A lot of great music is composed using weird or short-lived instruments, and increasingly, these are instruments packed with electronic components — if the “instrument” itself isn’t just a computer. What happens when technology moves on and leaves us without the tools used to make great works? Writing in the New York Times, Allan Kozinn suggests we need to plan better.
You’ve probably experienced the problem Kozinn is describing if you’ve ever tried to open an old computer file only to realise that there’s no software that will open it. What do you do? Well if you were using widely available software, you can probably get at it somehow.
But for a lot of experimental and electronic music composers, the problem is way more complicated. The tools aren’t standard, they’re frequently customised and modified, and with technological change, the tools of the trade are often rendered obsolete within a few years. And that doesn’t even take into account the site-specific and hacked together instruments out there. If you tried to go back and recreate the experimental music written in the 80’s, you’d have a very hard time using today’s tools. The same can be said for weird synthesisers used in the 1960s — or even earlier models of current ones. For this reason, Kozinn suggests someone worried about posterity should take up the cause:
I’d buy up and recondition old-fashioned metronomes, Farfisa organs, Buchla and Moog units, Atari computers and every generation of Mac I could find. I’d warehouse spare parts and archive hardware schematics and software code.
That’s actually not a bad idea. That’s not to say it would be suddenly easy to rebuild the tools as they once existed, but plans and parts would be a good place to start. [NYTimes]