Monday, November 17, 2008

First I would like to admit that, yes, I was thinking about this class while at a bar. I am that nerdy. Moving on.

While I was out this weekend at a bar with music playing, someone among my party inquired what the song was. Another of the party then brought out his iphone, held it above his head, looked at it, and informed everyone it was Suchandsuch by the Soandsos. I seen this technology advertised but never seen it in action or given it much thought.

In light of our recent reading of Hewett, I did give it much thought. At first it seemed this phenomenon was directly related to the formal aspects he talks about on page 15: a specific song could not be identified as separate from others if songs themselves had not, at some point, been given mobile identities. I do think this fact is only partially true.

But there are also very immobile factors here, which causes me to wonder if music in this case is being treated more as it used to be, as a singular, though replayable, event. As I sat there, fascinated, I began to wonder what factors of the sound the technology is picking up. Is it pitch, key, melody, timbre, rhythm, what? What would happen if we transcribe it? Speed it up? If it is another voice singing? Use a live version? I suspected, and still suspect, any of these changes would cause the technology to consider the sound a different song.

I did some research on the internet and found the iphone utilizes a technology called Shazam to read the sound's acoustic fingerprint, which is apparently the end result of the code that digitally stores the sound. There is some leeway in matching acoustic fingerprints, accounting for differences in the file storage and audio quality, but it is based off a master recording. Therefore, the technology would not be able to identify two people singing the same Schubert song, for instance, as the same, or I suppose anything live at all.

So here, a piece of music becomes one unchangeable event. It is certainly different from the days when music and function were inherently tied, but I see similarities; and I certainly see differences from the idea of complete mobility within the same musical identity.

Lest this post turn into a dissertation, I will end it, but I leave you with the next step: What does this idea do for the concept of authenticity?

No comments: