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What does the future sound like?
October 11, 2009 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Where is music headed in the 21st century?

The wording of this recent Front Page Post triggered a sort of interesting thread that didn't go nearly far enough for me, particularly as I've been kind of living in the past of late, sonically speaking. So, please open up, hive mind. Where is music headed?

Links and samples much appreciated, sublime, ridiculous, anything in between. Please educate me.
posted by philip-random to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Live Coding seems interesting, I am not sure about its staying power. It is very interesting to see movement toward the virtualization of music.

I don't have a link for this other idea but it would be interesting to see if the availability of digital manipulation of frequencies could lead toward a movement away from the 12-tone system toward an eastern influenced quarter tone system or something even more broken down. Great question, I look forward to seeing more!
posted by occidental at 12:05 PM on October 11, 2009


Where is music headed?

Wherever you want to take it.

It is no longer a question of which tones we should play on our trumpets and violins. Constructing your own (virtual) instrument is now easier than learning to play a real instrument. Composition and electronic performance is probably easier than starting a band for most people.

The entire history of music has occurred within the limits of what could be done. Now most of those limits are gone. Will music remain something that has a coherent direction, or will it go in all directions at once and fizzle out?
posted by b1tr0t at 12:11 PM on October 11, 2009


I think the mix of new technological toys and a shrinking international world could make something like occidental's eponyronic suggestion possible: more open exploration of 'foreign' tones and scales.

Less radically, a more general growth of hybrid and 'world' music with more cross-pollination between genres and cultures is inevitable, in the same way that Hollywood movies aren't the be-all and end-all of big budget cinema anymore. More music from small artists, more collaboration, as more of the 'out there' experimental work gets a bigger audience.
posted by rokusan at 12:14 PM on October 11, 2009


I don't think there's any question that Animal Collective's My Girls is the most important song of this year. The way it blends electronic instrumentation with human emotion so perfectly seems like a significant moment in the evolution of music to me.

I also see a non-fadish trend towards analog, organic, and nature-evoking sounds in Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, plus many others. The rejection of digital sounds is probably as artistically significant as their proliferation.
posted by martens at 12:16 PM on October 11, 2009


Oh, and if you want an example of de-humanizing digital sounds, Karin Dreijer Andersson, of Fever Ray and The Knife, is probably the most significant figure working with that aesthetic.
posted by martens at 12:22 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Realistically, on a meta level, music will likely be what it is today, two parallel streams:
  1. Crap that musicians don't like that sells because people like to dance to it or hear it in grocery stores.
  2. Weird stuff only musicians like and most audiences find painful, boring, or uncool.

posted by idiopath at 12:28 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the 1 Giant Leap projects are a good idea of what a true "world music" is going to sound like, and will only become more and more prevalent as our technology overcomes physical separation.

I could link dump a zillion videos here, but will instead link to this aggregation of links for leisurely perusal. A personal favorite song of mine, however, is The Way You Dream (feat. Michael Stipe, amongst others.)
posted by hippybear at 12:28 PM on October 11, 2009


Music is going to be more electronic. Acoustic music will remain as a niche genre for the people who want to reject the techno-ization of music. So, basically what martens said.

But more specifically, I was talking about this with a friend yesterday, and I feel that minimalism is really going to take over as an important concept in all styles of music, in one way or another. I don't know why, it's just a feeling, or maybe even a hope. I mean, just listen to Alva Noto. He can take a bunch of clicks and beeps and make an excellent computer-ey almost emotionless track, but at the same time, he can create these waves of noise and static that just seep emotion.

Personally, I think the future really just is musicians finding more and more ways to create sounds, perhaps not music exactly.
posted by azarbayejani at 12:32 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The album Saint Dymphna by Gang Gang Dance sounds to me so much like the future that is probably won't be.

In my opinion, the thing about music is that what is popular now is probably not the future. Think about the seventies: Punk was everywhere, but some painfully avant garde germans playing with computers (and no, not just kraftwerk) I would say had a bigger influence on today's music. So if I had to lay my money down on what will be the future, I would look to something on the fringe, like GAS or Alva Noto, and say way that is the future in some predictable way. I also think generative music will gain ground in some way.
posted by milarepa at 12:34 PM on October 11, 2009


Oops: way
posted by milarepa at 12:36 PM on October 11, 2009


more cross-pollination between genres and cultures is inevitable

This is definitely true, but I'd take it a step further and say that genres as demarcation points in music will stop meaning anything. (If you even feel they mean anything right now). As the electronic palette becomes capable of mimicking any and all sounds, the distinction between genres becomes less tangible. Adding sounds from additional cultures (to my western-centric view) will make existing genre definitions seem even less relevant.
posted by Adam_S at 12:38 PM on October 11, 2009


Pitchfork, the music website, has been doing an end-of-decade wrap up of music trends in the past decade, and doing a little bit of forecasting in the process.

The Decade in Pop
The Decade in Indie
The Decade in Noise
The Social History of the MP3
The Decade in News

Personally? I can't help but think of the last line of The Great Gatsby, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Progress into the future - musically, in this case - is always also a journey into the past. The Fleet Foxes and their embrace of sixties pop, African polyrhythms popping up everywhere - that kind of reaching into the past to find new, interesting sounds is the kind of thing that will inform musicians of the future.

Constructing your own (virtual) instrument is now easier than learning to play a real instrument. Composition and electronic performance is probably easier than starting a band for most people.


While that's true, maybe, I don't think we'll see a dramatic, fundamental change in music itself in the next few decades. People will still form bands because it's fun to play music with friends. People will still play violins (even in non-classical music) because the violin is a good instrument. As for individual trends in pop music? Who knows. But if you were to hear, today, music from ten or twenty years from now, I'm sure you'd recognize a lot of it - instruments, song structures, etc.
posted by Rinku at 12:39 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Realistically, on a meta level, music will likely be what it is today, two parallel streams:

Crap that musicians don't like that sells because people like to dance to it or hear it in grocery stores.

Weird stuff only musicians like and most audiences find painful, boring, or uncool.


This has been true since Western music really began (I can't say with any authority about non-Western music) and will almost certainly remain true for the rest of music's existence.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:21 PM on October 11, 2009


Though this doesn't directly answer your question, it's useful to look at late 19th-century Europe, when Wagner made this a topic of much discussion with his essay Zukunftmusik, or The Music of the Future.

Liszt and Wagner were considered by those in their camp to be leading the way toward a future in which programmatic (Wagner bristled at anything but music drama being included in this conversation, but I digress.) music was at the center of art and expression. Here's a great quote from the Musical Review in 1880, taken from Slonimsky's fabulously entertaining and enlightening book Lexicon of Musical Invective:

One is still a little timid of calling the Liszt Faust Symphony nonsense, for fear that it might turn out in the end to be a great, if misunderstood work... It seems too much like a sheer nothing, on the grandest possible scale... It may be the Music of the Future, but it sounds remarkably like the Cacophony of the Present.
posted by nosila at 1:21 PM on October 11, 2009


One of the things: More worlds meeting, I think and hope. Not just electronic and acoustic - that's been happening for years, we're just hearing more timbral iteration - but in terms of traditions.

This has happened forever too but the technology and resources we have now make it easier to source new stuff to put in your music, and has made the palette broader.

So: More composers like Nico Muhly, comfortable writing and playing for orchestras and Antony Hegardy, for piano and laptop or for choir, with the paradigms of Thomas Tallis and American minimalism. Or Osvaldo Golijov, whose amazing piece Ayre has klezmer techno and Puccini-by-Disney.

More bands like The Dirty Projectors, who use and purposely misuse punk, the singing of pygmies from Burundi and choruses from Bulgaria, afropop, classic rock, and disco.

On a maybe less considered level (although this is just a value judgement) more bands like Brokencyde, who do what the mashup did with songs to musical techniques at a macro level.

At the same time, yes, new music is always going to reach back into the past in a more direct way. We've had resurgences of garage rock for example in every decade after the 60s, each one decrying the current fake music. But my guess is that when people try to come up with a transition that came about in the aughts, it would be the increased and more diverse products of omnivorism.
posted by voronoi at 1:45 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's any question that Animal Collective's My Girls is the most important song of this year. The way it blends electronic instrumentation with human emotion so perfectly seems like a significant moment in the evolution of music to me.

I also see a non-fadish trend towards analog, organic, and nature-evoking sounds in Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, plus many others. The rejection of digital sounds is probably as artistically significant as their proliferation.


The funny thing is, all three of these acts are essentially retro acts. (The Animal Collective tune mentioned is at best a decent homage to / pastiche of "Dazzle Ships"-era OMD, which might have been seen as a significant moment in the evolution of music, some 26 years ago.)

Someone showed me a hilarious video tape made in December, 1979 of what MTV viewers had voted the Top 10 acts people were most likely to be remembered from the decade which was drawing to a close. These acts included Dire Straits, Paul McCartney & Wings, Styx, Queen, REO Speedwagon, Jackson Browne and I don't know . . . Linda Ronstadt maybe. You get the idea. The fact is, they couldn't have been more wrong. Almost none of the acts mentioned are touchstones for anything happening today. The list ignored almost anything really new, innovative or challenging. The bands chosen may have sounded exciting or fresh to many people - much like Animal Collective do to many people today - but it's sort of a deceptive and ephemeral kind of freshness. That AC song, for instance, will sound dated pretty quickly, just like the Christina Aguilera and P Diddy stuff will (same producer!) I like some of these artists and own records by them, but they represent a kind of last gasp of what's already happened, and not the future.

Things will get more splintered. Sure, you might see more acts throwing in ideas from other cultures or what-have-you. But that won't be the "future" - just a sort of semiotic nod to what's really going on, which will be much more *extreme* differences in genres.

It's like the old linguistic tale about what happens to "island" accents when people from the mainland start coming over and buying houses and exerting influence on the islanders. The accents of the islanders was softened by the mainlanders, right? Wrong, the exact opposite happened - the local accents were more strongly emphasized. This is the same way that reggae's inroads into the USA were things like Johnny Nash, Bob Marley in "Western" mixes, lover's rock or "novelty" songs like "The Israelites" or "Pass The Dutchie." Yet what ended up having influence and importance and more lasting appeal were things like dub, deejay and dancehall reggae - originally considered too "weird" and sort of throwaway. So it will be with anything else. In the 15 years I've been in America, I've seen the availability of really "extreme" sounds from the rest of the world start to supersede the "melting pot" stuff available in the 1990s - and even outsell it. Like more extreme Gypsy music, more extreme African music, an acceptance of innovative and future-oriented bands who were marketplace flops in their time and so on.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:18 PM on October 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Many people have mentioned the way computers have and will continue to influence the way music is made. To take this in a very different and very speculative direction (forgive me a moment of Stephensonian whimsy), I have often wondered whether computers might someday be used to generate music algorithmically.

While art and taste are notoriously difficult things to quantify, music has attributes that make it much more amenable to computational analysis than other forms of art. First, it has inherent mathematical qualities. You can easily represent most aspects of music (outside of the lyrics) by numerical values, and predictable patterns are frequently present, both within and between songs. Second, our culture has both a huge repository of existing songs, and a great deal of data regarding how they compare in terms of popularity. This seems ripe for statistical analysis.

In principle, computers should be capable of finding patterns of rhythm, melody, etc, that tend to be common among the most popular songs. Once identified, these patterns could be used to generate new songs. Darwinian algorithms could breed new permutations of the fittest varieties, and the best of these could be selected by producers for further iterations of breeding. At the very least, it seems like it would be possible to roughly predict the likely success of a given track before it is released, based on its statistical similarity to previous hits.

This idea both excites and terrifies me. Imagine songs computationally designed to get stuck in your head. Imagine the homogeneity of music statistically honed to appeal to the greatest number of people. Imagine Peak-Melody—the moment in history when we start to run out of near-perfect melodies.

Even if one finds it hard to believe that computers could ever be capable of creating truly great and original works of music, it's not hard to imagine them being used to crank out derivative pop music tracks.

Note that I don’t see this kind of thing happening anytime soon. Still, it’s fun to imagine how commerce and technology might combine to transform (or corrupt, depending on your point of view) the way music is made in the future.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:23 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be contrarian, I think the basic premise of the question is flawed. Music isn't a monolithic entity and any trends within it will have to be defined in terms of the social context they're operating within. To borrow a linguistic concept, even at the scope of genre one can observe a lack of mutual intelligibility between factions; one example is the panoply of musical technique, all of it under the umbrella of Western art music, that came to be in the 20th century.

A lot of people think that most of technology's (read: technology that currently exists) potential effects on music have yet not been realized, but here are the reasons why I don't think that's true:

1. The rise of electronic media can be construed as encouraging both genre purism and genre pluralism, because the access to a wide library of "authentic" recordings of one genre is just as widespread as the access to a wide library of diverse ones. This is one reason why acoustic instruments won't go away any time soon, and why genre distinctions won't disappear to produce one all-encompassing Ur-music.

2. The social element of music making is quite often the goal of the activity, to the extent that it ranks above the musical object itself as the ultimate end of the process. This is why home composition will never, in my estimation, become the most common method of musical expression.

3. There will be always be factions in any discipline that base their identity on past models (specifically those that are not direct predecessors, but at the very least the predecessors of those predecessors). Take, for example, many of the groups that make up the new folk movement (or New Weird America or whatever you want to call it): a lot of them make entirely acoustic music and some of them sound basically indistinguishable from old icons like Mississippi John Hurt.

4. While electronic instruments do things that acoustic instruments can't do, it's still the case that acoustic instruments do things that electronic instruments can't do. Until that later fact stops being true, acoustic instruments will not go away.

In my view, the future of music contains everything that exists now and looks the same in general. The difference is that people will have created more, and so there will be new genres and more choices, but most everything that exists in force today will continue to do so.

(And...boy, I hope Osvaldo Golijov isn't the future of music. I'd love to hear the music of someone who can make disparate genres interact compellingly, but as it stands all I hear out of him are sentimental mixtapes.)
posted by invitapriore at 3:34 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Clearly it's going to sound like this.
posted by lubujackson at 3:41 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think you can ask or answer this question. Music will be what it is for the people who hear it, and that's about it. Last night I went to hear my friends play amazing Irish music at a house, and that's what we do. No one else heard it, so I guess it didn't really 'happen' in the sense that no one really knows what we do and might not understand it anyway. But to us, it's very important.

I think the same could be said of any number of different ethnic musics. Flamenco is going to sound like Flamenco. Probably for another couple hundred years.

Nerds are going to be nerding out about synthesizers, for a good long time. Soul people are going to be singing soul music. Little kids are going to grow up to be violin virtuosos.

I think big record deals are done. Classical music is going to be on hard times. Other than that I don't know what I could predict.
posted by sully75 at 3:43 PM on October 11, 2009


Music is going to be more electronic. Acoustic music will remain as a niche genre for the people who want to reject the techno-ization of music.

That already happened in the '80s. People like to hear both acoustic and "techno" sounds. Even techno envolved from synthetic TR-808 sound to more natural sounding sampled instruments and back to virtual analog again, spawning new genres all along the way.

While that's true, maybe, I don't think we'll see a dramatic, fundamental change in music itself in the next few decades. People will still form bands because it's fun to play music with friends.

I'm not saying that is what will happen - that is what has already happened. By the mid-90s, you could do pretty much anything you wanted with sound, if you could bankroll your project. Now when you buy Logic (or any other DAW suite) you get comprehensive composition, synthesis, sampling and performance tools, for less than you used to pay for one of Roland's terrible post-x0x drum machines.

Nothing stops you from forming a band today, but the doors have been wide open for any motivated individual to make anything they want without a band.

To take this in a very different and very speculative direction (forgive me a moment of Stephensonian whimsy), I have often wondered whether computers might someday be used to generate music algorithmically.

There has been a lot of work done on algorithmic composition. It isn't hard to write up a formula and bang out an algorithm that produces a lot of music that conforms to the formula. The tricky part is identifying what your audience is likely to be receptive to, but that can probably be done algorithmically as well.


Technology doesn't limit where music will go in the future. Where we decide to take music is where it will go.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:45 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


On a tangent, if there is one unified music of the future, I hope it sounds like this.
posted by invitapriore at 3:50 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think we'll be seeing a return to the simplest of melodies and harmonies, nature and cosmic based that will be focused on healing the collective soul of mankind. One note chants, breath/earth rhythms and even songs with more silence will be the trend. Music that can be personalized according to blood type and fingerprints allowing one to return to their true selves.
posted by watercarrier at 3:53 PM on October 11, 2009


Classical music is going to be on hard times.

In the west, maybe. It seems to be doing pretty well in Japan and China. (Western classical music, that is)

Maybe this is musical sneetches.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:04 PM on October 11, 2009


You can listen to the music of the future -- today!:

Dubstep:

Caspa
Rusko
AC Slater
Skream
posted by empath at 5:46 PM on October 11, 2009


Bonus:

Kuduro:

Buraka Som Sistema

DJ Manaia

Baile Funk

Bonde do role

Diplo vs M.I.A.

Random stuff:

Crookers
T.E.D.D
Kissy Sellout
posted by empath at 6:01 PM on October 11, 2009


Here's some food for thought. Very soon we are going to be seeing bands made up of kids who learned music playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Those skills aren't transferable to the guitar, but they are directly transferable to the drums. (In Rock Band you're basically playing an electric drum kit.) We may have a golden age of drumming and percussion coming up.

(epony blah blah... to be honest this is not my insight but that of my guitar-playing friend.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:41 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not convinced that Rock Band or Guitar hero teach any music skills. They might not even help dancing.

We are already in a golden age of percussion, kicked off by the 808 and 909, given a huge shove by the Akai MPCs and launched into orbit with the myriad soft-samplers, Reason and Fruity Loops.

See also empath's mention of Dubstep. And of, course the famous Amen break.

There will definitely be more rhythm in the future, but there will also be more microtonal music, and more standard western melody and harmony. There will be more of everything, because the constraints are only what we want to make.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:55 PM on October 11, 2009


I actually don't think Dubstep itself is the future of music, I think it's kind of a creative dead-end. But, I think whatever the future of music is, it will be this:

1) Urban
2) International
3) Multi-ethnic
4) Electronic
5) Bass Heavy.
6) Ghetto Music

Some combination of Miami Bass, Detroit Techno, Rio Baile Funk, Angolan Kuduro, Baltimore Club, and UK Garage/Dubstep.
posted by empath at 10:27 PM on October 11, 2009


Almost 30 posts and no one has mentioned John Cage? An appreciation for silence and found sound (4'33"), hacked and modded instruments (prepared pianos), music composed by chance or generative procedues (indeterminacy), an intense interest in other cultures and interdisciplinary approaches (dance, literature, visual art)... I think his work and writing might be a good place to look for indications of where things are going.
posted by oulipian at 10:34 PM on October 11, 2009


In principle, computers should be capable of finding patterns of rhythm, melody, etc, that tend to be common among the most popular songs. Once identified, these patterns could be used to generate new songs. Darwinian algorithms could breed new permutations of the fittest varieties, and the best of these could be selected by producers for further iterations of breeding. At the very least, it seems like it would be possible to roughly predict the likely success of a given track before it is released, based on its statistical similarity to previous hits.

No offense, but this is kinda ridiculous. I'm not saying it's impossible for an AI to write music some day, but if an AI ever writes music, it will be a full human-level AI and not some genetic algorithm. Writing a good pop song is no easier than writing a good short story, or directing a short film. And computers aren't close to doing any of those things.
posted by empath at 11:21 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bill Drummond (KLF, etc.) gave an interesting lecture on the subject recently. Well worth a listen.
posted by Lazlo at 1:15 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


they represent a kind of last gasp of what's already happened, and not the future.

I feel I need to justify why "My Girls" is the year's most important song, so here goes.

*ahem*

Nobody* gives a shit about old music.** Nobody cares about what already happened. The Beatles could have made a song that sounds exactly like "My Girls," and that would have no bearing on Animal Collective's relevance to contemporary culture.

In reality, to the next generation of aspiring musicians, Animal Collective is probably second only to Radiohead in terms of influence. They have been a major, prolific band for a decade, and "My Girls" is widely considered their masterpiece. Is the song any less perfect because it's a "pastiche of 'Dazzle Ships'-era OMD"? Only old people** could possibly know what the fuck that means. And old people do not represent the future of music.

*If you're over 30, you're nobody.
**Anything before 1987.
***If you're over 25, you're old.
posted by martens at 1:41 AM on October 12, 2009


I'd wager the Dazzle Ships/AC connection is relevant seeing as how older people have lived through decades of The Next Big Thing.

I don't think the future of music will be found in some kind of genre fusion or cultural discovery. New music needs to bring the crowd interaction and live interpretation of rock and roll to digital/synth music. I see today's groundbreaking artists as way too easy to duplicate and that takes away from some of that sexual allure necessary for great music. With logic, an MPD32 and XSTATION I can pretty much recreate any top 10 song from the last 10 years, sometimes making them even more interesting.

An innovator who combines the rock star presence with synth/digital music can probably be the next evolutionary step for popular music. Girl talk, circuit benders, DJ acts (A-TRAK, DJ AM...well not anymore) and even daft punk put on good shows but they're missing that broad headlining appeal.

FWIW I'm under 25 and I agree this is a question with no real answer.
posted by laptolain at 2:31 AM on October 12, 2009


I think some big changes that are starting to emerge are related to the performance of electronic music and making it more "live" with tools such as the Reactable, Ableton and the Eigenharp.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:58 AM on October 12, 2009


I think the internet has, and is going to have, a greater effect on music than we realize. It's exposing people to a wider variety of instruments and styles than they would normally have access to from within their separate cultures. Some of the most progressive music that I've heard is making use of musical techniques from every corner of the world: sitars, hurdy gurdies, banjos, accordions, didgeridoos, thumb pianos. There's a growing interest in foreign/obscure sounds creating interesting textures to be blended with contemporary pop music. Even mainstream genres are now cross-pollinating in unexpected ways: rap with country, classical with rock, electronic with folk. Musicians are pushing boundaries to create something new, a signal to be heard above all the noise. Soon our genre labels will be totally obsolete and we'll need to make new ones.

The internet has also opened the door for collaboration. Artists who have never met in person can cut tracks together, even complex vocal harmonies, from opposite sides of the globe. There are some amazing virtual barbershop quartets on YouTube assembled this way. I'm seeing a trend toward more elaborate vocals in general and a sort of Beach Boys revival popping up in unexpected places. I think this global collaboration will pave the way to even more stylistic diversity, and we'll see more and more "studio music" that makes for incredible recordings but can never be performed live.

I don't expect that popular music will go 100% electronic. But we will see an increasing amount of synthesizers integrated into it. I'm finding many bands with live drummers playing in conjunction with digital drum loops, and somehow they can coexist. Many musicians are also experimenting with circuit bending and samples. Another notable trend is a musician sampling his/her own instrument and arranging the samples to do things that are almost, but not quite, playable in real life. Lots of post-processing and stutter effects. Also improvised instruments are becoming more common, from music box chimes to Blue Man-esque PVC arrays to all manner of household objects.

I think there may be a full-length album revival coming to counter the commoditization of individual songs on iTunes. It'll still be distributed online, and I think the iTunes LP format is the forerunner of the movement. I think turntablism (at least as we know it) is on the way out. That kind of DJ work is going fully digital and laptops are replacing it. Auto-tune is on the way out. I'd personally like to see 5.1 channel surround sound music get a foothold but I don't see it realistically happening anytime soon. The music video is rising in prominence and may serve a larger role in marketing as more artistic and innovative videos are produced specifically for viral spreading on YouTube. This is all my opinion as a music fan and industry outsider. Sorry for the long-winded, purely subjective response. :-)
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:21 AM on October 12, 2009


nthing Ableton changing music. Or something like it. All of my DJ friends are mixing with either ableton or Serrato these days and some of them are doing really innovative stuff with it. The line between DJing and live performance and composition is really blurring.
posted by empath at 9:41 AM on October 12, 2009


I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, "The future will sound a lot like the present. The era of exponential growth and dramatically new sounds is over forever."

We're about a decade after the end of a geometric explosion in new sounds - driven by technology. Recording technology brought music into our home; global travel brought everyone all the music of the world; electrification brought us rock music; synthesis brought us electronic and machine music; computer-aided composition (exemplified by the drum machine) brought up hip-hop.

I'm not talking just "technology by engineers" - it also includes purely musical techniques like polyrhythms or overtones and harmonics.

But this is done. No matter what it is, we've heard something like it before. For example, I remember well the first time I heard an "out" soloist (a little hard to describe, but basically a soloist who is far beyond "variations on the main theme" - think Hendrix vs. the Beatles) - I was in my (early) teens. Now that whole bit of musical technology is so standardizes that children ape "out" playing in air guitar competitions, and instrumentalists learn the mechanics of the technique and never actually go "out" themselves.

From a longer viewpoint, you can even see that each technique appears three times before simply becoming part of your arsenal - first as a fine art technique, as a mainstream pop staple, to disappear and then reappear in a "punk" aggressive version.

We're now solidly into the "punked out" version of "electronic music". You can think of dancehall being the "punked out" version of "world" music. "World" (I hate that word but what else to use?) music is a much larger genre - I think there's still somewhere to go with this, and I predict we will hear "aggro" African, Arab and Asian musics, for example, within the next 5 years (particularly as the world continues to go to shit). We're even having the punked out child of minimal music, which is "noise" music, having its moment in the sun about now (I do love it myself - though when it's bad it's unendurable and a lot of it is bad - but what's interesting to me is how appealing it is now is to a lot of mainstream people who are exposed to it...)

But we're into third-waves here. And we still have everything else from the past - I'm listening to 30s Raymond Scott at this moment, 90s Brooklyn illbient before that, 70s CAN, 70s Miles, 20s Sibelius, 60s Indonesian, 80s Jamaican...)

Turkeyfant:

I think some big changes that are starting to emerge are related to the performance of electronic music and making it more "live" with tools such as the Reactable, Ableton and the Eigenharp.

I am glad you say this because I'm staking my musical career on this horse. :-D I play an electronic wind instrument, you can hear me solo live here and have for, urgh, over 20 years. I have a custom-brewed software system with Live and Max (and STILL waiting for Max for Live), I'm ordering a Eigenharp Pico, etc. etc.

The Winsome Parker Lewis:

"I don't expect that popular music will go 100% electronic. But we will see an increasing amount of synthesizers integrated into it."

Er, um. You do not perhaps realize that almost all popular music has been electronic for, damn, 20 years now? That almost all of rap music and dance music is almost all electronic? That even a lot of the fairly realistic musician sounds you hear were created in the studio by programs and have to be said to be electronic?

---

(There's an underlying assumption here that we don't have a collapse of civilization and then a rediscovery of music when "everything old is new again"... something I consider to actually be a very likely case!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:01 AM on October 12, 2009


lupus_yonderboy: "We're even having the punked out child of minimal music, which is "noise" music, having its moment in the sun about now (I do love it myself - though when it's bad it's unendurable and a lot of it is bad - but what's interesting to me is how appealing it is now is to a lot of mainstream people who are exposed to it...)"

Depends what you call noise. Noise had its biggest recent heyday in the early to mid '90s, when Merzbow and Aube got laptops. If you track the usage of the name for a genre and the philosophy/techniques, it has been going on since before people were doing much music with electronic devices (think WWI or so). Calling noise a child of minimal music is laughable.

Noise has been going on since there were electronics to do it with, and will continue to go on as long as they remain available, and won't have much relevance to pop music most of the time, except in reference to occasional outliers of mainstream musicians who dip into it (John Cage, Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, Wolf Eyes ...).

I am incredulous that a style of music can be "the cutting edge" for 100 years straight while hardly changing except for the technologies facilitating it - if it was ever going to be popular it would have happened already.
posted by idiopath at 10:34 AM on October 12, 2009


I played this at a club a few weeks ago and it absolutely killed on the dance floor (and this was not some underground art-music event) and I think not very long ago, people would have described it as noise.

I think 'noise music' as a genre is always going to be a fringe thing, but noise as a stylistic choice will always have a place in pop music.
posted by empath at 10:59 AM on October 12, 2009


empath: "noise as a stylistic choice will always have a place in pop music"

"Noise as a stylistic choice" is a semantic game played between musicians, audiences, and music critics. Wagner was "noise" in this sense, hell, even Beethoven and Mozart were to some degree. The word "noise", in this sense, has pretty much the same implications as "kook" in the science world - everything that is for the moment unlistenable will be "noise", and we can in retrospect say that some of it is no longer "noise" to modern ears. Most of the "noise" never becomes music, just as most of the kooks never become canonized paradigm breaking innovators of their fields.

The fact that evolution and a heliocentric solar system with relativistic physics and a wave/particle duality is the mainstream model of scientific reality is not some sign of a "kookiness" trend in science; and in the same way, a presence of what would in the recent past be considered grating timbres in a dance beat is not a sign of a "noise" trend in music.

I take these semantics seriously because I have a 17 year tenure as a fanatic of and participant in Noise (as in the genre/movement) and outside music in general, and while the idea that I could be a trendsetter of musical taste is flattering, this isn't what is happening as far as I can tell.
posted by idiopath at 11:30 AM on October 12, 2009


I feel I need to justify why "My Girls" is the year's most important song, so here goes.

*ahem*

Nobody* gives a shit about old music.** Nobody cares about what already happened. The Beatles could have made a song that sounds exactly like "My Girls," and that would have no bearing on Animal Collective's relevance to contemporary culture.


Sorry, this isn't a justification. It's whining because you have a *need* for your fave song of the year, which is a perfectly nice song, to be "important." And it isn't, really. "Nobody gives a shit about old music" and your corollary comments about "old people" aren't an argument, they're (apparently) the only slams you can come up with because (it seems) you don't actually know much about music or context. You realize, don't you, that in your childish rant, you offer not one bit of actual reason or justification why "My Girls" is so important. I think you just want it to be. In fact, look at your original quote:

The way it blends electronic instrumentation with human emotion so perfectly seems like a significant moment in the evolution of music to me.

Lovely! If only it were true. But you weren't talking about "relevance to contemporary culture" there, were you? No, you were talking about "a significant moment in the evolution of music." My point was, the moment in evolution occurred more than a quarter of a century ago. It would have occurred longer ago if it had been the Beatles. Perhaps because you don't know your musical history (both this OMD record and the Beatles were before my time, too, you know), you should refrain from getting upset when people point out gaps in your knowledge that make such comments seem, well, utterly clueless.

In reality, to the next generation of aspiring musicians, Animal Collective is probably second only to Radiohead in terms of influence. They have been a major, prolific band for a decade, and "My Girls" is widely considered their masterpiece. Is the song any less perfect because it's a "pastiche of 'Dazzle Ships'-era OMD"? Only old people** could possibly know what the fuck that means. And old people do not represent the future of music.

Your standards of "perfect" might change if your hears more music. And no one said it wasn't perfect, either. That's a sort of red herring you threw in there as you're not able to actually argue any of the points previously represented. More to the point, being "major" or "prolific" or even an acknowledged influence means nothing relative to the future of music. It perfectly describes the position of Styx and REO Speedwagon nearly 30 years ago (again, before my time.) Yet those bands mean very little to anyone today.

One of the truisms of the last forty years is that music that holds an obvious influence on the present generation tends to *not* be the stuff which lasts, or points the way to the future. This is why one can point to entire *genres* of music originating in works by relatively commercially unsuccessful artists such as This Heat or Lee Perry or Faust, but little resonance from the likes of REO Speedwagon or Styx. Why should Animal Collective have a different fate than REO Speedwagon. Granted, even accounting for the times, they're a more interesting and better band. But what they've done isn't new or fresh.

And guess what? Thom Yorke has championed both the entire oeuvre of the band Magazine as the source of many of his (and Radiohead's) musical ideas. One can certainly hear it. Here are some quotes I found in 20 seconds:

The debt that’s owed to Magazine and Howard Devoto, both musically and stylistically, is massive, from Radiohead’s paranoid melancholy to Joy Division’s jumpy genius.

Radiohead and Jarvis Cocker have covered "Shot By Both Sides". (A Magazine song.)

Colin Greenwood, Radiohead:

"We all got excited at the end of recording Hail to the Thief because Nigel [Godrich, producer] was trying to get Jonny to play like [Magazine guitarist] John McGeoch. All the old farts in the band were in seventh heaven"


Devoto’s (main Magazine guy) influence on popular culture is discernable, not least in Radiohead.

That invisibility waxed Magazine’s reputation: Morrissey, Coldplay, Radiohead, The Klaxons are Devoto devotees and February’s inevitable reunion went so well the classic line-up (with Luxuria’s Noko replacing guitarist John McGeoch who died in 1994) reconvened last night.

Back in the day, Devoto was a magnetic front man, seeming cerebral and other-wordly, in much the same way that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke does today.

Radiohead in particular draws on the lyrical style of the group, and have performed "Shot By Both Sides" in concert. What's more, Radiohead's 1995 single "Just", with its ascending guitar hook, bears a passing resemblance to "Shot By Both Sides".

"It was a bit of a risk as their [Magazine's] moment in musical history was gone in the blink of an eye, but those people who know them, really love them and bands like Radiohead have always cited their influence."

Yorke's gone on record as saying that one of his goals is to bring Radiohead to a point where their achievements will last into the future as long as Magazine's. Now Magazine was largely the work of singer / songwriter Howard Devoto, who's probably approaching sixty. He's similar to Charles Hayward of This Heat, another band (like Magazine) from 30 years ago, heavily and enthusiastically *adored* and championed by Animal Collective. How do I know? Because I've heard them go on and on and on about Hayward and This Heat as representing much of what the want to achieve. (You can look it up, too.) For all your adoration of bands like Animal Collective, and all your dismissal of "old" people and things, you've missed the fact that the very bands you champion would disagree pretty intensely with your weak and poorly-articulated point of view - and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that there even *is* something to articulate there.

So you've started a mighty argument - that not only am I wrong, but the bands you like are wrong about their own influences and their own sense of what their influence is relative to those who influenced them. Given that you support exactly *none* of your positions with anything other than the rather perverse, "I'm young and know nothing about context or musical history and therefore I am right" line, your mighty argument falls entirely flat.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:40 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


In reality, to the next generation of aspiring musicians, Animal Collective is probably second only to Radiohead in terms of influence.
*If you're over 30, you're nobody.


I'm confused. Everyone in Animal Collective is 30 or older.
posted by malp at 12:19 PM on October 12, 2009


As I had hoped, there's some amazing stuff here (words as well as sounds). So much so, I have no idea where to start in terms of BEST ANSWERS and such, so I won't (start that is; not yet anyway).

The debt that’s owed to Magazine and Howard Devoto, both musically and stylistically, is massive, from Radiohead’s paranoid melancholy to Joy Division’s jumpy genius.

I had no idea that Radiohead were so into Magazine. The strange thing is, I just spent a chunk of Saturday afternoon listening to some old Magazine faves (Secondhand Daylight and Alternate Use of Soap) ... and Wow! utterly fresh sounding (and feeling).

Permafrost
posted by philip-random at 12:30 PM on October 12, 2009


Yes, and there's an astounding amount of high quality Magazine videos on youtube.com, though the records (Real Life, *sigh*) are just astounding. They changed a lot from album to album without losing their unique vision, humor and brillance.

In reality, to the next generation of aspiring musicians, Animal Collective is probably second only to Radiohead in terms of influence.
*If you're over 30, you're nobody.


Most of Radiohead are around 40, too! It's funny how many "old nobodies" are out there.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:51 PM on October 12, 2009


Apologies for my tone, I was hoping my ridiculous footnotes would be obviously tongue-in-cheek, but clearly that was not the case. All I really wanted to communicate was that, to pretty much every artistically inclined young person I know, "My Girls" is a revelatory song, and in my opinion it will have an inspirational effect on future musicians. To Dee Xtrovert's point, while it may not be new, but it sounds damn fresh to me.

Further, it seems to me that knowledge of musical history is becoming less prominent and more shallow as the internet accelerates the half-life of trends and styles. Popular indie musicians these days pretty much just scrape various sounds from the past and paste them into new music. Just look at the recent resurgence of lo-fi indie rock. That movement gained prominence in the early 90s, went out of fashion, and is now ironically, nostalgically hip barely a decade later. From what I can tell, a deep understanding of craft and influence is on the wane, replaced by a superficial appeal to retro-cool.
posted by martens at 1:06 PM on October 12, 2009


I earn a living in the music business, often working with innovative artists and predicting long-term trends for, by way of example, publishing companies. The problem, mertens, is I don't think you're seeing this with enough objectivity and certainly not with enough historical context.

For instance:

Further, it seems to me that knowledge of musical history is becoming less prominent and more shallow as the internet accelerates the half-life of trends and styles.

That sounds pretty reasonable, and it may certainly feel that way to you. But it's not borne out by any actual evidence, while the exact opposite is. There was a time when bands as clearly legendary, important and iconic as the Velvet Underground suffered from having many of their records completely out-of-print in any country of the world. I could cite a million examples of similar instances. There's certainly a larger number of (say) postpunk records from 1979 or psychedelic records from 1969 available today than there were even in the years when they were initially released. This may sound totally nuts, but it's the literal truth. Why? Because reissues of these things often sell far better now than they did when they were "new." In the early 1980's, there may have been a few dozen or so books dealing with punk rock which were readily available. Today, there are thousands and thousands, detailing esoteric bands and scenes, about which information was near impossible to uncover back in the day. This is true for nearly all musical genres, and doesn't even take into account the massive amount of info on the web. I don't know this from empirical evidence; I'm too young. I know this from back-and-white statistics and sales reports. Basically, there's such a hunger for musical history, the companies who release records and publish books have a tough time churning it out fast enough to meet the demand.

Just look at the recent resurgence of lo-fi indie rock. That movement gained prominence in the early 90s, went out of fashion, and is now ironically, nostalgically hip barely a decade later.

Okay, you talk about fashion, but who cares about fashion? It's an unrealistic manipulation of things by media which has little effect on reality. I'm paid to look at this stuff, and what you call "lo-fi indie rock" is something whose sales have pretty much steadily grown (albeit slowly), since this was "idenitified" as a genre. In other words, it may be treated as "trendy" now, but it's sales never dipped when it wasn't trendy, and sales aren't rising faster because it is trendy now. So the only irony or nostalgia there is is purely a media concoction, of which you must have fallen prey. Otherwise, there's simply no basis for your statement.

And "My Girls." A fine song. It's great you and your peers like it and that it feels fresh to you. But there's a big difference between being fresh and *sounding* fresh, and as hard as it is to imagine REO Speedwagon ever having sounded fresh, that's exactly how they did sound to many people in 1980. And people made the same argument about naysayers who understood that this wasn't really going to matter very soon. This will be the case with "My Girls," though (as I said) it's a nice song and for you, at least, will probably bring back positive associations even when - devoid of the newness of its very expensive and trendy (in the sense that trends don't last) 2009 P Diddy / Gnarls Barkley / Christina Aguilera production techniques - and in association with your presumably "deeper" future knowledge of music - it becomes clear that it was simply a pop song and in no way a pointer of future anythingness.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:41 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man, I hate to pile on, but I've never even heard of "My Girls" or Animal Collective. Listening to it now, I just don't get it. They turned on the arpeggiator on a synth for 8 minutes? It's not a bad song, but it's nothing special. It's not even produced well -- it's low fi and muddy.
posted by empath at 3:19 PM on October 12, 2009


I fully accede, Dee, that you know way more about pop music than I do. I'm a big fan of the indie scene, and I try to keep up with it as best I can, but I'm certainly not an insider or student of music. I don't want to claim any "deeper" understanding, except perhaps a lack of historical context, which I contend is basically useless at this moment in the industry (do you really think the next 40 years will look like the last 40?). And I would admit defeat and drop this (which I should probably do anyway), but I'm really convinced that you're wrong about Animal Collective.

I mean, comparing them to P Diddy, Gnarls Barkley, Christina Aguilera, and REO Speedwagon? You may not get them, but I don't think you can deny that for a significant segment of young people, AC is regarded as one the major acts of this decade. There are plenty of popular indie bands these days who I'm sure will go the way of REO Speedwagon, but a band that engenders cult-like devotion and reverence the way AC does is not just going to fade away.

And as to this claim:

But there's a big difference between being fresh and *sounding* fresh

I don't buy it. There was nothing genuinely fresh about Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights or The Strokes' Is This It when those records first came out, but that didn't stop them from being important and influential in the 00's. I recently listened to a band full of 18-year-olds (New Faces), who have a real shot at getting big, and their whole sound was just a well-executed rip-off of those two bands. I'm not saying Interpol is going to supersede Joy Division in the music history textbooks; I'm saying that they get teenagers excited about making new music. And I think that's really the only useful form of prognostication about music: which bands are the kids ripping off right now?
posted by martens at 4:18 PM on October 12, 2009


I don't want to claim any "deeper" understanding, except perhaps a lack of historical context, which I contend is basically useless at this moment in the industry (do you really think the next 40 years will look like the last 40?).

Well there was a time when the best, most innovative and 'freshest' music out there did quite well in the charts and in mass culture. That ended, for the most part, 40 years ago. So to answer your question, yes, the next 40 years will be like the last 40, except more so.

And "basically useless?" Hey, I'm on a paid three-month holiday because (in essence) I understand historical context so well. So it works for me! And your comment is a bit like someone who can't play an instrument claiming that this makes them a "minimalist." If you admit a lack of knowledge of historical context, you're admitting you're not qualified to judge its value. So basically, you're guessing. Very rarely (and only briefly, in limited circles) do the rules of art change so much that deeper understanding can't be garnered through knowledge of prior history. You could read Greil Marcus or someone who does an excellent job of making connections between "new" things in music and situations which existed decades - or centuries - earlier.

I mean, comparing them to P Diddy, Gnarls Barkley, Christina Aguilera, and REO Speedwagon? You may not get them, but I don't think you can deny that for a significant segment of young people, AC is regarded as one the major acts of this decade. There are plenty of popular indie bands these days who I'm sure will go the way of REO Speedwagon, but a band that engenders cult-like devotion and reverence the way AC does is not just going to fade away.

Sunshine, I "got" Animal Collective before they had a record released. I like them fine. I've discussed their influences and sound with them. My 'analysis' of them is based on many things - understanding of historical context, their influences and their goals - from their mouths, in some cases. Yours is . . . wish fulfillment? I compared them to P Diddy, Gnarls Barkley and Christina Aguilera for a simple reason - because they wanted to make a crossover pop record that was geared to a market not dissimilar to those artists. A big pop hit, in other words. That's why they chose an expensive producer who works with those artists. Did they succeed? Not totally. The album received generally good but not astounding reviews (3.5/5 Rolling Stone, 4/5 Spin, 4/5 user ratings on both Amazon and Spin - granted these are not the hippest places, but the reviews everywhere else were in the same range.) The album sold extremely well to fans but didn't particularly crossover (it's #879 at Amazon right now.) It will be on some year-end Top 10 lists, but it won't be the obvious winner. re: REO Speedwagon - it's an obvious laugh to discuss the, because they're so blatantly unimportant. Animal Collective will, I'm sure, be remembered more kindly thirty years from now. But you're argument is senseless. REO Speedwagon certainly engendered a huge cult-like devotion and reverence, as silly as it seems now. Yet they faded away.

There was nothing genuinely fresh about Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights or The Strokes' Is This It when those records first came out, but that didn't stop them from being important and influential in the 00's.

Well . . . there's not anything "fresher" about AC particularly, except that you think so, and I'm guessing this is simply because you lack historical context. So your opinion may have been come by honestly, but that doesn't actually make you right. And, for the record, LOADS of people raved about the "freshness" of Interpol and the Strokes - presumably because they didn't know the Voidoids, Television, Josef K, Subway Sect (etc.) Animal Collective's strength relative to Interpol and the Strokes, is simply that their influences are more diverse and a little more obscure. Consequently, they're perhaps more interesting, but fresh? I've heard it all before!

But ask yourself, were these bands important? I don't think so. And their influence is actually minimal and will prove to be short-lived, simply because they were weaker, diluted versions of earlier artists. These earlier artists may never become retroactively huge (like, say, the Velvet Underground), but in twenty years there will be more interest in Vic Godard (of the Subway Sect) than of his lesser-quality acolytes of later decades. (Even if this interest is imperceptible to the masses. You may not have heard of him, but his records sell better each year.)

And I think that's really the only useful form of prognostication about music: which bands are the kids ripping off right now?

Well they were ripping off Styx in 1981! Kids are idiots, basically, when it comes to new music. They almost always get it wrong. When fairly knowledgeable people think of important music from the 1980's, for example, they tend to think of a lot of things that didn't sell and weren't important back then (commercially speaking, that is.) The Slits, for instance, sold almost no copies of "Cut" in America and received a really poor, one-star review in Rolling Stone. The album was deleted very quickly. But NOW, they're acknowledged to have influenced all sorts of great bands in the 90s and 00s, there's a book about the album about to be released, and there's a deluxe, 2-CD edition of the album about to be issued. Similarly, people perceive the bands that influenced the bands you mention to be more important than they were considered in their day. That's why - though they still remain somewhat obscure - bands like Magazine and the Gang Of Four can do big reunion tours and make new records.

So "the only useful form of prognostication about music: which bands are the kids ripping off right now?" is true, but not in the way you meant. It should be, "which bands from twenty years ago are the kids ripping off right now?" The bands the kids are ripping off from TODAY are the future REO Speedwagons; the bands they're ripping off from the 70s and 80s are the ones who will last.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:24 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I'm being a pest or you're becoming genuinely frustrated, please feel free to blow me off. I'm actually enjoying myself here, and learning about some of my bad rhetorical tics, so I'll keep digging. Call me a masochist.

REO Speedwagon certainly engendered a huge cult-like devotion and reverence, as silly as it seems now. Yet they faded away.

Everything you say seems very sensible, but the notion that REO occupied a similar cultural position in their time to how AC is seen today is disingenuous. Here's a contemporaneous RS review of an REO album from 1982 which makes clear that knowledgeable listeners of the day were well aware of the band's fadish, shallow nature:
[B]ecause unlike the majority of bands cashing in on the hard-pop sound, REO seems to have arrived there almost by accident, after years spent touring the heartland. Now that they've made the big time, we'll see how deep their roots run. Don't get your hopes up, though: Good Trouble already finds them piling on the fertilizer.
Compare that to AC's reviews from relevant* critics. AV Club:
The searching souls in Animal Collective have evolved into one of the most fascinating bands of our time, in part for the way they jam signals of various kinds.
Pitchfork:
Animal Collective have spent the decade following their own path, figuring out what their music is capable of while also working to bring more listeners into their world. On Merriweather Post Pavilion, their commitment has paid off tremendously.
You may not like those publications (I don't), but they do speak to an audience that is young, trendy, and artistically inclined, a.k.a. likely future musicians.

And with my "lack of historical context" comment, while admittedly ill-advised, I was trying to say that I think you're letting the fact that you know about a 30-year-old band that kind of sounds like Animal Collective cloud your perception of AC's real significance. I mean, what band these days is not just a transparent amalgamation of their influences? You've made a lot of great points about the past of music in this thread, but I don't see any mention of current bands who you believe will be important in years to come. I don't claim to know the answer, but from where I'm standing AC is my best guess.

Oh, and I realize now how juvenille my "you don't GET Animal Collective" comment soudned. Mea culpa. I don't mean it as an insult. I don't "get" them either, really; I just love one of their songs. But I have observed the ridiculous effect they've had on people I know, and I don't think these are isolated cases. You're saying AC is the new REO; I'm saying they're the new Grateful Dead.

*Modern RS, Spin, and customer reviews? I know I'm not doing well here, but give me a little credit.
posted by martens at 4:01 PM on October 13, 2009


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