Robert Estrin - piano expert

Has Technology Ruined Art? Part II: The Connected World

Learn how the Internet has changed the world of music

In this second video, Robert talks about how the Internet has impacted music learning and culture.

Released on September 7, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at and with the second part of a three-part series, "Technology's Impact on Music."

Today, we're going to talk about the connected world. That's right. Everything is social media, and the immediacy of email and texts is really something brand new, socially. And, of course, this is having an effect upon music.

Let's regress a bit and talk about the advent of music technologies for recording. It goes way back to the end of the 19th century with a Vorsetzer, which was a player piano type of technology that could record musical performances of pianists with technical and musical accuracy. And, of course, then the advent of audio recording which has steadily improved over the years.

Interestingly, if you listen to the performances of pianists, violinists, and symphony orchestras, and even opera singers from even the 1930s where there was a lot of 78 RPM recordings made, many of which been transferred to CDs and to streaming now. And you'll notice something extremely interesting. Once you get beyond the substandard sound, by today's standards, you'll notice that there is very, very unique individual expression. In fact, I love listening to the early performances of Cortot or Milstein, or Horowitz, Rubinstein, Hoffman, Heifetz, you know, the violinists, the pianists, the orchestras. There's a recording of Ein Heldenleben with Mengelberg, I believe is the conductor from the '30s. And there's very different stylings that instrumentalist played in.

More than that, there is more individuality among performers. Listen to Rachmaninov, and Hoffman, and Levine, and Horowitz, and Rubinstein, early recordings made from 70 RPM. And listen to the exact same pieces with many of these artists and you will be amazed how different the performances are from one another. Were people just more creative back then? Well, I have a theory about this.

Growing up, I grew up in an age where you could go out and buy several recordings of a piece that you were studying. So, course, we all did that. Today, it's even easier. You just whip out your phone, go to YouTube or some other site, and bingo, you've got dozens of performances of almost any piece you can imagine! So everyone hears everyone instantly.

What does this do? Well, this makes everyone know what the norm is and how far things are deviating from that normal. Therefore, there's more of a commonality of performance which is true across the board.

So the connected world has that one component of, kind of, homogenizing performances to some extent. At the same time, it's an exciting time for discovery as cultures that were never connected before are now keenly aware of one another. Which is why you could have music of Edgar Meyer, you know, a classical double bass player, collaborating with bluegrass banjo players and such. The fusion of different ethnic styles is one of the trademarks of some of the most interesting music being written today, both concert music and more popular idioms.

So we have the kind of a duality. We have... the good news is that we can hear everybody. Everybody can hear everybody and that's also the bad news perhaps because people might feel a sense that they have to stay within a normal range of accepted performance practices, as well as compositional practices. On the same token, we can have a rich resource of ideas and stylistic diversity literally at our fingertips. So there is the possibility for creating new genres of music that were never possible before.

So, I'm very interested in all your opinions about the impact of technologies and how it's affected your music. And opening up your eyes to what's around you next door and around the world. Thanks again for joining me. Robert Estrin here at and Stay tuned for part three and if you haven't seen part one yet, go check it out. Thanks for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ed Baran on October 19, 2016 @3:49 am PST
Again, Robert, thanks for a very interesting subject. I will never give up my Tandberg TD20A Reel to Reel Tape machine! LOL! BUT I enjoy programming big band band music into my Sonar6 DAW. It allows me to hear how the composition develops and the various instrumentation. The computer and digital recording has brought music closer to many people. My only "beef" is correct me, if I'm wrong - you need Melody, Rhythm, and Harmony for something to be considered music. "Rap" music does not have Harmony or Melody - is it really music? Your thoughts?
Robert - host, on October 19, 2016 @12:08 pm PST
The term "music" is extremely wide. It encompasses a tremendous range of expression. I believe that ultimately music and art must be judged on their expression, not the vehicle utilized. There will always be a plethora of mediocrity in any musical style of expression. When exploring music from the past, it's important to realize that the greatness of period styles has been condensed to its essence by the elimination of the vast majority of music from those eras. So, only the best compositions endure the ages.
johnsherrott * VSM MEMBER * on October 12, 2016 @3:56 am PST
Hi Robert,
I sometimes wonder where music is going when I hear programs such as X Factor and hear people screaming into a mike with no sense of rhythm and just making an awful noise .I either turn off or just sit and cringe .What are yout thoughts?
Robert - host, on October 14, 2016 @12:27 pm PST
Musical expression covers an immense range from John Cage 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, to electronic sound design. Music serves many purposes from supporting film, theatre and dance, to popular and art settings. You don't have to appreciate all music in the same way. And some of it may not be your thing at all.
Mike Vitale * VSM MEMBER * on September 10, 2016 @7:15 am PST
Robert - your optimism and open embrace of future opportunity is inspirational. I've heard many artists view technology, industry or change in general as something that tarnishes the purity of the art. As you pointed out in part 1 of your series, this type of change has gone on for centuries. Perhaps we have seen an exponential explosion from the digital revolution - but it seems to only be a rate change that we haven't quite caught up with.

I was wondering if you thought about major trends around risk taking and how they impact variety in performance. I believe as a culture we are becoming risk averse - there are many signs of this. Could this be one possible explanation for conformity?
Mike Vitale
Robert Estrin - host, on September 10, 2016 @2:35 pm PST
This is an interesting question. When you consider that China is the epicenter of the piano world today with 10 times more pianos bought and sold each year than in North America there may be societal implications.
Sabine * VSM MEMBER * on September 10, 2016 @4:46 am PST
Thanks, Robert,
I love listening to your wisdom. I'm not even a pianist but I really love your videos.
Robert Estrin - host, on September 10, 2016 @2:35 pm PST
Thank you - glad you enjoy!
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