no tech is good tech

R. Murray Schafer came by UVic on Friday, to talk about his string quartets, about soundscapes and sonic ecology, and about his approaches to composition in general.  I was right with him on just about everything he said, until he was asked about why he still composes in longhand when programs like Silbelius and Finale exist.  (Easy answer:  he has lovely penmanship.)

Instead of giving that easy answer, alas, he said something along the lines (I wish I could remember what he said verbatim) of “technology tends to produce music that sounds dated in 10 years”.

This, obviously, got me twitching a little, and I couldn’t articulate why it did or why I disagreed with him until the next day.  Let me show you a picture that will help make my point:

It’s a kitty!  Yay!

Well, yes, but more importantly it’s a piano. Which was only invented ’round about 1700.  Is that not “technology”, just because it’s three hundred years old?  Likewise, Schafer’s passion for recording and archiving sounds isn’t possible without technology from the past 100 years.

Now, I agree with him that slavishly embracing the latest tech can produce music that will sound slavishly dated – as witness all the (awful) Max/MSP distortion + improvisation things I’ve seen this year.  But that’s not Max/MSP’s fault, just like it’s not a piano’s fault if people write boring I – IV – V – I progressions on it.

Or, to paraphrase the NRA:  Technology doesn’t write shitty music.  People write shitty music.