Button: Talking Heads
Button: Beethoven
Button: Louis Armstrong

Audible vibrations or oscillations produce both noise and sound. The distinguishing factor is that the latter has deliberate communication purpose. Noise is random, although one person's noise may be another person's industrial music. Sound can be represented by sine waves; complex, but still relatively simple forms—such as notes played on musical instruments—can be represented by more complex harmonic curves, with numbers of harmonic tones or overtones superimposed on the fundamental tone. The complexity of a sound wave can become so great that no particular pitch can be discerned. This is white noise, so called by analogy with white light which is a mixture of all frequencies (or colors) of visible light. In an age of media-driven information overload (what William Gibson (American-Canadian novelist, born 1948) calls "information sickness"), it has become increasingly difficult to be selective and turn the visual and aural noise around us into knowledge.

Music is a means of bringing order to chaos, and to "endow our highest moments of awareness with enduring form and substance." In a musical composition, so long as we hear only single tones, we do not hear music. Listening, the act of deciphering sound, depends on the recognition of the in-betweens of tones, of their placing and spacing, of the application of the elements of structure to noise. Franz Boas (German-American anthropologist, 1858-1942) said that the two significant traits that distinguish man from other animals are the use of utensils and the organization of articulate speech—the use of sound to convey meaning.

Remember dancing in those electric shoes?
Remember?
Remember music and beware.
- Anne Sexton (American poet and writer, 1928-74)

The Wonderful Musician

Marshall McLuhan (Canadian scholar and media theorist, 1911-80) wrote in The Gutenberg Galaxy that in preliterate societies, before the development of the alphabet or the written word, the ear was the dominant sense organ, not the eye: Hearing was believing. "The phonetic alphabet forced the magic world of the ear to yield to the neutral world of the eye. Man was given an eye for an ear." Writing, then printing, were two pre-eminent means of the development of Western culture. They were apprehended through the eye. McLuhan goes on to point out that "visual space is uniform, continuous and connected. The rational man in our Western culture is the visual man." McLuhan believed that electric technology returns us to the preliterate, pre-visual, aural world of our ancestors. We can be selective in the way we experience the visual image. Hearing, on the other hand, is less easy to control. Sounds are everywhere. Short of stuffing our ears with cotton, it is virtually impossible not to detect them.

The love of music is a fundamental feature of the human species and is found in every society; it is one of the things we do for pleasure alone. It is embedded in the complex workings of the human brain and the ways in which it comprehends and processes sound. The music instinct, our ability to organize and manipulate sound as a means of expression, is thought to predate the evolution of homo sapiens. As the species evolved, music-making tools were among the first fashioned. Recent research indicates that our ancestors created musical instruments as early as 50,000 years ago.

Image: Anatomy Diagram
David Brown,Harmonica Collage, 1980

Before the development of electronic tools, the changes in music were primarily those that affected how musical instruments were produced. Recording technologies went through a series of improvements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as did the technologies for broadcasting music. The ability to preserve and distribute music altered the very nature of fame, as regional artists could broadcast their music to a national audience, and sell recordings to this audience.

Where analog electronic tools produced incremental changes, digital tools have produced exponential changes. Music can be produced without the aid of a traditional instrument, it does not need to be notated using musical notation, and it is almost academic to say that the Internet and the digital MP3 format have radically altered the face of the music industry. It's not for nothing that the most public and vigorous battles over intellectual property are being waged over the illegal (though many would say not immoral) sharing of music files.

Sound cannot exist without motion:
A still object is silent.
In the early 1960s, the TX-0 computer "had an audio output: when the program ran, a speaker underneath the console would make a sort of music, like a poorly tuned electric organ whose notes would vibrate with a fuzzy, ethereal din. The chords on this 'organ' would change depending on what data the machine was reading at any given microsecond; after you were familiar with the tones, you could actually hear what part of your program it was working on."

- Steven Levy (American journalist, born 1951), Hackers

Early electronic musical tools produced the environment that allowed hip-hop and industrial music to be created. Later developments in digital technology allowed sounds and music to be manipulated to a degree never before possible. The history of digital tools can be traced through the development of hip-hop music, whose early practitioners used rudimentary electronic drum machines over which they laid staccato rhymes. Today's hip-hop artists use a full range of computer tools to sample, manipulate, and remix sounds into a truly new form of music.

Hip-hop relies little on traditional musical instruments, except in the case where it is sampled. Rap artists have appropriated everything from drums and bass lines to environmental noise. "We did not come to make music, we came to destroy it," said Chuck D (American rapper, born 1960) of Public Enemy, whose 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back brought sampling to a new level of artistic achievement.

Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. "Time" has ceased, "space" has vanished. We now live in a global village ... a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorced us.

- Marshall McLuhan (Canadian scholar and media theorist, 1911-80), The Medium is the Message

The contemporary music library is a pocket-sized device that stores digital music. It is one of the unique qualities of digital media that it has made personal collections of music, images and so on practically a part of our bodies. The contemporary DJ's turntable is a laptop equipped with software that provides a range of effects and ways to mix songs together that is entirely unlike any analog technology. Instead of hauling crates of vinyl records to a club, today's DJs bring their laptops filled with music and commercial or even custom-written software. Performance in the future is likely to be more than the product of performers as we have come to know them. Rather, the future of creativity with sound may lie with the genius of a programmer, a composer of the dots and dashes of the digital realm, who has been freed from reliance on the musician.

Today, music is everywhere, from the ubiquitous iPod to the personal libraries of thousands of MP3s that live on everyone's computers to the digital jukeboxes in bars. In fact, much of the digital revolution has been driven by music.