✘ The next music format is your brain
And: The state of music criticism; Gen AI reshaping gaming; Collaboration cookbook; Lyrical miracle; AI is going to destroy music ... or is it?
From the days of bourgeois music salons in the 19th Century, the trend has been to create musical spaces in personal places. More recently, this trend finds expression in the way we feel around the car. It’s become the optimal personal place for music experiences. Historian Karin Bijsterveld calls what we do in the car ‘acoustic cocooning,’ which basically means that we are in control of the car’s acoustic environment. Similarly, we sit in public places with our noise-cancelling headphones. Creating an environment where we can control the sonic experiences seems pretty paramount to our wellbeing. A new development in how we interact with music as a format plays into this.
A great tool for people who’s hearing diminishes, are cochlear implants. They provide ways for people to hear better, and give them control of their auditory perception of their environment. Say, for example, that you’re a grandparent taking their kid to a busy indoor playground with bad acoustics. If they have a cochlear implant, they can simply tone the background noise down a bit. Then, when they have a moment with their grandkid they can increase the higher pitch sounds.
This, however, goes much further as well. For example, one study brought together several people with cochlear implants and audio engineers. The purpose of this study was to find the differences between the way people experience music using this technology. Their aim is:
“to create a tool that highlights the autonomy, curiosity, and mastery of one’s own listening experience through multiple levels of controllable, stem-level processing and personalization.”
What that would mean is that we don’t need to create our acoustic cocoon inside a specific place such as the car. Instead, that cocoon would appear directly from inside our ear, through the cochlear implant.
Brain-Computer Music Interfaces
Taking this one step further is the technology of Brain-Computer Music Interfaces (BCMI). It’s a technology that most casual observers might know through Elon Musk’s Neuralink endeavours. However, it’s a technology that’s moving fast. Just recently, Stephanie Plummer and others did the first test with a brain implant on a live animal (a rat in this instance) that had no neurological effects - i.e. it didn’t change the behaviour of the animal. Outside of this type of research focused on treating specific neurological diseases the potential also lies elsewhere, such as in music.
Two researchers, Kat Agres and Stefan Ehrlich, have worked on a brain-computer interface that allows people to control their emotions. This tech takes information from the brain to determine how the music sounds that somebody hears. Higher stress levels could mean slower rhythms. Both researchers have talked about how this technology helps people engage with their memories and how it has a specific use case around health care.
These kinds of use cases are outward facing. They bring the power of the brain into a music world around people. There’s plenty of interesting experiments around this use of BCIs. Another example is the Brainwave Quartet, created by Frederico Visi and Eduardo Miranda. They create new musical performances based on the brain activities of four members whose ‘direction’ influences what a string quartet plays.
This, basically, is about the power of the mind - direct control and manipulation of audio. What’s more, this narrative of technological development fits neatly into what Tristra described earlier this year as music no longer being static. Instead, it’s playful and in motion. What better than to simply directly control what we hear and create from our brains.
And yet, we can take this one step further. We can imagine a BCMI that does what those cochlear implants do, but directly on our brains. We won’t have to step into a car to find our acoustic cocoon. Instead, we carry it with us - always. A chip on our brains that will allow us to control our sonic environment and auditory experiences - and share those with others. Perhaps that sounds dystopian, but as we’ve seen with every other music format it could just as well create a whole new wave of musical creativity and consumption.
🌶️ The state of music criticism (Michelle Santiago Cortés)
“I reached out to over a dozen music critics and industry professionals for their thoughts on The State of Music Criticism: What got us here? What new opportunities are emerging and what flaws are being brought to the surface? What is changing, if anything, about the value and social role of music criticism? And most importantly: What is at stake when music criticism–the kind that grates and inspires and dissects–fades out of view?”
✘ This is probably one of my favourites articles of this year. So many thoughtful responses to Michelle’s question. Highlight is Tony Lashley, who posits that music criticism “can serve as a powerful check and balance to the free market, just as the wisdom of the crowd can serve as a check on critics.”
🏎️ ‘Video games are in for quite a trip’: How generative AI could radically reshape gaming (Rebecca Cairns)
“[Julian] Togelius [associate professor at NYU] envisions a “huge open game” with infinite opportunities, new cities, landscapes, and people, each with its own backstory and interactive elements. By using data about the player gathered from previous gameplay, generative AI could create unique storylines and tailor-made quests for players pitched at just the right level – “like a personalized dungeon master,” he adds.”
✘ There’s no mention of music in this article, but besides NPCs the most obvious use case for generative AI in games is in the soundtrack. Everything that this article talks about can be places on music in games and allows us to understand the profound impact that can have on gameplay.
👩🏿🍳 Collaboration Cookbook (Metalabel, various contributors)
“The collaboration cookbook is a living resource that includes recipes for real creative projects. Each recipe is an instruction for an activity, initiative, or experiment that is the products of people working together in creative partnership.”
✘ Very big fan of this. I especially love Lani Trock’s recipe for a choir: “Begin by sounding a note with a bell, a chime, or any available instrument. As a group, sing this note several times and then allow melodies and harmonies to emerge naturally. Improvise without rules. Continue until the song reaches a natural conclusion. After the song finishes, allow for silence– as long as feels necessary.”
⏏️ Lyrical Miracle: Mick Jenkins hits the eject button (Alex Siber)
“The music industry is rare in its blatant defense of asymmetrical information. A common refrain goes something like this: “The artist entered an agreement; it’s their responsibility to know what they’ve agreed to.” If food producers mislabel product ingredients, car manufacturers attempt to bury evidence of faulty breaks, banks offer predatory loans, or dishonest sports doctors share flawed medical recommendations to their players, we don’t approve of their actions. Call it the abuse of perceived expertise. Negligence grows up to become deception, and deceivers learn to adapt. Snakes shed skin. Jenkins’ story is, in some ways, a best case scenario for the early 2010s. He kept 50% of his recordings. His label had no 360 stake in his touring revenue. Yet he still experienced recurring betrayals of good faith.”
✘ This piece goes into a lot of what happened in music in the last two decades from the perspective of an artist who’s experienced it all. That, combined with the wordsmithing of Alex makes for a great read.
🛠️ AI is going to DESTROY music… (Roman Rappak)
✘ A very measured approach to AI, music, and creativity. I’m personally not quite sure yet whether sampling and the copyright laws around it will be the template for AI generated music, especially generative AI, but at least it’s a precedent.
This got recommended to me by my friend James as being music ‘that has Maarten written all over it.’ And he’s right, it’s pretty wild, but it’s the kind of musical ride I really enjoy. For people who like to expand their musical horizons, tap in to Liturgy.