Archive for the ‘New Frontiers’ category

The Milli-Vanilli of the Olympics?

August 12, 2008

The New York Times has an account from the post-performance world of music education: at the opening of the Beijing Olympics, a central moment featured a young girl singing (who, it turns out, wasn’t actually singing. A good read, with this great quote:

By Tuesday, the Chinese media had already pounced on the story, instigating a national conversation that government censors were trying to mute by stripping away many, but not all, of the public comments posted online. The outrage was especially heated over the cold calculation used to appraise the girls.

“Please save the last bit of trueness in our children,” wrote one person with an online name of Weirderhua. “They think Yang Peiyi’s smile is not cute enough? What we need is truth, not some fake loveliness! I hope the kids will not be hurt. This is not their fault.”

Another person added: “Children are innocent. Don’t contaminate their minds!”

Mr. Lin, the father, said his daughter had been under strict orders not to discuss plans for the performance. He got only the 15-minute notice about her role and was thrilled. He only later learned of the voice switch when he saw a video clip of the interview by the musical director, Mr. Chen.


Sasha Frere-Jones on Auto-Tune

June 8, 2008

A great article that gets at Auto-Tune and some larger issues around recording and the artificial/real world that recording gives us. The closing paragraphs are, as often with Frere-Jones, magnificent:

Someone once asked Hildebrand if Auto-Tune was evil. He responded, “Well, my wife wears makeup. Is that evil?” Evil may be overstating the case, but makeup is an apt analogy: there is nothing natural about recorded music. Whether the engineer merely tweaks a few bum notes or makes a singer tootle like Robby the Robot, recorded music is still a composite of sounds that may or may not have happened in real time. An effect is always achieved, and not necessarily the one intended. Aren’t some of the most entertaining and fruitful sounds in pop—distortion, whammy bars, scratching—the result of glorious abuse of the tools? At this late date, it’s hard to see how the invisible use of tools could imply an inauthentic product, as if a layer of manipulation were standing between the audience and an unsullied object. In reality, the unsullied object is the Sasquatch of music. Even a purely live recording is a distortion and paraphrasing of an acoustic event.

Sir George Martin, via e-mail, wrote to me about his work with John Lennon, one of the most famously processed voices in pop history. “It’s true that John was never satisfied with the sound of his voice,” Martin explained. “He failed to realize that what he heard came through the bones of his body and was not his true sound. He was always looking for perfection, and in his imagination his voice was always superior to the sound of anything on tape.” To paraphrase, what we hear on Beatles records is Lennon’s imagination. T-Pain’s deployment of Auto-Tune is a similar assertion of self, no different in kind from the older, more traditional tricks of tape-splicing, double-tracking the voice, and adding a little reverb.


Nine Inch Nails

June 8, 2008

Yet another story that looks at the possible futures for music in a digital age. Link below this quote:

Mr. Reznor has no global solution for how to sustain a long-term career as a recording musician, much less start one, when listeners take free digital music for granted. “It’s all out there,” he added. “I don’t agree that it should be free, but it is free, and you can either accept it or you can put your head in the sand.”

He knows what he doesn’t want to do: make his music a marketing accessory. “Now just making good music, or great music, isn’t enough,” Mr. Reznor said. “Now I have to sell T-shirts, or I have to choose which whorish association is the least stinky. I don’t really want to be on the side of a bus or in a BlackBerry ad hawking some product that sucks just so I can get my record out. I want to maintain some dignity and self-respect in the process, if that’s possible these days.”


The $42,000 piano

April 16, 2008

Technology writer and former Broadway musician David Pogue has a review of a rather extravagant gadget:

Savin’ it!

April 9, 2008

A great article regarding the new problem of saving, archiving, and organizing digital data. Incredibly, the amount of digital information in the world is expected to increase 10-fold in the time you’re here as a student. Here’s my favorite quote regarding some of the complexity:

“There might be 100 versions of a report on a company’s hard drive, but which one was the final draft?” Dr. Hestrom said. “How was the underlying data used? Which architectural drawings of the many versions generated for a project were actually used to erect the building, and what was the chain of decisions that led to the brick-and-mortar result?

“It’s not that the bits aren’t lying around,” she continued. “They may or may not be lying around. But being able to understand how they were collected,” and being able to ascertain how the underlying data was used, makes the information useful. People think that because the cost of storage is dropping “we can save everything,” she said. “But that’s based on a naïve view of what ‘everything’ actually is.”


Technologies of composition

April 7, 2008

While we are working with technologies that allow composing (Audacity, GarageBand, notation software) the industry is also working on new technologies that allow and support composing.

Microsoft has a new technology, “My Song” which appears to be in a demo/beta phase. The program will create plausible chords to a melody sung by the user. Enjoy the demo video here:

Of course, there’s positive and negative possibilities within this technology, but I thought it novel/interesting enough to merit sharing.

Source: I learned about My Song from a post on, where you can read hundreds of comments:

Politics on the web

February 5, 2008

I hope you all voted today!

Henry Jenkins, in his book Convergence Culture (which we may read some of later this semester) talks about how democratic politics is changing in the modern, digital world.

A great project with students could be looking at political ads on the web and talking about, analyzing, and critiquing the music. Most ads are available on YouTube or elsewhere, and the short pieces often use music to try to convey subtle (or not so subtle) messages.

You may have seen this video already. Will.I.Am took a speech by Barack Obama and turned it into a song. I don’t present this as an endorsement, but rather an interesting example of digital music/video creation: