The Rambler :: blog

Friday, July 16, 2004

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In amongst my recently received Summer Burn tracks is 'Rimshot' by Erykah Badu. A track I have a story about, and will now bore you with.

A couple of years ago, I went - on a Work assignation - to a music and technology conference in Darmstadt. Now, a free trip to the spiritual home of high modernist music was not to be passed up, so I gladly went (and bunked off one day to browse the Summer School archives). However, the emphasis of the conference was very much on the side of technology, rather than music. Despite the fact that it was music at the core of every research paper presented, I think I was possibly the only musician or musicologist of any description present. This was made most clear to me at the end of one of many papers presenting a potential technology solution for automating music cataloguing systems. Most of these were based on means of analysing the note-by-note content of a track, and then cataloguing it according to some algorithm or other. I was despairing by this point - every solution I'd seen had so little to do with music as I understood it that I wondered why it was the topic under discussion in the first place. So, here was this paper, in which the Erykah Badu track was played as a demonstration of how the system might work. OK, I thought. Here's a tune that slips between genres, and includes heavy quotation across genres (it relies heavily on the riff from Miles Davis' 'So What' if you don't know it). I asked the speaker if his system was able to cope with such cross-genre fertilisation, if this kind of explicit musical linkage was part of his model - or whether it would be. I was met with a room full of blank faces. No one recognised the quotation I was talking about - which was one thing - but no one even acknowledged that my concern might have any bearing whatsoever on how a user might wish to use a musical catalogue. I kept my head down from then on. This was a different world, and while a fascinating insight into a completely unfamiliar notion of music, it ran so contrary to years of learning that I couldn't help but feel antagonistic. A day's immersion in Darmstadtian total serialism was a surprisingly refreshing diversion.

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