Wednesday Wisdom: Technology’s Impact on the Musical Experience

Jeannie Jones is an award-winning journalist, media personality, actress, producer, director and brand architect. Jeannie’s Los Angeles-based multimedia firm, Ready Set Impact, specializes in music, film, and radio production; publishing; social media marketing, branding, and casting.

This month, Jeannie offers insight into the advent of studio wizardry — and how it has become an art form all its own.

Technology is ubiquitous. Thus, it is hardly surprising that it has had a profound influence on the art of musical creation in the twentieth century. It has altered how music is transmitted, preserved, heard, performed, and composed. Less and less often do we hear musical sound that has not been shaped by technology at some level.

Technology is involved in the reinforcement at concerts, the recording and broadcast of music, and the design and construction of musical instruments. Many church organs, for example, now use synthesized or sampled sounds, rather than actual pipes. Digital synthesizers that look like piano keyboards — and make what sound like piano timbres — are now prominently used. Virtuoso performers whose instrument is the turntable are now part of not only the world of disco, but the world of concert music. Technology is constantly changing the essence of music, how it’s heard, and the extent of its influence.

However, technology’s presence in the music world is nothing new, and began with the advent of recorded music. Prior to recorded music, home consumption of music was limited means of private performance. Then, Thomas Edison invented a crude cylinder phonograph in 1877. By the end of the nineteenth century, companies in the United States and England were manufacturing disc recordings of music. The invention of the tape recorder a half century later made sonorities not only reproducible, but also alterable. The resulting techniques allowed recorded sounds to be fragmented, combined, and distorted, and technological manipulation could affect both sound quality and timespan.

Recording technology has forced us to reconsider what constitutes a piece of music. Whereas a printed score was once viewed as the primary representation of how the finished product was “supposed to” sound, it is now only part of the equation. After the melody, lyrics, and arrangement are brought to life by the performer through recording and performance, there is a whole new layer of the creative process that takes place in the studio. Audio engineers then interpret and manipulate the recordings, and have the ability to create temporal continuities that never existed “live.” Modern production allows engineers to replicate the acoustics of concert halls and other performance spaces, and create spliced-together, note-perfect recorded performances. The end result may be a composition that sounds and feels entirely different than the original work from which it emerged — and the ability to employ that type of creativity is an art form all its own.

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