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Music 2.0

Written By: Youki on April 23, 2009 3 Comments

One of the characteristics of “Web 2.0” is the separation of form and content. Back in the 90s, before Facebook and MySpace and Twitter, when social networks consisted of sites like Geocities and you spoke to your friends on IRC, putting a page online actually required some coding know-how. You basically started with a blank index.html and the rest was up to you. Nowadays, making a website is often automated.  Even this blog that you’re looking at only requires a small amount of knowledge to make a post.  You don’t have to know how to code in php or run a database to get your words online (well someone does, but not you) — you can add your content to pre-existing forms to create a website.

For the most part, playing music is the opposite. Form (the instrument) is still intimately tied to content (music).  If you want to play music, one of the biggest obstacles is knowing how to play a musical instrument. You want to play the clarinet solo from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue?  Spend a month or so learning how to play the clarinet.  Spend at least a  few years learning how to play it well.  Want to play Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood”?  Not even guitarists who have played for years can manage such a feat (and no, Guitar Hero doesn’t count!)

Every once in a while, someone tells me that they’re not a musician.   And I think to myself, “Everyone’s a musician!  they just need the right instrument!”  Whistling is a form of music, isn’t it?  And when we whistle, our mouths are the instrument, right?  Think about it.  The principles are the same as any other wind instrument: alter the path of the wind to produce different tones.  The same way a flute player will cover fingering holes on the flute to essentially make the flute longer or shorter (as far as the wind path is concerned), you move your tongue and lips to “shape” the wind.

So why is it that practically anyone can whistle a favorite tune, or a melody they’ve just heard, but ask them to play it on a piano and most people are lost?

I think that deep down inside, everyone is capable of creating epic musical masterpieces.  Why aren’t we there?  The problem isn’t that we’re lacking musicians, the problem is that for the most part, form and content are still tied together in music.  It’s like those early personal web pages from the 90s — you had to know html before you could put your words online.  As far as most people are concerned, you have to know how to play an instrument in order to make music.

Web 2.0 is reshaping the internet, transforming it into a place where you don’t need a background in computer programming to participate.  How will Music 2.0 look like?

Perhaps it will no longer be about the actual process of playing traditional musical instruments, but of arranging, synthesizing, and even orchestrating music.  Consider the following video which features musicians from around the world, performing separately, yet blended together into a beautiful arrangement:

or the “I can’t play guitar but I do know how to edit video!” genre of YouTube videos:

What does it mean to play an instrument, in this digital age?

In what ways is technology itself the instrument?  perhaps the first of its kind, the computer as a meta-instrument?

related posts:

Can learning music help you learn to read and write?

Underlying structures of music (and language?)


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3 Responses to “Music 2.0”

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 1 May 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Very awesome post, Youki, I’d like to think you’re being prophetic here…and the possibilities….out there, in the future (distant or not so distant)…we’ll maybe perhaps just possibly get to music 2.0…in the way you imagine it.

    I LOVE your work on music on FIT…I can’t wait for the next installment! You rock!

    ps. I totally can’t whistle. That made me feel a little sad. And embarrassed.

  2. Youki on: 1 May 2009 at 6:48 pm

    oh yeah I know a couple people who can’t whistle, but you can hum, right? and I know you can sing! I thought about replacing “whistling” with “singing” but the social expectations of singing are so much higher than whistling and I didn’t want that to interfere.

  3. Usree Bhattacharya on: 1 May 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Ya I can hum…you’re right about the social expectations of singing though. However, there are millions of youtube videos that aim to subvert those expectations.


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