JUNE 5th 2012 (Recap): How is technology changing music?

The Silicon Valley Innovation Institute is all about innovation, whatever the form. Last week, we had a fabulous event focusing on innovation in music–specifically, as the title of the event asked, “How is technology changing music?”

The evening began with casual mingling and chatting. During this time, even though they were not an official part of the program, the entrepreneurs from Unplugged Instruments got the night off to a good start by showing off their super cool self-amplifying guitar (available through kickstarter).

Then we had dinner from the fine fare of Angelica’s Bistro (also the location of this event) while music was played by Scot Sier and Andy Markham, followed by a stunning Bolero dance by Roland Van Der Veen and Jessie Chen.

Jessie Chen and Roland Van Der Veen dancing the bolero
Jessie Chen and Roland Van Der Veen dancing the bolero

All this happened before the main program, which was an extended exploration of how technology is changing music (for better or for worse). Mostly, it was agreed that technology is helping music by, as SVII founder Howard Lieberman put it, “lowering the barriers to entry and allowing artists to reach more people with their music.” However, there were also some hints that it may not all be good. For example, Andy Markham, a guitarist from The Cat Mary, pointed out that “There is no law of the universe that dictates that music needs to be a way of making money.” Just as brick-laying is a profession that is now all-but-extinct, in five hundred years, technology may have made music so easy to produce that being a professional musician will be an impossibility. (He didn’t necessarily say that such a scenario has to be a bad thing, but whether it is or not would probably depend on your perspective.)

 

One thing that is for sure is that technology has changed music immensely. Even in the change, however, one can see the cyclical nature of music (rhythm, anyone?). For example, because technology such as iTunes, Youtube, Spotify, and BitTorrent (to name a few) have made music anywhere from cheap to free online, musicians have become much more dependent on revenue from live performances, which is somewhat of an echo of past times.

Additional juxtapositions of the new and old in music and technology were also highlighted by the other panelists. Budda Amplification founder Scot Sier talked about how he got the idea for his current company: At one time, he had a tube amplifier, but then he sold it. After that he realized how much he missed it, because it sounds much better at a lower volume than other amplifiers, which is important for preserving your hearing if you are a musician. This inspired him to start a company which would actually make tube amplifiers, which before then had been a dying breed.

Scott Sier contributes to the discussion as moderator Darius Dunlap looks on
Scott Sier contributes to the discussion as moderator Darius Dunlap looks on

Also present were the father-son-instrument-making-duo, Rick and Eli Turner, of Renaissance Guitars, who have mastered the art of creating a wide array of relatively mainstream instruments and equipment in surprising new ways. Eli Turner uses Photoshop and solid works to model instruments on a computer, allowing him to design and work on instruments much faster. But even though he uses new technology to make new instruments, the past is still quite influential. Whenever he is designing a new take on an existing instrument, he looks at the classic models of that instrument, which he likes to pay tribute to in his new designs, as in his partially cut-out guitar based on the Fender Strat (called the CopperCaster).

Eli Turner showing off his cut-out Strat and other instrument that I can't remember the name of
Eli Turner showing off his cut-out Strat and the electric tonkori that he is working on as well as a traditional acoustic tonkori

One of the highlights of the night was when Robert Hamilton of Smule showed a visualized version of people from all over the world singing “Lean on Me” together through the Smule Glee app (online karaoke and music collaboration). After the tsunami in Japan, someone in Japan posted the starter track as a way to encourage fellow Japanese people. Later, people from all over the world started hearing it and adding their own voices.

Another product that Smule makes is electronic instruments for computers–i.e, ways of playing music through your iPhone, iPad, etc. Hamilton mentioned that one of their most popular settings on the My Ocarina app for the iPhone is the Zeldarian setting, which mimics the way an ocarina in the Zelda computer game sounds, which is (as far as we know) not reproducible by an acoustic instrument. This echos something which Eli said about the flow of technology: “Technology tries to mimic the physical world, which forces us to learn more about the physical world by studying it more deeply. Then we take the physical and try to mimic technology, which forces us to learn more about technology.”

Robert Hamilton of Smule talking technology and music as Eli Turner looks on
Robert Hamilton of Smule talking technology and music as Eli Turner looks on

——————————————————————————————————————–

SVII is the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute. We aspire to cultivate innovation by bringing creative people of all types together in a thought-provoking environment. Our next event is July 18th, and is an opportunity for anyone to showcase their creativity and audacity in performance and art.

Bass guitar and Eli Turner's CopperCaster
Bass guitar and Eli Turner’s CopperCaster

JUNE 20th 2012: How is Technology Changing Music?

With so much improvement occuring rapidly in technology and software many industries are struggling to keep up. The same cannot be said for the music industry, or can it? SVII brings together a panel of five individuals each with their own unique experiences in the worlds of music, invention and technology to discuss the future relationship between technology and music.

* New Venue: Angelica’s Bell Theatre & Bistro, Redwood City 

 century ago, technology brought recorded music to everyone. Since then, it has put your record collection in your pocket and a recording studio in your home. The internet changes the way music is marketed and disrupts old business models.

But in the next decade, there is a still bigger change coming. The confluence of cloud services and mobile phones and other technologies are enabling new ways to create music, share it, learn and practice, rehearse, compose, collaborate and perform.

We have put together an amazing panel of musicians, inventors and technologists. Their shared backgrounds span music genres from  60’s Rock to avant-garde Jazz to Bluegrass, and technologies from tube amplifiers to mobile devices, cloud services and computer music. (Be sure to check out their fascinating bios below!)

Join us for an interactive discussion of the future of music and the direction of technology for musical expression!

Read more

Painting the Music Recap

We were treated to a magnificent and innovative performance from Jeremy Sutton. He showed his unique style and process he engages in order to produce his original paintings.

 

When Jeremy Sutton asked us to make sure there was a bit of space up at the front for him to dance during his presentation, I wondered what we were in for. It turns out we were in for a powerful look at the intersection of art, technology, music, and improv, with a bit of swing dance thrown in for good measure.

Jeremy Sutton is a physicist turned artist who uses a combination of digital tools and traditional painting techniques to create his artwork. We’ve all experienced the magic of listening to someone create music. Or watching someone perform dance. It’s much more rare that we get to see art in the creation stage. Jeremy took it one step further, and did his best to draw us into the creative process, from the beginning stages of percolating ideas, to the loose throwing of paint onto a digital blank canvas, to the final steps of reigning in the wild brushstrokes to make something that really captures the subject.

In this case, the subject of the painting was SVII’s director, Howard Lieberman. Howard was also an active participant in the creative process, offering improvised piano music that helped influence the rhythm of the brushstrokes.  Piano pairs very well with art.

At our August event, our topic was improv. We talked a lot about how improv relates to business. It opens up our thinking and lets us accept what is, rather than what we’d like things to look like according to our careful plans. Jeremy’s presentation touched on many of the same things. He mentioned that he never uses the “undo” button, although you’d think that would be one of the blessings of being a digital painter. He doesn’t use undo, because he sees every brushstroke as a gift, as a step towards something bigger. Mistakes are worked into the creative process, not “undone”.

As innovators, this mentality should feel familiar. People who keep trying to undo errors to manage their creative process won’t allow themselves the freedom required to make breakthroughs. It’s beyond a simple willingness to fail. It’s a knowledge that what we’re trying to reach is about ten steps past failure, and that failure was necessary and helpful part of the process.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Jeremy’s work, check out his websites: http://www.jeremysutton.com/ and http://www.paintboxj.com/. You can also stop by his studio this weekend (Oct 8-10) for his Fall Open Studios event. Or check out his live performance as Vincent Van Gogh at the de Young on October 15th or October 22nd.