Unless we constrain ourselves to a particular decade, century or era of music it would be impossible to decide on the most significant technological advances in music but taking it back to the very beginning, would the moment when an experimenting ancestor discovered that certain materials reverberate when struck, making a pleasing sound, be the musical “Big Bang”?
From this it’s a small step to ally words from primitive stories with rhythms from the struck item to form the ancestor of songs. From then on it’s simply adding refinement and complexity.
Most instruments made up to the late 19th Century were trying to replicate the range and emotion of the human voice in some way so it might possibly be safe to say that the advent of a sung tonal system paved the way for all future technological advances.
Once we have a common or “standard” set of tones it’s important for all participating instruments to agree on them to allow unison. This has only recently been possible by the development of the measurement of frequency by Heinrich Hertz. If we say that Middle A is 440Hz and build our instruments around this standard, we can play with anyone, anywhere.
Moving forward to the 20th Century, the development of electronic instruments and recording have allowed a greater number of people than ever before to compose and perform and this is certainly the area that has had the greatest impact on me personally. I can write for a string quartet or piano or full orchestra without having to be able to play or even see the instruments. MIDI, Sequencing and Sampling technologies are allowing anybody to take part. Surely the World’s a better place for that?
Advances in recording and reproduction technologies mean that we can now more than at any other time experience musical concepts and traditions from any country and from virtually any time (a notable exception being ancient Greek music). Compact Disc, MP3 and the Internet bring together cultures and techniques to such a degree that there are now phenomena such as people learning to play instruments purely from lessons posted on YouTube.
This is a Golden Age for music and it’s our responsibility to take advantage of it.
With this in mind, here’s a celebration of music and technology from Rush: The Spirit of Radio