence. 120 beats per minute and a pounding rhythm crawl into the subconscious at an exclusively physiological level.
Music is a part of the personal world of the listener. Tell me what type of music you enjoy, and I will be able to tell who you are. When true musical thought is missing, and the composition obnoxiously and monotonously spins in circles, the listener feels desperation and falls into depression. It is as if this music is justifying his discord with the world. It isn’t a coincidence that this type of music is a symbol of intimidation and protest. It can call forth a rising tide of energy and a storm of aggression, outrage, and a temptation towards destruction and self-destruction.
Primitive forms of music absolutely can’t develop one’s hearing, memory, and perception, and not to mention taste. The abyss between the masses of admirers and serious music genres is extending. Serious music is becoming isolated and more and more elite, while the language of music is going the way of Latin, which is only used by advanced medics and biologists.
Of course, one can argue about the evolution of music. It is possible that the alloy of technology and music intellect will cause some sort of breakthrough, and nothing otherwise. But I am talking about what we have come to now. And now, professional music is like a many-branched tree with rotting roots. Even the relatively simple, melodic classical music of “The Silver Age” has less and less admirers. New works, it seems, are doomed to complete isolation and lack of understanding by the masses.
 In 2001, Chun-Chi J. Chen and Risto Miikkulainen of The Dept. of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin released their findings after attempting to use evolving recurrent neural networks to artificially compose melodies. The findings state that “While the results were promising, they often lacked flexibility in generating variations in the melody, and they drew little support from music theory.”