Music, etc. by Eric D. Johnson
Part of my purpose for reviving this blog is keeping Facebook from eating all of my thoughts about music (which often occur in conversation) and turning them into algorithm ad-sales fuel. So here I’m going to try to reproduce a conversation I was just in, without necessarily reproducing all of my interlocutors and prompters dialog wholesale.
It started with this image. (It always starts with an image like this.)
I’ll spare you the entire run-down and context, except to say that it was among musicians and mostly centered on real-life analogs of the last panel and that light, bemused shade was thrown around until someone brought up their son* and the hours he puts in making EDM sets and the engagement and liveliness that prompts him to do so, pointing out that ” it turns out that a piano is just a machine built to make noises, just like a laptop.”
And all that was good, until, someone stepped in to explain that “I have nothing personal against technology as I use it all the time–but it’s not the ONLY thing I use. When we accept the complete takeover of the computer in music–and that has pretty much already happened–then we lose our humanity. Human interaction is what makes us human. If you go to a disco and just observe people dancing, it’s really not about dancing with each other anymore. Everyone is in their own world. That is disturbing.” And that “music created by real human beings interacting together in real time just sounds and feels better.”
This is a fairly standard complaint among musicians of a certain age–generally my age or older–and even among younger rockist types. It’s also completely wrongheaded. Musical instruments, like books and pretty much anything else we make for a given purpose, are “technology.” Every. Single. One. Of. Them. What “just sounds better” to you is not some kind of universal truth.
For myself, I find real value in humans making music with other humans in real time, and I particularly like mistakes and near-mistakes and improvisations because they confirm the frailty of intention and mark the irreplaceableness of the moment they were made. I love that, but I’m not under any illusion that this is How Music Should Be Heard By Everyone.
Also, while I enjoy couple-dancing, it can be very, very stifling. If I’m in the midst of a punk rock mosh pit, I’m not just dancing by myself, I’m dancing with my whole adopted tribe all at once. And if I am dancing with myself, say to an EDM set (people who know me are laughing, but it’s happened at least once in the past two years**) then what I’m doing is connecting myself to the music in the midst of a bunch of other people who are connecting themselves to the music without any of us trying to impose the motion of their own connection on anyone else. What could be wrong with that?
*Here’s the young musician in question:
**Purcha$e has closed a couple of Foonfests that I did sound for over the past two years, providing great in-the-moment dance experiences that even an aging soundguy can get down to.