Music technology has revolutionized contemporary classical music. What was once only a remote musical dream has now become a reality through computers, robotics, interactive interfaces, and the internet. Classical composers have developed new and exciting ways to embrace new music technology without abandoning traditional classical musical form. Astounding new compositions have developed over the past few decades since the digital revolution began.
Classical music has seen a rise in internet “performances”. These performances do not take place in traditional locations like a concert hall. Instead these classical compositions take place in virtual spaces. For example, the innovative composer Alex Shapiro premiered her work in the online virtual reality world Second Life. Other musicians use live streaming through UStream to simulcast live performances. Some musicians never have “live” performances, leaving their fans to experience their music through uploaded videos through YouTube.
Composers like Pauline Oliveros use interactivity and video conferencing to explore new sonic possibilities with performers around the world by actively engaging in live concerts over the net. As performers interact with each other musically through Apple’s iChat, a live audience experiences a surreal work taking place in multiple real spaces within the context of a virtual space (the computer). A larger scale version of this would be the YouTube Orchestra, which auditioned hundreds of musicians online, with a premier performance at Carnegie Hall. The Internet Symphony by the YouTube Orchestra involves snippets and cuts of multiple home performances of a classical composition. Eric Whitacre also experimented with the idea of a virtual choir using uploaded musical performances.
Many universities are experimenting with laptop orchestras, such as Hsiao-Lan Wang’s Electric Monster laptop ensemble in Montana. This ensemble has traveled extensively, with several talented students musicians performing works written specifically for the laptop. Works sometimes use programs like MaxMSP, Supercollider (a computer language that creates interactive sound synthesis), or even Powerpoint.
Interactive Dance Concerts
Contemporary dancers have embraced new composition. Live performances involving interactivity between dancers and electronic music have flourished over the past decade. Some composers use sensors to detect a dancer’s movements. These signals then help process electronic sound and live music, sometimes even affecting visual elements projected on large screens.
Contemporary composers continue to innovate with new technologies. Digital interactivity and online performances are only a small part of the vast world of music technology. Innovation and invention continue to challenge the very definition of music. Where are we headed next?