Music ‘Notation’ for the Facebook Generation?

The web site/forum/blog/store DJ TechTools is ‘taking music releases to the next level’. And the concept is certainly intriguing, if not entirely unique. Mad Zach’s new release ‘Evil Lurks on a Summer Day’ will, instead of being released through a label, include the Ableton project file, a ‘fully interactive sound pack’, and a tutorial on the use of the grid controllers used to play this song. The concept behind the release is, after buyers download the file and learn the controls, they will then go on to remix the release. There’s even a Soundcloud group where users can submit their remix for potential inclusion in an EP release.

So. What do we think? Is this a modern electronic musician’s answer to music notation? Okay. Hear me out on this one – I know the initial answer to the question of whether this seems akin to any sort of Western classical concept of ‘notation’ is obviously No. There is no system of symbols meant to represent sound – rather, the instruction is in physical motions to be enacted upon a piece of equipment. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to tablature, where the standardized visual system is effectively instructions for physical action. But music notation could be considered instructions, as well – it’s just that the performer takes a step in the middle to process and translate the received visual data into a learned physical action. After years of playing an instrument the step isn’t even necessary – it’s second nature.

It doesn’t seem likely to catch on. It isn’t practical to have to watch a tutorial for every new song an artist wanted to learn (though many classical artists do choose to expose themselves to repeated listenings of repertoire before attempting performance). It isn’t a mode of self-perpetuation where users could continue to use this same system of learning to play other songs. Rather, it seems that this ‘interactive’ music project is a way for new DJs (users must already own all the equipment and software necessary to play the track — the download is only $4.99 after that) to familiarize themselves with the equipment and the process of creation involved in making this form of electronic music.

It’s certainly an interesting new step for a style of music that has traditionally been self-taught; a process of accidental-on-purpose creation that has given birth to wildly varied art forms. But, coming in the footsteps of Bjork’s recent Biophilia and Lady Gaga’s forthcoming ARTPOP, both ‘interactive’ albums for use with the iPad, perhaps this is the new market for producers of pop music in all its incarnations. Marketing a product to a generation that has grown up around the culture of DIY music-making and a wildly easy means of producing self-created art to the public at large (thanks, Internet!) allows them to be part of it, too! You don’t just listen, you’re an active part of something. It has placed music in a context similar to any sort of large-scale social media use – ability to share with the click of a button.

This is by no means any sort of critique on the accessibility or ease of music production. The long-term effects of the DIY generation remain to be seen. As with any creative output there are pros to a methodology that requires a period of time to wait, ruminate, and edit, but there is an artistic quality in itself to the rapid-fire pace and the real-time feedback from users waiting at their keyboards to gobble it up.

As far as DJTechTools goes, I say kudos to any sort of attempt at furthering musical education and interaction. The tutorial method of teaching may not fit the exact requirements of a notational system, but it certainly achieves a similar result. And if it is a result that encourages people to play music, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

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