A handful of interesting articles inspired me to give some thought to the future of music and musicking.
The first was a video The Fourth Industrial Revolution published by the World Economic Forum. A number of scientists, academics and other professionals are talking there about the impact the technology will have on humans.
The video raises the question – Can we get to be super-humans? Maybe, if “our bodies become so high-tech that we will not be able to distinguish what is natural and what artificial” as someone predicts in the video.
But is that what we want and need as humans?
I doubt it. What I liked much more was the idea of a new social system “focused not on growth per se, but on maximizing human wellbeing”.
When talking about the human wellbeing, in ‘my world’, music has to be included. So what role is music supposed to play in this new digital society?
There is a strong push in the music technology world, to have computers and robots produce music. The most recently it has been AI, or Artificial Intelligence, getting involved in the music production.
If you have listened to any attempts of machines writing music, I guess you will agree with me, that it was mostly boring if not outright annoying. Sure, computers are getting better, faster, more powerful. So their programmers become more ambitious what machine music generation abilities concern.
So it was relieving, when I was reading an article How Google Is Making Music With Artificial Intelligence. It talks about a Google’s research project, aimed at what AI can do in the arts. They use various technologies, algorithms and models, to teach computers generate music. One of the results of this effort you can listen here.
What I find as a positive change, at least in this particular project, is what the leading researcher says: “… there’s been increased focus on using computers as assistants to human creativity rather than as a replacement technology”.
Why to push computers to compose music if they don’t have emotions and feelings? They can assist and help in the process, as has been done already for a few decades. But what is the point to have an Artificial Intelligence composing an Artificial Music?
Sure, there is one – MONEY!
Music has become a commodity, that is constantly pushed on consumers. Not to play, listen, and enjoy, but to consume. So that it can be ‘monetized’.
In fact, a lot of what we can listen nowadays from our radios, internet and TV is not music that has been composed. It has been manufactured. And in the manufacturing process you need working teams instead of an ‘idealistic’ music composer or a songwriter.
No surprise thus, that according to a new study by Music Week magazine, it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create (understand ‘manufacture’) a hit single. As the extreme example, Beyonce’s single Hold Up has thirteen (13) contributors!
And no, I am not surprised, because they are part of an industry – the Music Industry.
My questions here are – Is this where music is heading, with or without computers? Will music like this survive? Will this still be music?
I don’t know answers to these questions, but there is a profession that should be able to respond – futurists.
For years I have been following the futurist and a future thinker Gerd Leonhard. Together with David Kusek they wrote The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution in 2005. They forecasted music to become omnipresent and available for consumers like water.
Well – we have already arrived there. Just try Spotify.
Since then, Gerd has broadened his interest and now writes about technology and humanity. In his article ‘2017: goodbye to replication, hello to originality. Efficiency is for robots.’ he writes “Anything that can be codified will not remain human turf for much longer”.
As I have already mentioned, there is a growing effort to codify music writing process and thus move, not only this art-form, to the realm of AI and computers.
Will this ever be possible? I am afraid it will – under two conditions:
1. Musicians, and artists in general, will have to give up their aspirations to produce and perform their own arts
2. Listeners will have to allow to get dumbed down to accept and pay for such ‘artificial music’
This is a crucial point! Are humans willing to give up their creativity? Will we defer to machines one of the unique attributes that has made us the dominant species on the Earth?
I doubt it.
To support my opinion, and truly – my optimism, I use information from quite an unexpected field – religion and spirituality. And also some science and technology.
There is this new and fast-growing field that examines the relationship between human brain and religion. It is called neurotheology.
The article ‘The neuroscience argument that religion shaped the very structure of our brains’ brings information about a study demonstrating that spiritual feelings activate the neurological reward systems in human brains – the same area that can be activated also by love, sex, drugs, and music.
The article quotes Andrew Newberg, a neurotheologian and professor at Thomas Jefferson University: “There’s the argument that religion has benefited human beings by helping to create cohesive societies and morals and help us to determine our behavior and interact with the world more effectively.”
This is a very interesting finding from the musical perspective. To explain why, here is a quote from the book Sacred Sound – Experiencing Music in World Religions. Its author, musicologist, musician and historian Guy Beck writes: “I determined that there were almost no communities or groups within the major world religions in which chant and music did not play a vital role. … It was apparent to me that group performances of sacred songs or hymns consolidated various human communities into a religious world of their own, reinforcing identities and boundaries as if by some mysterious thread. In each case, music was the “glue” in the ritual that bound together word and action and also reinforced static social and religious hierarchies.”
What all this means is that religions, spirituality AND music have worked together throughout the history and substantially impacted the development of humans – physically, mentally and socially.
Therefore I don’t see any particular reason to worry about the future of music. As with any new technology, people will find many different ways how to use it to make music. And vice-versa, that technology will impact music and will help it to move forward and change. But the creative input and emotions that music expresses and induces – those will remain in the human domain.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of the current mindfulness movement, also appears in the 4th Industrial Revolution video. He talks about the effects of mindfulness on the brain, on the genome, on biological aging, and the potential for a ‘new renaissance in terms of our relationship to life, to the planet, to work’.
Based on all this information, I want to make the following prediction: With the growing number of people in the developed countries who practice mindfulness, who are looking for some kind of spirituality, religious or non-denominational, and with the music industry manufacturing products less and less emotional/human, one possible solution for people interested in music is – to get involved themselves. DIY. Start musicking, playing and singing not for any potential financial profit or stardom, but for own physical, mental and social benefit and wellbeing.
This is an approach that Musicably promotes and can be summarized as the mindful music making.
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