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To What Extent has Electronic Technology Impacted on 20th and 21st Century Music?

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Abstract In this essay, I have examined the use of electronic technology within 20th and 21st Century music. This has involved analysis of the development and continuing refinement of the computer in today's music industry, as well as the theory of the synthesiser and the various pioneers of electronic technology, including Dr. Robert Moog and Les Paul. Also within the essay, I have discussed the increasing use of computers in the recording studio. The computer has become an indispensable tool in ensuring that both recording and playback sound quality is kept at the maximum possible level. Many positive ideas have come from the continued onslaught of computerisation. For example, music is becoming more widely available to the general public with the introduction of mp3 players and the growth of the online music industry. The essay is concluded with my personal feelings towards the use of electronic technology within the live music industry, as well as the recording studio environment. This conclusion reveals that while the use of electronic technology has become crucial in the modern music market, it should not detract from the quality of live music produced. In this way, I feel that the use of electronic technology - namely drum machines and computerised backing tracks - have had a negative effect on the live music industry, because the majority of artists within the 'pop' genre now use computer-generated backing for live performances. Contents Page Section 3 .......................................... Introduction 3 .......................................... The Pioneers of the Electronic Age 4 .......................................... The Theory of the Synthesiser 5 .......................................... Other Changes Due to Electronic Technology 6 .......................................... Early Commercial Applications of the Computer Within Music 6 ........................................... The Application of Music Programming 7 .......................................... The Digital Revolution 8 .......................................... My Conclusion 9 .......................................... Bibliography To What Extent has Electronic Technology Impacted on 20th and 21st Century Music? Craig Watson Introduction The introduction of electronic technology - including the computer - has revolutionised the way we think, do business, socialise and, possibly most of all, the way we listen to and make music. ...read more.


Today's modern generations tend to take the CD player for granted. Only as recently as the early 1990s, CDs were just emerging as the preferred medium for recorded music. Today, we can buy CDs as we would buy a loaf of bread or a carton of milk. The expansion of the music industry to incorporate a wider audience has been immense. The main catalyst for these advances however, has come in the form of the computer. Early Commercial Applications of the Computer within Music Computers have been used in mainstream music since the mid-1970s, both as recording platforms and as music-making tools. The use of computers as music programming tools has mainly evolved from music processors such as the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument (CMI) and alphaSyntauri systems. Apple computers have long since been the main platform for music programming, from the Apple IIe, released in the early 1980s, to the gMac supercomputers of the 21st century. The popularity of the home computer can be shown by these figures: by the end of 1981, home computers were in 500,000 homes across the United States. By the end of 1982, this figure had risen to 1.5 million. Many hardware manufacturers sensed the potential for new 'bolt-on' (similar to today's Plug'n'Play standard) music circuits that would increase the music-making capacity of the new machines. At the same time, new computer programs were being written to cater for the non-technical musician, as to create music, you had to have at least some basic knowledge of a computer programming language. Programs such as Passport Designs' Soundchaser were rapidly gaining popularity and headway was being made for the bigger and better hardware and software to come in the 1990s. On the other side of the computer revolution was the recording environment. Computer-aided recording was a breakthrough in music technology. Some years before the computer-controlled mixing desks, microprocessors were being used for creating digital effects such as modulation and echo. ...read more.


It went against their musical beliefs, and it is these beliefs that I also share. Music piracy has also jumped considerably in the last decade. The Internet is now used as a market for illegal music trafficking, although tighter laws now mean that it is less likely to happen than in past years, but the danger is there all the same. More than anything, music piracy deprives the artist and songwriters valuable royalties in record sales (most artists get only five to ten percent of any record sold in their name - whereas songwriters receive around 20 percent). On the other hand, however, the computer has made plenty of worthwhile improvements to the way music is produced and enjoyed. While the size of music players and recording studios continues to decrease, the use of computer equipment has minimised the effort that is needed to record a live band or even a whole symphony orchestra. The use of synthesisers in the mid to late 20th century added a new dimension to popular music, and the introduction of hard disk recording in the 1990s opened up new possibilities for sound engineers and session musicians alike. So, has the computer degraded today's live music? My answer would be yes, as most popular music is no longer played by live musicians, but pre-recorded by use of synthetic computer programs that imitate the use of a real instrument. While this can be an effective way of reducing production costs by not having to hire session musicians and expensive equipment, isn't it worth the extra cost to go that little bit further and keep a sense of humanity within the music? It can be argued that using a keyboard can recreate the sound of an entire orchestra, but at least a human is pressing the keys. For me, the German band Kraftwerk's stage image of robots embodies what all live performances will look like in a generation's time if the current state of music automation continues at its current rate. ...read more.

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