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    Here's to Saving the Music of the Future from the Past

    Written by

    Michael Byrne


    An obvious but still kinda interesting thing is that music we tend to identify as “future music” is not particularly anchored in time, at least in ways we might assume. That is, as we move further into the actual future and away from the creation of music by early-days electronic music thinkers like tape music pioneer Halim El-Dabh or Gottfried Michael Koenig, the ’60s creator of formative compositional computer programs, we might not notice their sounds becoming “old.” That is, even in the technium-crush of 2012, they still sound like “the future.” Somehow, the proto-techno of Neu circa 1972 — to jump a bit ahead — sounds more like the future than most any techno-techno (or present-day future-everything pop) made since.

    There’s a massive confluence of things leading to this perception — synths sounding less and less “synth-y” is an obvious one — but the odd thing is that we stand to lose this bit of forever-future to the past. Which is weird to think of happening in a particular underground era that loves archival music more than most anything. Yet, even with dedicated hunters like Christopher Kirkley excavating the unknown electronic musics of the non-culturally dominant world, the undiscovered roots of a genre become even more likely to go undiscovered the further we get from them. That’s just time (and technology).

    The UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council just dropped over £300,000 on a 30 month research project into those distant and even pretty recent electronic roots, named simply Technology and Creativity in Electroacoustic Music. The work will be headed up by the University of Huddersfield, which explains the whole thing as such:

    The aim is to investigate the impact made by technology on the creative processes of composing electroacoustic music. There is some urgency. Pioneer composers in the field are ageing and so is much of the technology that they used. As early computers and synthesizers become obsolete or unobtainable, it will be increasingly difficult to recapture the sounds that inspired creativity in the field up to three decades ago.

    The prize at the end is a book and some sort of consumer electroacoustic analytic software, which should be neat. Though according to this here press release, the focus of study begins in 1980, and I guess I’m worried a bit less about some ‘80s and ’90s composers than the total unknowns piecing together the future of music in the ’40s or even earlier. Nor do I see a forgetting of ’80s ur-syths like the DX-7 or Jupiter 8 anytime soon. Though maybe I’m starting to miss the point.

    Anyhow, here’s to remembering the future. That’s the interesting thing about studying technology-married cultures of the past: sometimes culture just gets buried by time and memory but, here, it also has to fight against technological obsolescence.

    I’ll leave you with Michael Rother’s “Feuerland,” which is probably a different sort of electroacoustic music than the Huddersfield team is after, but still a fine way to set up for the coming week.

    Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.