Discover more from MUSIC x
✘ Next tech era: play and deeply human experiences
And: Playing multiple games at once; The power of metadata; Hip hop as an economic development tool; Misaligned incentives in music; The tortured artist
This is the first in a four-part series with the MUTEK festival I introduced last Tuesday. Kicking things off is Sorrel Salb, someone who loves to work with emerging technologies and who is continually conducting creative experiments. Her main interests are around how new tech can strengthen communities and networks to create shifts in culture. She’s also the manager of BITOI: Bass is the original instrument, a band exploring the limits of the voice and the electric bass. And then she’s building a music discovery and curation platform. The perfect person to take us into a next era in tech: play.
It is becoming easier and cheaper than ever to purchase or create new tech products and learn anything you want to know about how to use them. At the same time, this extreme accessibility is leading to a feeling of oversaturation of content, information and new products being produced. On the social platforms I peruse, I’ve increasingly seen people express a feeling of there being too much: too much content, too many subscriptions services, too many new social platforms. Within all of this, I’m extremely excited and hopeful when I see what the increased accessibility to emerging technology is allowing my peers and I to create. Many of my friends and collaborators across the world are using emerging technologies to develop new forms of creative expression and shift paradigms. I’ll outline a few of the projects and trends I’m seeing.
New forms of worldbuilding
Llainwire immediately comes to mind as someone using technology to craft a world around their music different to what we have seen before. The visuals they create to accompany the music include avatars in CGI universes which Llainwire produces, edits and directs. Eugene Angelo shoots the video footage for these rich videos on iPhone. Together, they show how small teams can now create whole worlds with tools that many of us have in our pockets.
I also recently came across the story of the artist Teflon Sega. They created a digital avatar and pseudonym to release music with. The start of this character came about when the artist had been signed and shelved by a major label and eventually turned to releasing music via a new anonymous digital character to still keep expressing themselves creatively. Using YouTube, they learned how to make 3D animations. In an interview with The Red Bulletin, the artist recently shared:
“..real-time animation and motion capture is so new and it’s becoming accessible for creators in their homes, without studios or big budgets. People would send messages complimenting my ‘team’ on their work. I wanted to show that I’m just making this stuff in my garage, and that you can do it, too.”
Zooming out a bit, I predict that gaming aesthetics will permeate different cultural spheres even more strongly in the future. We’ve seen growing trends of people acting like NPCs (non-playable characters) on our feeds with the likes of Pinkydoll really bringing the content style to mainstream awareness. MSCHF’s red boots and other aesthetics reminiscent of gaming on recent catwalks show that similar ideas are big and growing in fashion right now too.
The lines between fiction and reality are becoming increasingly blurred and artists that are experimenting with creating new types of digital worlds are garnering a lot of interest. As knowledge and tools to create these kinds of digital worlds are becoming ever more accessible, I’m excited to see what is created in this realm.
The recent spike in views on the Skibidi Toilet videos on platforms like TikTok and YouTube shows how interested people are in absurd, action-packed gaming aesthetics with strong storylines. What I find especially fascinating is that these videos are resonating most strongly with Gen Alpha, indicating the type of content younger generations are wanting to consume. In the realm of music, I predict a rise in artists who lean into asthetics popularised by social media algorithms. These include interesting transitions, intriguing opening scenes, strong lore, fantasy worlds, fast cuts, and symbols and formats carrying over between content. Right now there is also a big fascination around AI, the blurring boundaries between humans and machines, and explorations that circle around uncanny valley aesthetics and so we will likely continue to see a lot of this coming through in artistic creative expression.
With many of us now using the same technology that only changes marginally with each upgrade, e.g. the Apple ecosystem, it feels as if we have reached a type of inflection point. A move back to more plurality in the types of hardware we use and own has steadily been creeping into the cultural zeitgeist in recent years. Vintage tech like analogue cameras and more recently digital cameras and camcorders are experiencing a surge in popularity. A lot of experimentation with custom hardware is also occurring. Kanye West’s 2021 Donda Stem Player stands out as a playful example in this realm which reimagined new roles and applications for hardware linked to an album release.
As it becomes cheaper and easier to produce hardware, the entry level pricepoints are dropping and it is becoming more accessible as a medium to experiment with. Lychee, Inc is a company which I find really exciting in this realm. Co-founders Tigris Li and Eugene Angelo recently shared that they are creating cultural hardware which encourages users to play and experiment with the hardware. Recently they released a small run of handheld devices in collaboration with Zora Zine which light up in sync with music that is played near them. Lychee is focusing on utilising hardware to connect with younger generations and shift culture and I’m looking forward to seeing what they release next. Technologies needed for hardware creation becoming more accessible is allowing for easier production on a smaller scale which greatly reduces the barrier to entry into the hardware-as-medium world.
There are also projects tapping into nostalgic hardware behaviours and extending these to create new models for the future. One project doing this is USB Club. Bring your own USB to an event or get one at their event station and receive a mix of files curated specifically for that event. This could include the likes of music, reference images, or readings. In a world of information overload, it feels really nice to browse curated files that you can only receive through being at a specific event or from someone who was at that event. Irl distribution of a small collection of files feels like the ideal antidote to the pace at which new information and content are shared on digital platforms.
There’s a really fascinating dichotomy here between a return to vintage technology like digicams alongside new custom hardware becoming easier to develop using tech like 3D printing. Branching out into new forms of hardware allows people to signal their identity and engage with tech in a way that feels more fun and playful again. Right now it feels like that genuine joy and discovery felt while using a product or software is something which is lacking in a lot of online spaces and business models. Simultaneously, people are craving it more than ever.
With AI content generation on the rise and more people having the tools to produce a large range of content types, it appears as if the amount of content reaching our feeds daily will continue to increase. This creates quite a difficult environment for connecting with audiences and building genuine relationships. But the good thing about challenging phases like this is that it will lead to brilliant forms of innovation. Coupled with the fact that the tools at our disposal provide us with more opportunities and pathways than ever before, I’m excited to see which people and projects create something different and captivating enough to shift paradigms. I also strongly feel that as technologies and AI become ever more integrated into society, it will be the stories and experiences that make us feel truly human which will be more important than ever.
LINKS (via Maarten)
⚽ I'm playing multiple games at the same time (Rosie Sherry)
“It’s about exploring equity whilst also building a business. It’s taking on those two roles, which makes it all the more draining and consuming for people like me. Most people won’t give these things a second thought, but there are many of us doing the work to create the change.”
✘ Everyone reading this who is somehow from an underrepresented group will feel this. And it bears repeating over and over again until the balance is found, or is has shifted.
🗃️ Digital discourse: on the power of metadata (Sammy Andrews)
“If you’ve ever seen me speak at music biz conferences you’ll be aware that I often say, “The sexiest thing in the music business is metadata.” It’s often greeted with jokes about how much fun I must be at parties, but without metadata, this industry would not exist. It is behind the discovery, monetisation and marketing of music. We have however, as a business, failed to get it right so far, as there have been no hard rules around minimum viable sets of data.”
✘ It cannot be repeated often enough, metadata makes the music industry go round. Here, Sammy explains eloquently how we all should take that moment to make sure the metadata for a song written, produced, released is correct.
🎤 An underutilized economic development engine: Hip-Hop (Shain Shapiro)
“Taken collectively, these artists demonstrate the power of hip-hop not only to generate revenue streams, accumulate fans and sell records, but also to be a direct, intentional and powerful tool to foster local economic development. However, the business of hip-hop and the business of creating local economic policy tend to operate in different worlds. There is little investment across economic development agencies, chambers of commerce and workforce development programs to foster hip-hop in communities. Yet, hip-hop - if taken as a job-creation engine - is a powerful tool that can improve many communities. Those who work in local economic development just need to see it as that and embrace it.”
✘ I always appreciate Shain’s approach to music as a local development tool. His analysis of hip hop here is one that we should talk about more. There’s a lot to be gained by supporting music and musicians on a local level to help boost economic and social wellbeing.
🔀 Misaligned incentives make the music business a zero-sum game (Tatiana Cirisano)
“If labels lose revenue, DSPs lose cultural capital, artist development suffers, and artists burn out, what are we left with? A new generation of artists who lack the support systems and monetisation pathways to get started in the first place, let alone break big. Yes, this is massively oversimplifying things. But it is hard to see a path forward in a system where every stakeholder’s gain is another’s loss. Unless (or until) streaming economics fundamentally change, stakeholders will have to go against the market’s guiding incentives to escape this zero-sum game.”
✘ It’s difficult to escape the zero-sum game that music often tends towards. Yes, we need fundamental change, but what we need most of all is entirely new revenue models and streams. Ones that aren’t strangled within the current system from the moment they’re conceived.
“So where do we go from here? Perhaps a good starting place would be to look from a psychological research perspective. As mentioned previously, it seems as if the results we yield from a simple causational model between temperament and creativity are mixed, perhaps requiring us to fine-tune our question as to what specifically we are looking for (not just looking for simplistic causation between temperament and creativity, but something deeper).”
✘ Another topic that we should talk about more. There’s so much easy analysis and so little deeper thinking and acting to change root problems. There’s no genius and no ‘tortured artist’ arises without their own context.
MUSIC (via Sorrel)
BITOI premiered their music at Intonal Festival in Sweden in April 2023 and this track is a live recording from that performance. The song lyrics are based on phonetic pronunciation of bird sounds. Experiencing BITOI live evokes a deeply emotional response in audiences.