Friday, August 8, 2008

Machine Music

Most people these days realise that much of what passes for pop music is machine-made: synthesisers, drum-machines, and so on; there is nothing wrong with this, for machine music is still music... 8~) But how many realise that modern rhythms are so often the rhythms of machines--that is, the music is machine music in more than one sense.
   Music has always mimicked the environment of its creators: in the early 18th Century, composers like Vivaldi used violins to imitate birdsong; Beethoven wrote a 'pastoral' symphony that included the sound of rivers; in the age of steam, the music changed to reflect the new sounds; the coming of the train is all over Jazz, Blues, and Rock, and there are thousands of train songs.
   Now we have machine music. This morning, during a school assembly, some students played a House-derived track on a computer, and I was struck by the similarity between the sound of that track and the sound I first heard many years ago inside a large factory in what was then England's Industrial North (Blake's "Dark Satanic mills"). Ten minutes later, I was in the school's staff-room and I heard that exact sound again coming from a photocopier earnestly running off a hundred copies of an exam on A4 paper. Machine Music.
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