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Thread: What would composers of the past think of today's technology?

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewWeflen View Post
    I was listening to Trevor Pinnock's superlative Brandenburg Concertos on my Bluetooth noise canceling headphones, and the thought just struck me: What would Bach think of the way we listen to music now?

    By extension, everyone else, too. (We could travel back in time with some bone conduction headphones for Beethoven)

    What would they think of record players? Compact discs? Music players such as mine that can hold a thousand albums on them, conceivably the entire repertoire? Differing interpretations of their work?
    Bone conduction headphones would not help Beethoven as he had a severe hearing loss and it was sensorineural.

  2. #17
    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Suddenly, today, Haydn has clicked for me. I always found his symphonies pleasant but little more. But today, while listening at work, walking to pick up my kids from school, and late at night now, I've felt a sense of pleasure, enrichment, and amusement that had evaded me prior to now.

    If I had to rely solely on live performances, this might never have happened. I probably take in 5-10 live orchestral performances per year, between free concerts in the park, the University of Chicago, and the CSO.

    But having several hundred albums on my music player, and listening on my lovely NC headphones, has allowed this to happen.

    So I've got to think many composers would appreciate their music being heard.

    Another thought occurred to me as I was walking - I wondered if I was the only person listening to this particular piece of music right then on the earth?

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  4. #18
    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    If Beethoven was transported to our time, he would play modern keyboards in a mall like crazy:


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    It would actually be fun to see him react with horror to that music.

    Of course we know what that would look like -- just see how anyone whose tastes were formed even in the late 18th century reacted to rock and roll.

    It'd be as big of a shock to him as the atonalest atonal music ever atonaled was to the sweetest old listener ever.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

  7. #20
    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    To me, the interesting question is what composers of the past would think of the way we create music today.

    Here's a fun thing to ponder: who were the first composers to intentionally choose not to use the latest technology in their compositions?

    Can we imagine, for example, Chopin refusing to use the best pianos of his time? Try to imagine Beethoven shouting into the uncomprehending void, "NO! NO! NO! I WANTED SACKBUTS! SACKBUTS AND ONLY SACKBUTS! GET THESE TROMBONES OUT OF HERE!"

    And, realizing that rejection of technology had not been part of the classical tradition, what were the factors that influenced so many composers and audiences in their choice to reject it? What does this transition from embracing to rejecting technology tell us about the evolution of the classical tradition?

    Interesting to ponder.
    Music is not always about mooaaaar of everything. It is a game with a meta shaped by how human hearing and emotions work. At some points quite a few quillibriums might have been reached, that are virtually impossible to deviate from if one is to survive a comparison with the effect the greatest music of the past has on us, just like in a competitive game certain "new" strategies do not work, and one must yield to a meta. In competitive games, there is virtually always a natural meta at the end. If you consider various goals of music: reaching the audience, reaching the virtuosos, after hundreds of years of great people playing the game, a meta of sorts will have shaped based on what the audience fundamentally is, and what virtuosos typically can do. Even the greatest violinists cannot play a trumpet and a violin at the same time, even though an octopus alien perhaps could. So writing a "virtuoso piece" for one person for a trumpet and a violin at the same time is hardly a sign of a great master. The reality will be a splitting of the parts into two musicians.

    The same with sound clusters, wild sound effect coming out of nowhere one after another in great density, etc. If one would split them into different works, some sort of reasonable density would be reached, and one would even perhaps have two great works. But everything playing at the same time, all the tones possible? Bad move. Mistake. Not because listeners are to blame, but because the composer does not abide to the "good" in music being measured by being a human, and tries to make "objectively" good music instead, which just means nothing, like those "objective" ranking lists.

    Unless you truly understand that, and just how innovations can be good, neutral, or detrimental, you will have a very limited vision of the issue.

    Consider again game theory. In typical game theory problems there are usually thresholds, where people change their behaviour, because an increase in some factor overwhelms their initial position. So for example a composer who sees the evolutionary superiority of valved brass, will draw a line on introduction of a section of six vuvuzelas [Edit: I realize the irony that they are not valved, but they are also not brass; it's just an example]. They are new, but they do not improve the music---even drown it in their noise.
    Last edited by Fabulin; Dec-07-2019 at 15:26.

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  9. #21
    Senior Member Ethereality's Avatar
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    That's definitely how I feel about Beethoven's music at times. It tends to fit at just the right spot, and nothing more--that creativity is not confused with reason.
    Last edited by Ethereality; Dec-07-2019 at 09:25.

  10. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fabulin View Post
    Music is not always about mooaaaar of everything. It is a game with a meta shaped by how human hearing and emotions work. At some point quite a few quillibriums might be reached, that will be impossible to deviate to if one is to stand a comparison with the greats, just like in a competitive game certain "new" strategies just do not work.

    Unless you truly understand that, and just how innovations can be good, neutral, or detrimental, you will have a very limited vision of the issue. Consider the game theory. In typical game theory problems there are usually thresholds, where people change their behaviour, because an increase in some factor overwhelms their initial position. So for example a composer who sees the evolutionary superiority of valved brass, will draw a line on introduction of a section of six vuvuzelas. They are new, and they do not improve the music---even drown it in their noise.
    Of course we're not talking about isolated composers here or there occasionally choosing not to embrace a particular example of a new technology. We're talking about an entire tradition doing so, and to such an extent that it still looks askance at the use of any of the technology of the past ~140 years.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

  11. #23
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    I'm unsure if the technology itself would change much. Composers after World War II, in the main electronic composers akin to Stockhauzen, used the new technology of their time to create new sound worlds that classical music conservatives did not consider music. I'd guess they would have exploited any other technology that came along.

    Bach was known to orchestrate or reinvent the music of others, Vivaldi among them, and he may or may not have been influenced by technology. If you believe the stops and registrations an organ creates are technology then Bach probably would have used any expansion of that in musicmaking.

    Beethoven consistently tested the bounds of every instrument and voice he wrote for and it is clear he would have used a 7-octave keyboard had one been available in his day. There still is no such instrument but today's technology could probably induce one.

    However, I think one thing is clear about the greatest classical composers whose music has endured over centuries: their interst was in the art, not the means to the art. When the sousaphone became available composers wrote for it but the gain was the music, not the instrument.
    Last edited by larold; Dec-07-2019 at 16:14.

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