Musical Ownership

| April 18, 2011

I asked my friend during our Boston trip what music is to him.  I didn’t mean for him to tell me how he thinks or feels about music, I wanted to know what immediately comes to mind when he thinks of music.  As with most of us, the first thing we tend to think of is a computer.

I can own a painting, a book or a sculpture, but can you own a piece of music?  The more we discussed music, the more we realized we had very different conceptions of what music is.  My perspective of music is very much from a performers perspective:  how can we communicate with each other through music.  To me, music is shared through group experiences that are impossible to replicate from one performance to the next.  His perspective was much more passive:  he owned his music.  Music exists as it is recorded and it is shared and transmitted in the identical form.

Our perception of how music exists has changed so profoundly that sometimes it’s hard to think of music the way it must have been viewed before recording technology.  Music was still more or less entertainment but it was primarily a vehicle for communication, expression, and creativity between people.  Now that recorded music is the norm, ‘songs’ are becoming viewed more and more like paintings:  they are created by individuals for other individuals to enjoy individually.  Programs like Reason are the ultimate case of a single person having the ability to created millions and millions of sounds with out the need for a single other person.

People define themselves by their music much in the same way you would display artwork for your company at your house.  I overhear my students comparing and contrasting downloaded songs much in the same way you may compare marbles or trading cards.  As I teach my students are constantly concerned with right and wrong.  I assumed this was an outgrowth of our test-first-ask-questions-later mentality, but as far as music is concerned, I think the problem may grow deeper.  If a song can only be one way to my students, then they will of course be more concerned with right and wrong than with color, tone, texture, movement, etc.

Recording technology exacerbates our predicament.  But loop and synthesizer technology just may be advanced enough for a creative, communicative renaissance.  If students can play and collaborate their loops together and in performance, they’ll be making music in such a way that even Sousa would be proud.