Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October 1 Future Music

Music is one of the streams of culture. It is a stream ever flowing, and ever changing. It is possible to wade in and experience it. Or stay out for a while. You can wade in other streams. You can come back and it will still be flowing.

Some other streams of culture include the news, spectator sports, literature, technology, fashion, design. Each has a broadcast structure dedicated to making it easy to wade in.

The aesthetics of each stream are ultimately registered in each individual by the receptors for familiarity and novelty, pleasure and irritation. The familiarity-novelty response is informed by the sum of our past experience. Increasingly that cultural experience will be curated by our friends and less so by broadcast structures. Broadcast structures are difficult to support in the age of infinite reproduction for free.

Another attraction of cultural streams is anticipation. We each predict the future in a stream, and then are pleasured by seeing it come to pass. It is an equivalent neurological response across the cultural streams.

But music is different in a few ways. First, the neurological path for music through primitive brain structures brings animal responses and emotion. Second, the programming of the cortex and paths to it are determined by synaptic branching and paring. Most of that occurs in the late prenatal time and then from infancy to childhood. We are learning language with those same brain structures. So we are programmed to learn music at the same time.

Implanting an electrical interface to the nervous system changes things. Today we have cochlear implants for nerve deafness. In the deaf community parents have to navigate the conflict between a baby receiving and implant for an early start on learning local language verses that same baby not learning deaf culture, and its distinct language. In the novel The Terminal Man, an implant leads to an addictive and ultimately destructive neural pattern. The future of implants changes the programming and metaprogramming in the human biocomputer. That could impact the aesthetics of music, perhaps missing the emotional responses in the primitive brain.


Claire Evans @TheUniverse is a musician and futurist. She combines both in a talk today: Science Fiction and Synthesized Sound. The announcement wins the copywriting award for the month:

""Turn on the radio in the year 3000, and what will you hear? When we make first contact with an alien race, will we—as in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"—communicate through melody? If the future has a sound, what can it possibly be? If science fiction has so far failed to produce convincing future music, it won’t be for lack of trying. It’s just that the problem of future-proofing music is complex, likely impossible. The music of 1,000 years from now will not be composed by, or even for, human ears. It may be strident, seemingly random, mathematical; like the “Musica Universalis” of the ancients, it might not be audible at all. It might be the symphony of pure data. It used to take a needle, a laser, or a magnet to reproduce sound. Now all it takes is code. The age of posthuman art is near; music, like mathematics, may be a universal language—but if we’re too proud to learn its new dialects, we’ll find ourselves silent and friendless in a foreign future.""


My belief is that the question should be considered in the context of the above brain science framework. Unfortunately, the brain of the future is unknown. When machines replace parents in rearing infants, we will have different brains. Machines react more quickly. Today they interact much more predictably within a tiny universe of possibilities, compared to humans. They are absent facial microexpression and tone of voice, both extremely complex communication channels learned in infancy and developed onward. We will have to see how ToyTalk and childhood robots change human. Perhaps the future of music will be governed by childhood experiences with machines. Or perhaps we will develop a way to turn on at any time in life the rapid growth of synaptic connections and intuitive learning we experienced as babies without knowing.


Claire Evans speaks today at Xhurch 4550 NE 20th 3PM Free