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

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Default What would composers of the past think of today's technology?

    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?

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    Senior Member Bulldog's Avatar
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    That would be great news to composers of the past.

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    Senior Member Ethereality's Avatar
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    It's quite easy to load up a piece, change the notes and harmonies around completely, and have it play back in front of you, splice segments easily out of the piece or into it, simulate an orchestra without hiring a single performer, thereby rethinking how music can be composed. I think past composers could've benefited from this technology if they weren't so stuck in their primitive paper-notation ways! It's possible to invent new varieties of digital instruments that sound better than the classical species of instruments we're familiar with, although this hasn't been widely presented yet. We also have developed AI that can compose musical ideas for us, asking for our preferences and creating something new we can utilize in a piece. Machine-learning algorithms have come up with random possibilities we have never thought of.
    Last edited by Ethereality; Dec-04-2019 at 22:07.

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    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    Picture the face of Beethoven as a nurse switches on a hearing aid and he hears sound again. A video of his realization and reaction would have won the internet.

    Tchaikovsky prophetized in his latter days (I have long since forgotten the source) that the recording technology would revolutionize the way people can learn music.

    Wagner would have really enjoyed cinema.

    On a more cheeky note, Haydn would most likely wear a baseball cap and show off the possibilities of his newly aquired studio full of electronics to people on Youtube.
    Last edited by Fabulin; Dec-04-2019 at 22:15.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fabulin View Post
    Picture the face of Beethoven as a nurse switches on a hearing aid and he hears sound again. A video of his realization and reaction would have won the internet.

    Tchaikovsky prophetized in his latter days (I have long since forgotten the source) that the recording technology would revolutionize the way people can learn music.

    Wagner would have really enjoyed cinema.

    On a more cheeky note, Haydn would most likely wear a baseball cap and show off the possibilities of his newly aquired studio full of electronics to people on Youtube.
    Presumably Wagner's favorite movie would have been LOTR (extended edition)?

    I wonder how they would react to a high end listening room, or to my NC headphones.

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    Here are some comments that the organist Louis Thiry made in his essay on Arauxo. They may be relevant to the topic, they may not, I’m not sure

    . . . I would like to reflect on how we listen to this music in today’s world. We are in an age of abundance: one can listen to music everywhere, all the time. The quantity is clearly there, but what about the quality? I am referring to not just the quality of the music, but also the quality of the listening itself. There are multiple ways to listen: one can listen all day long, with music in the background. A certain absorption takes place, but if there is a great diversity of music, the individual works and styles slip away without leaving a trace. One can listen while driving a car; the acoustic conditions are such that only certain elements penetrate above over the general hum of noise. One can listen with the score in hand; even if one is not a very good reader, this can provide reference points. In any case, the choice of approach is a personal one.


    However to approach the qualitative rather than the quantitative I suggest a way of listening which suits this particular recording. If one listens to all of the tientos in succession, they may be perceived as monotonous. Each piece needs the space to deliver its own personality. Memory must do its work. That is why rather than listening to the ten tientos one after the other, I suggest that you choose one, listen and re-listen in order that that particular tiento takes its place in your memory. As when one takes a walk, different scenery is discovered and revisited, and the multiple past experiences color each subsequent one. This approach is appropriate even for those who have no special musical knowledge.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-04-2019 at 22:59.

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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?
    My initial thought was that some composers might think that listening on your headphones while working, travelling etc is unsuitable, because they were trying to make deep music which demanded serious attention - Bach may well have felt unhappy about you listening to his church music like that, and Beethoven may have been unhappy about that way of listening to op 111 and op 131.

    Some more recent composers I’m sure would hate it - Pauline Oliveiros, for example.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-04-2019 at 23:09.

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    Senior Member CnC Bartok's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ethereality View Post
    It's quite easy to load up a piece, change the notes and harmonies around completely, and have it play back in front of you, splice segments easily out of the piece or into it, simulate an orchestra without hiring a single performer, thereby rethinking how music can be composed. I think past composers could've benefited from this technology if they weren't so stuck in their primitive paper-notation ways! It's possible to invent new varieties of digital instruments that sound better than the classical species of instruments we're familiar with, although this hasn't been widely presented yet. We also have developed AI that can compose musical ideas for us, asking for our preferences and creating something new we can utilize in a piece. Machine-learning algorithms have come up with random possibilities we have never thought of.
    Indeed, and we would then have no idea whatsoever of the genesis of each piece, no ideas about first thoughts, no original versions. Personally, I'd feel that without things like that the world would be a poorer place.

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    Senior Member Ethereality's Avatar
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    The idea of thematic stealing is not a new one, we don't need AI for that. I think what this merely demonstrates is that an individual will always still select ideas for their music based on their own taste and imagination for why something sounds good to them, that might not be comprehended by lesser imaginations. ie. Beethoven might've been fully influenced by all the great classical music of his childhood, but he still had to select his preferences, know how to interpret them through his unique vision of why they'd work in the first place, and build upon them in the clever way he did. Learning from AI could simply mean to learn oneself more deeply than ever before, to become a greater student of art; we cannot know unless we embrace the positives (and try to avoid the negatives like them taking over the world ). And for those who are perplexed by this topic, just go back to your noise-cancelling headphones conversation.
    Last edited by Ethereality; Dec-04-2019 at 23:43.

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    I used to think, gee, isn't it too bad that composers of old didn't have music notation software like Finale, Sibelius, Dorico and others. Then an older, wiser brother-in-law (who is a philosophy professor) said, "not so fast". He believes, strongly, that the physical act of writing with a pen on paper, as slow as it may be, forces deep, serious thought and that using a computer likely results in a more superficial, glib creation. He mentioned studies which show that college students who take notes by hand outperform students who sit at their desks with a laptop trying to take everything down. I don't know - but if Beethoven could have had computerized typesetting it sure would have made some of the questionable issues in his horrifically messy scores easier to resolve.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    I used to think, gee, isn't it too bad that composers of old didn't have music notation software like Finale, Sibelius, Dorico and others. Then an older, wiser brother-in-law (who is a philosophy professor) said, "not so fast". He believes, strongly, that the physical act of writing with a pen on paper, as slow as it may be, forces deep, serious thought and that using a computer likely results in a more superficial, glib creation. He mentioned studies which show that college students who take notes by hand outperform students who sit at their desks with a laptop trying to take everything down. I don't know - but if Beethoven could have had computerized typesetting it sure would have made some of the questionable issues in his horrifically messy scores easier to resolve.
    As a former philosophy professor myself, I always advised my students to obtain paper copies of the books, precisely for reasons of increased comprehension.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    My initial thought was that some composers might think that listening on your headphones while working, travelling etc is unsuitable, because they were trying to make deep music which demanded serious attention - Bach may well have felt unhappy about you listening to his church music like that, and Beethoven may have been unhappy about that way of listening to op 111 and op 131.

    Some more recent composers I’m sure would hate it - Pauline Oliveiros, for example.
    FWIW, I frequently listen intently in the late evenings. But either way, noise canceling headphones like my Sony MDR-1000X deliver superlative sound quality and eliminate distractions. I have to think being able to listen to Beethoven's 6th while actually walking outside would be a plus.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Beethoven loves cds. He told me through my spirit guide, Derek Acorah.

    beethoven-cd-1556895891-large-article-0.jpg

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    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.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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

    They would likely have enjoyed turning on the lights with a wall switch as conveniently as we do today. As well, they may have spent so much time texting that their music never got written. We might ponder Beethoven's nine text messages rather than his nine symphonies! At worst, the music of Philip Glass could have been written by Bach.

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