Is it live, or is it Memorex? – Stephanie Heriger

Or is it a computer program that could effectively eliminate the need for live musicians altogether…

You should take a few moments and the read the following from The Wall Street Journal:

Here’s the issue:

Virtual music is on the rise.  The latest advancement being software, developed by a former cellist with the Vienna Philharmonic, that can seemingly recreate the orchestral experience without an actual orchestra being present.  Pulling from the Vienna Symphonic Library, a digital archive of notes and patterns recorded by local musicians, the program can manipulate these files such that the final product sounds remarkably close to the real thing (at least that’s what they say, I’ll let you be the judge –

Once a basic musical framework has been established, conductors can then take the piece to the stage, a computerized baton or perhaps even a sensory “conductor’s jacket” allowing for the final “performance.”

For many, this is cause for alarm.  At the very least, it’s an invitation to debate.  Advocates of the new technology argue that software such as this allows up-and-coming composers the chance to have large-scale works performed at relatively low cost.  They also see it as a way to keep performances in communities at risk of losing their orchestras or to bring performances to towns that may not have had the resources to begin with.  Even so, it’s a slippery slope, to say the (very) least.

Far less scary (but no less fascinating) is a new piece by composer and Georgia Tech professor, Jason Freeman that uses technology as a means to a rather adventurous end:

The work, a saxophone quartet entitled Flock, uses software that generates a score based on the actions and movements of both the audience and the performers themselves.  These movements are fed into programming that, using Freeman’s own algorithms, creates a score in real time, which is then sent to Pocket PCs attached to the performers’ instruments – the results can be heard almost instantaneously.

In the words of the composer:

"Flock is a full evening performance work for saxophone quartet, conceived to directly engage audience in the composition of music by physically bringing them out of their seats and enfolding them into the creative process…Through this unconventional, “hands on” performance experience, Flock [creates] a meaningful, living connection between artists, musicians, scientists, and audience members."

John Cage would be proud.

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