Stephanie Lewis - Music & Education Talks expert
 

Tomorrow's World

Discuss with Stephanie about the future of making music

How will we play an instrument in the future? Will musicians be like today or half-robots? Join the discussion with Stephanie in this exciting new video about the future of music playing.

Released on March 7, 2018

    
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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 all. I'm Stephanie, together with Virtual Sheet Music. And today I want to talk about technological development in the face of music. Now, I'm not talking about the invention of new instruments for humans to use and manipulate at will. This has happened time and again throughout music history, and is well documented. The invention of the clarinet, for example, had composers rubbing their hands with glee in the 1700s. So much so, that within a short space of time it came to occupy a fixed place in the orchestra.

The piano was another musical invention that impacted not only upon the way composers wrote, but upon the actual usage of tuning systems themselves. In more recent times, the use of synthesizers, electric instruments due to technology and so on, all reveal that there is no music without technological development. Now, by technology, I'm talking about the changes that will move us towards 2030, 2040, and beyond, affecting us all individually and collectively at every turn, from politics to social aspects, from the arts to education.

Now, to get you in the mood, I've included in the below script, a link which outlines a series of predictions about tomorrow's world from various experts, though who those said experts are is never actually made clear. Anyhow, you'll see that it has everything from population statistics, through to planet colonization. Fact or fiction, it's an interesting take on our future. And for my part, has me more than a little perturbed, for a variety of non-musical reasons, hence those particular opinions will be left out of the video.

The prediction that struck me most, and which does however have a bearing on music, was the speculation that people will be amputating their limbs, I'm assuming by the way, limbs that are healthy, to install low cost high tech prosthetics. Now, for me, this is simply a no-no. I'd almost call it a form of deliberate body mutilation in the name of perfection that a prosthetic presumably "promises." Emphasis on the word "promise" here. Now, over and above my personal distaste, there is a musical question. If you've prosthetic arms and hands, then is it you actually playing the instrument? And while we're at it, should there come a time where we can replace vocal chords, then who'll be doing the singing?

Now, this is not as banal a question as it might seem, and there are already parallels in other areas. Remember the double leg amputee athlete, Oscar Pistorius, he was the first disabled athlete to participate in the Olympics, as opposed to the Paralympics, despite objections that his artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage. Whatever the science behind these claims, and no matter how pro you are when it comes to giving all of humanity the same chances, it is certainly an issue which leaves more questions than answers.

Turning back then to pre-fabricated robotic limbs, presumably learned the shape of robotic arm and fingers can be determined by the purchaser, who can then use this to his or her advantage on said instrument. Once installed, it's then just a question of sending the right communications down the nervous system, to be translated by the attached robotics, for the sounds you want. In effect, it's similar to the other idea that you'll have seen in the link. That of uploading brains into robotic carriers. The robotic bodies, the mule if you like, to the brain's commands.

The issue of course, is that instruments were designed around the human body, with all its strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies. A chin rest was designed for the chin. The choice of having 12 piano notes per octave must have been in part for the practical reason that we've got 10 fingers. A mouthpiece was designed for the mouth. Instrumental development would have taken a very different path if we'd had, say, 3 arms or 32 fingers.

The implication, at least for me, is that the human body is an essential factor in instrumental performance, you kinda can't have one without the other. And let's not forget the DNA Dicer work, which renders a person firstly, physically right for a chosen instrument. Secondly, mentally up to the task of discipline, [inaudible 00:04:40], setting, objectives, etc. And thirdly, prepared to take and gamble in one of the more uncertain career choices of the 21st century. It's these factors that contribute to the wonder of seeing a person perform, you know, the human physical, mental, emotional baggage. Is there a wonder beyond the scientific obviously, of seeing a top notch instrumentally specific prosthetic being used to handle about partita?

But there are other issues of course, especially when considering the human brain being uploaded into a robotic receptacle. I personally see the body as a manifestation of the mind, and therefore of my emotions, a holy trinity, so to speak, where one factor cannot exist without the other. And where there is ultimately no division between one aspect and the next. This is the fullness of being human. And humanity is an integral part of music. You give me a robot without loaded emotions, intellect, and a super precise technique, well, what am I supposed to think? Better designed body parts for robots, who knows? Twenty fingers, four arms, you know, whatever, to handle, you know, Chopin, Liszt. Together with top notch programming, just doesn't do it for me. Now, if you go online, you'll see many examples of musician robots, from the primitive to the [inaudible 00:06:12].

Finishing off today's futuristic musical considerations then is a final slightly scary implication. Will there be a time when we stop producing making music and delegate that responsibility to robots? Technology, after all, is fast rendering obsolete many jobs, so it should come as no surprise that music is likewise subject to this trend. With a society so based on excessive unhampered consumerism in any case, maybe humans as musical consumers will be merely the logical extension of such a philosophy in music.

So, with all this discussed today, please do write to me with your thoughts on tomorrow's world. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. Bye.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on March 19, 2018 @2:34 pm PST
Hi Stephanie, great wild subject you started here. Some 40 years ago, a few years before the PC and Apple 1 computer started to appear, my instrumental capabilities in playing the violin and piano were so unsatisfactory to me, that I dreamed of having a programmable instrument that would allow me to play any music, however difficult. My progress on these instruments was so slow and cumbersome, that I never imagined being able to play real music pieces very well. hence the wish to be able to set up some robot or machine that would play whatever music I'd tell the machine to play.

That dream never came true, I had some thoughts of operating a street organ or a similar music machine. Becoming a music orchestra director was also a "solution" I envisioned, having better people than myself play in an orchestra for me felt like the ultimate goal. Never reached it, of course, some dreams you just don't pursue and realize. Later, when PC's became mainstream, I discovered on the Hannover Messe some music notations programs that would allow the user to write music notes and actually hear the music, I had to buy one, I used it, and was pretty fast bored by the lack of emotion you can add to music played this way.

I never completely gave up learning the viola and later on the piano again, and I reached after many years of practice a more decent level. One teacher put it this way: your progress is (very) slow, but you make real progress. I suppose the time devoted to practice, when having a fulltime job and a family, just isn't what it really requires, when talent isn't that great. Talent is a declination of previous efforts anyway, so that's just normal. But I finally got to play some viola parts in an orchestra in real concerts, and can now have a go at not too hard piano pieces from Mozart, Schumann or Moonlight Sonata. Slow pieces at least are somewhat within my reach, and for faster trills, I'd probably need a mechanical hand or arm of some sort.

So to come back at what the future might bring, I'm unsure any programmable devices will one day be able to carry over musical emotions if they are not played by some human in a way that creates a bond with the human audience. Yet some electronic music does, and even house music "performed" by DJs does ... just look at what Tomorrowland does to thousands of people (not that I'd go there myself).

My guess the evolution of robot music playing will follow the same lines: if it does not bring new emotions to carry to an audience or to the player himself, what will be the point? My own search in the most convenient way to play music actually is a search for ways to express feelings I have deep inside my soul, and my soul is bound to be part of my living body. If the message or the feelings get through, no one will ever care that much how they were carried. Just like Stephen Hawking, his mind and his messages meant so much more, in a way that we came to accept his mechanized body as a normal appearance and something was really was him.

So probably some attempts to add "devices" to play music in new ways will die out, and some will live. It' will be fun to see it happen.
reply
Stephanie Lewis - host, on March 26, 2018 @5:27 am PST
Yeah, a wild subject for a wild future. I think it could a rough ride Paul and I hope I'm not displaying my pessimistic side when I say I'm not sure how fun it'll be either. It's not to say I'm against technology but the tools we invent (for music, maths, whatever) are only as good as the philosophy/approach that is applied to said tool and this is, above all, regulated by our values. Given that values these days tend to be equated to finance, and not much else (sigh), the ever increasing technological options raise issues as there is little regulation other than that applied by the individual (though this in turn depends upon said individual's ability to stay abreast and keep himself/herself informed). However, maybe I'm just an Eeyore determined to see the negative side of things. And by 2050 I'll just be an archetype 80+ harping on about the good old days and annoying my grandchildren. Come to think of it, that will be fun! Regards, Stephanie
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