Let's hear it for technology!
In recent editions of the New York Times, novelist Pico Iyer (a champion name-dropper) and columnist Roger Cohen put new words to a song we've been hearing since the dawn of the internet age. You know how it goes: We're too tuned-in. Email, smartphones, cable news, international conferences of smart and famous people -- enough! So I, a writer (therefore an expert on everything), decided to tune out. It was wonderful. I read books and talked to people. Who knew you could do such things? You should do them too, and be more like me. Of course, then I tuned back in so I could file this piece. What, you thought I was going to write it with a quill pen and deliver it on horseback? That would take too much time away from my thinking deeply about very important things.
I swear, someday we'll find that the internet has become a leading cause of global warming, since everyone who (voluntarily) does without it for more than fifteen minutes feels the need to expend tons of hot gas bragging about it. I inserted the parenthetical "voluntarily", by the way, to leave out those without adequate internet access. Funny, I haven't read too many of them explaining what a virtue this is.
So what does this have to do with music? Lots. From Johann Gutenberg to Steve Jobs, new technologies have constantly, inexorably, made more music more accessible to more people, With ever-increasing rapidity and convenience, works get disseminated, stylistic advances become widespread, hybrid forms develop and catch hold, instruments get invented and improved, the musical past lives together with the present and all of it is accessible to anyone with the most commonplace and affordable tools . Vocal techniques from Africa merge with modern African-American musical styles, adapt to new electronic devices, engage inquisitive young people, form a new creative genre, and get featured in a Concerto, alongside a Brahms Symphony, in concerts by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra -- and all of this, basically, in the span of a few years. I'm referring to the HSO's performances this week of Jan Mikael Vainio’s "Fujiko’s Fairy Tale", featuring the beatboxer Shodekeh (pictured above). In theory (if not always in practice, alas), you could hear this performance as it happens, then later anytime you wanted on a device you can carry in your pocket.
And none of this would have been possible without the globalized, plugged-in, hyper-connected world that the Messrs Iyer and Cohen congratulate themselves for avoiding. On the other hand, I wouldn't for a moment say you have to participae in any of the above if you don't feel like it. But the means to do so are there when you and I want them, and they enrich our lives in wonderful, never-ceasing ways. This is a good thing, isn't it?