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Editorial: Acoustic Sounds and the Technology of Music

posted May 26, 2015, 9:53 am by madelainej | Filed Under Editorial | comment Leave a Comment

I’ve had many discussions with friends (and strangers) about acoustic versus techno/dubstep/house music. Which is better? Which is “real” music? The main problem seems to arise from misapprehensions on both sides. headphones-mixer-decks-100453People claim to only like acoustic music because they think the only thing people like Skrillex do is press “play” and “pause.”  They also seem to believe acoustic simply means the ability to play an instrument as opposed to the actual meaning – without electronic amplification. With this definition in mind, I’m left to assume they enjoy such things as orchestral music, jazz, and folk (assuming no electronic amplification is used). While I don’t think many can deny the talent and complexity of Mozart, Beethoven and Handel, I think we can all agree these are not the artists monopolizing the airwaves or breaking the top ten iTunes most frequent audio download of the past ten or twenty years. Likewise, most jazz, big band jazz and contemporary jazz has its own niche market. While I can’t deny there is still a demand for acoustic folk, I’m not sure we could call it popular when compared with the fandom of Deadmau5 and Skrillex. I think the complaints between acoustic versus the plethora of electronic music which is currently bombarding the market is symptomatic of a fear of change.

Fearing progress and change has preoccupied humans for ages. Monks were terrified when the Bible was translated from Latin to English, the industrial developments of steam engines and factory assembly lines and the loss of artisans could be argued as the starting point of many revolutions. Mozart had to fight to write an opera in German instead of Italian. The Beatles were thought by many to be the start of the demise of morals and crew cuts. Nowadays, the music of The Beatles seems light-hearted when compared to, not only the instrumentation but also the subject matter, of many medal bands. I’m sure when guitars went electric, many musicians scoffed at it, thought it noise, and ridiculed it, believing only true musicians could master the acoustic guitar. Well, Jimi Hendrix proved them wrong. Bob Dylan lost many fans when he went electric but also accrued many new fans. Now guitars amaze us with whammy bars, and distortion pedals.

Popular music has not been acoustic for years. We like electronic amplification, we like to see how we can use the tools we have built to manipulate, improve and create music. Even on a basic level, music has been in debt to technology due to mechanical reproduction. We don’t have to go to see artists live in order to hear music. We have progressed from listening to the radio to buying vinyl to cassettes to cd’s and now many people don’t even buy music, they download it without paying for it! (That’s another issue altogether, which will be left for another editorial). What I mean to say is, I find it difficult to argue about “acoustic” versus electronic music when you can’t take away the technology from most music. Lead vocals are remastered, back up singers are multiplied by the press of a button, instrumentation is layered electronically in such a way that the five original band members could never replicate it live. Listen to Katy Perry live versus her studio albums. It doesn’t even sound like the same person is singing. Which brings me to DJ’s and techno dub-step house music.

Originally, I hated artists like Skrillex. While I still don’t enjoy his music, I have come to respect him as an artist. I thought the so called “music” he was making was not music at all. Where were the instruments? Who was playing these noises and on what? What could a concert of Skrillex consist of? A man standing at a table with headphones pressing buttons and turning knobs? But a friend of mine helped me understand what seemed incomprehensible.

Dave Grohl (<a href=

Foo Fighters), an artist well-known for his dedication to sound, quality sits in front of a soundboard during the making of Sonic Highways.” width=”400″ height=”388″ /> Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), an artist well-known for his dedication to quality in sound, sits in front of a soundboard during the making of HBO’s Sonic Highways.

Skrillex was making sound, he was creating sounds no one had ever heard before using a computer, using technology. It was manufactured sound, but nonetheless he was orchestrating something new. And what is music but a series of rhythms and melodies? I can’t deny there is rhythm in dubstep and techno, it could certainly be argued there’s melody. Some people argue DJ’s are simply mashing existing music and is nothing less than plagiarism. And sure, they mash and mix existing songs, but some mixes make the original song almost unrecognizable. They change so much of the original song I don’t know if it could be considered plagiarism.

Sure, they didn’t write it or sing it but they are creating something new by using something old. And really, what is original? Could we not argue every piece of creativity can be traced to predecessors? But we are faced with a new instrument which is truly terrifying. As terrifying, I’m sure, as when the first harpsichord came into existence. People must have thought it a monstrosity. But the harpsichord gave us Bach and later the piano forte. And the computer has given us artists like Skrillex and Deadmau5. And while I still have apprehensions computers will eventually kill the human race, I can no longer argue music of today isn’t music at all. Music of today is simply using new instruments


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