When I first entered the world of music technology, it was at the tail end of the analog age and the cusp of the digital era. My initial forays involved cutting/splicing reel-to-reel tape recordings and building synthesizer patches using physical cables, before I ever learned to use a computer-based MIDI sequencer and 14 bit digital sampling software. The studio where I cut my production teeth took up a whole room for all the wonderful, albeit large, pieces of equipment.
The evolution of microprocessor computers and the development of software alternatives to expensive hardware have had a profound impact on the way I make music. I am not alone in this, and countless others have joined the revolution. The pace of technological advancement has been matched — sometimes driven — by musical creativity, while new means of sound production or manipulation have often led to new music.
The importance of the move from analog to digital could be eclipsed, however, by a change from static to portable. Laptop computers are already de rigueur for DJs and live PAs, but could soon seem unnecessarily bulky compared to the advent of ultra-slim, touch screen, accelerometer equipped devices. Where could this lead us?
Notwithstanding the convenience of working on the go, I doubt that the small screen real estate and earphones of a smartphone or tablet could replace a proper studio. Instead, I think something like an iPhone/iPad could facilitate a type of live electronic music performance that previously would have been prohibitively expensive. There is also the opportunity for immersive and interactive networking with the devices of people in the audience, as has already been taken advantage of by the trail-blazing Plastikman, using Hexler’s SYNK. Furthermore, changes in the physical method of engaging with technology are bound to inspire innovative music, both on stage and in the studio.
There are already some decent apps out there (which I’m only just starting to explore) and I sense that more may be right around the corner. I am always keen to observe new directions in music technology and the concomitant developments in musical sound. Only time will tell, however, whether smartphones and music apps will be just another stepping stone, or a true milestone in the development of electronic music. A key factor will be whether developers and users alike will be willing to treat them as real tools or as simple toys.