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Jaron Lanier Wonders about New Music, the Internet and Octopusses with Robert Krulwich

Monday, January 04, 2010 - 01:33 PM

“Where is the new music?” asks Jaron Lanier, composer, musician, computer scientist, “virtual reality” pioneer . “I have been trying an experiment,” he says. “Whenever I’m around Facebook generation people and there’s music playing, I ask them a simple question: Can you tell in what decade the music that is playing right now was made?”

Decades matter in music, or used to, he says. “A decade gets you from the reign of big bands to the reign of rock and roll. Approximately a decade separated the last Beatles record from the first big time hip-hop records. I can’t find a decade span in the first century of recorded music that didn’t involve extreme stylistic evolution obvious to listeners of all kinds.” People know gangster rap didn’t exist in the 1960’s, that heavy metal didn’t exist in the 1940’s, that Sinatra comes before Dylan.

But, says Lanier, music has stopped changing. Since the late 90’s “Everything is retro, retro, retro.”

“Someone in his early 20’s will tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and then I’ll challenge that person to play me some music that is characteristic of the late 2000’s as opposed to the late 1990’s. I’ll ask him to play the tracks for his friends. So far, my theory has held: even true fans don’t seem to be able to tell if an indie rock track or a dance mix is from 1998 or 2008.”

And why? Why is this the first contemporary generation that doesn’t have “a distinct style” ? Lanier – one of the livelier minds of the the late Baby Boom generation – believes that the Internet, for all its convenience, its ubiquity, its success, is flattening our culture. Half the bits of information traveling through the internet, he claims, are just regurgitated bits of earlier television, movie, book or more traditional commercial content, aggregated into what he calls “an endless parade of “News of the Weird”, “Stupid Pet Tricks” and America’s Funniest Home Videos.” What’s more, he thinks the engineering logic of the World Wide Web is responsible for the absence of generationally different new music.

Since Jaron is a musician and was around for the birth of the web; he was one of its early pioneers; he popularized the Virtual Reality craze in the 80s, our Robert Krulwich has invited him to the 92nd Street Y to talk about his critique. Strongly opinionated audience members are welcome. There will be give and take. Jaron is not a weenie and has all kinds of passions. Octopusses obsess him. (Just so you know. Cause Robert’s thinking of bringing one.) The event takes place on Thursday, January 14th at the Y, located at Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street. 8:00pm. Get tickets here. Ask about student prices.

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Comments [63]

Skeptic

Ummm, dubstep? Pretty sure no-one's gonna think that was from the '90s - lol!

Dec. 01 2012 09:54 AM
Kevin

Lucy makes a great point about taking the long view before making short-sighted judgements about a broad subject. I also think that one of the things that defines a decade, or longer period, is an artifact of the technology of the instruments and recording. Ancient instruments get a specific kind of music because of the nature of physically making music and the syntax of notation. The klavier/harpsicord/piano each have different abilities and different libraries of composition. Sousa creates a marching tuba and defined marching bands forever. Create a saxophone and jazz is transformed in the 1930's. Electrify a guitar and it changes EVERYTHING! Until recording geniuses give us overdubs, fade ins and fade outs, and backward masking. Everyone learned to hammer-on after Van Halen. Then the syntesizers and guitar effects of the 70's got cheap in the 80's. Sampling got cheap and easy in the 90's. So, the technological breakthrough of the 00's is distribution, storage, and portability. I'm sure innovation of sound will follow. And Robert Ashley's comment about the internet (or digital media generally) "flattening time" is a fantastic observation. It's ALL out there to be heard and loved! My daughters have an iTunes collections that include almost all of the music from MY childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, as well as the stuff that THEY add to our collection. If you haven't heard it yet, IT'S NEW TO YOU!

Jan. 27 2010 07:37 PM
Lucy

Is there ever a time when music stops changing so quickly? Think about the 1500's. Was there such a difference between 1510 and 1520? What about the musical differences between 1870 and 1880? Is it possible that there are periods of dramatic cultural change - the 1950's through the 1970's, and then the speeding up and materialization of the 80's, 90's and present. Could it be that we have gone through dramatic cultural changes in the second half of the 20th century, and now, the cultural difference between decades is less so? What comes after the internet generation? More internet generations? Will there be another dramatic cultural or socio-economic shift that will bring a whole new wave of music sometime in the future? I hear contemporary artists pushing the boundaries sometimes, which often sounds chaotic, dissonant, unpolished (and often intolerable). Could this not be the very beginnings of what will be the music of the future? The egg that hasn't yet hatched? Have patience. Evolution is a slow process.

Jan. 25 2010 07:29 PM
Ian

This fellas comments are complete nonsense, a perfect example of people's ability to enjoy life being crushed by the weight of analysis and critique.
If you didn't find music in the aughts to be interesting, new, fun, heart-breaking, evocative and provocative, you weren't paying attention. Or maybe your tastes are stuck in decades past. That'll happen.
It' disingenuous to compare the either the musical or cultural roles of outfits like the Beatles or Zeppelin to anyone making music today. There's little to compare. The world of music composition, production, distribution, consumption and appreciation is so different. No, we don't have larger than life rockstars, who achieve mythic cultural status anymore, and probably never will again. But we do have unprecedented variety and accessibility, new genres, the blending of old ones, and just a massive body of material for the appreciator to consume.
I won't bother listing the great artists of the last decade, as that's largely a matter of taste. But, really, if you haven't had your mind blown by music recently, that's a sad thing and you should look harder.

Jan. 21 2010 11:02 AM
Jessica

I think this post on Shepard Fairey, at Henry Jenkin's blog might be a great supplement to this topic.

http://henryjenkins.org/2010/01/never_mind.html

It touches on fair use and how legal bodies impairing the transformation of old art could stifle free speech and innovation.

Jan. 19 2010 07:28 PM
Sean Robinson

One last comment- Robert Ashley's comment above is spot-on. The fragmentation means that broad swaths won't be able to be pseudo-analyzed- but it also means that each stream has a chance to reach it's potential audience. I am thrilled to live in this time when virtually everything from the last four decades of music is continually in print and available. As a side note, the idea that artists need financial motivation to create is totally ridiculous.

Jan. 17 2010 11:40 AM
H. Lexington

hmm... what about the band Battles?

Jan. 17 2010 06:54 AM
tim

To say that "indie rock" from the '90s sounds like "indie rock" from the '00s is not far off from saying that be-bop deluxe jazz cabaret from the '30s sounds like be-bop deluxe jazz cabaret from the '40s.

There will always be college students ("the Facebook generation") and there will always be college rock.

Different music speaks to different people in different times of their lives. Just because you are no longer the person you were when the music spoke to you, doesn't mean there isn't somebody else out there who is in the place where you used to be.

Different societies and cultures have different music that speak to them. If [popular] music isn't changing enough for Jaron, maybe culture isn't either?

Jan. 16 2010 05:18 PM
Sean Robinson

I can identify recordings from the past decade, especially pop recordings, almost instantly, for the same reason I can identify an album produced between 1981/2 and 1991- the overuse of certain technology markers. Was there a "style" of music in the eighties, of was there a lot of gated snare with digital reverb going on? I can identify pop recordings from the past decade by the ubiquitous use of [disgusting, soul-killing] tuning software and [groove-killing] grid-edited rhythm sections.

Jan. 16 2010 01:09 PM
Christina

In reference to Will's comment:

My understanding is that octopuses is the most well regarded plural form of the word octopus. If you want to be technical, it would be octopodes. Octopi is just wrong, because the root of the word is Greek, not Latin.

http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutgrammar/plurals

Jan. 14 2010 02:33 PM
Leslie

I should predicate this by saying that Hip Hop in and of itself is different from Rock in that the voice and method of speech is as an important an instrument as say a beat or a sample. This is not to say the voice isn't important in rock, but I think we are less critical when evaluating rock music.
Looking at Hip Hop through that lense, it has come a long way from Grand Master Flash in the the application of the genre. I mean the depth of metaphor in an Aesop Rock/Blockhead song alone is significant to me.

Jan. 14 2010 11:50 AM
jay cole

I agree with the general statement that music hasnt changed but this isnt true for hip hop, specifically rap.
Rap has changed quite a bit from the early 90's to the present. So if you challenge a hiphop head to differentiate rap music from the 90's and rap music today, that'll be pretty easy. Hiphop is the only Genre that keeps changing. Everything else has stalled.

Jan. 14 2010 02:52 AM
Dave (aka Nev the Deranged)

Jaron Lanier is one of my childhood heroes. I remember reading about his and Myron Krueger's diverse approaches to virtual reality experiments and being completely thrilled and hoping the future would hurry up and get here already! I can't wait to hear the RadioLab episode featuring this seminar (there will be one, right? I mean, scratch that- there WILL be one!) I only wish I could be there in person.

Jan. 13 2010 10:44 PM
GH

So in musical terms, what is inventive about them? I have heard a lot of claims but i haven't been given examples. I mean on par with the Beatles, changing Rock and Roll from Dance music to legitimate music you sit down listen too and pick apart or the first use of reverb/feedback in rock and roll which paved the way for other artists like Hendrix . Or Led Zepplin opening the doors for hard rock and metal.
I have listened to groups like Jurrasic 5, RJD2, Aesop Rock, Mos Def, and Mr. Lif, in a addition to, Brother Ali, Atomosphere, and many other lesser known hip hop artists. And while I enjoy listening to them and think that they are talented at what they do I don't think I would call them innovative.

Jan. 13 2010 04:12 PM
Leslie

This whole topic is hysterical. If you're relying on the radio to play something inventive or artistic, you're going to be disappointed most of the time, sorry. The internet hasn't killed anything, it has opened the barriers that the music industry or even at one time the church reserved the right to control. I think Jaron's just feeling a bit overwhelmed by choice.
Also, GH, there is plenty of Hip Hop music that is innovative and "means something"

Here is a list of artists

Aesop Rock
Vast Aire
Vordul Mega
Eydea & Abilities
Mr. Lif
Cadence Weapon
Sweatshop Union
The Grouch
Saul Williams
Binary Star
Buff 1
RhymeFest
Mos Def
Cage
Camutao
Rob Sonic
RJD2
Murs
Dead Prez
Jean Grae
Jurrasic 5

I mean, you could even open a Pandora account and get exposed to new music. It's surprisingly easy.

Jan. 12 2010 02:53 PM
GH

I would like to clarify that I dont think that a song has to mean something for it to be considered music or art. It was just an observation that has been bothering me for a while....

Jan. 12 2010 09:41 AM
GH

How has Hip-Hop really progressed in since 2000 exactly? I would like to hear peoples opinion on this? What stylistic changes have been made to really push the envelope and make us question if this new form is really hip-hop or not? I agree that Hip-Hop has evolved from the 80's to the 90's but i don't see it from the late 90's to the late 2000's. The only differene I have seen is the eliminating "urban" messages that used to be in Hip-Hop music. Didn't rap and Hip-Hop used to mean something? They used to address the hardships of being an african american. Now most rappers only talk about how great they are and how much money they have. There is still some good commentary out there like Talib Kwali and Atmosphere but they do not get the attention that they deserve.

I don't beleive electronic instruments are killing music. It is the relience on technology like Pro-Tools and Reason to "touch up" the music to make people and instruments sound better. We shouldn't be trying to lower the bar for people here...

Jan. 12 2010 09:34 AM
Robert Ashley

It's hilarious to me that people on the Radiolab blog are blaming electronic instruments for the "death" of music.

Does the huge amount of electronic music and computer manipulation in the show suck all the humanness out of the interviews? No.

Jan. 12 2010 01:48 AM
Aaron

Heh, forget that last post.

Jan. 12 2010 12:21 AM
Aaron

Right before supper tonight I realized that the new Radiolab show was going tobe released soon.

The I came to Radiolab.org and realized it is coming next week. =[

Jan. 11 2010 08:25 PM
Alex Tripp

74 years after Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and people are still going on about soul and aura (and still heartbreakingly wrong)...

The only thing that's stagnated are the naysayers and the haters.

Jan. 11 2010 01:10 PM
taghag

@will
both "octopuses" and "octopi" are correct although both the original post and your correction have the spelling wrong.
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/octopus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopus#Terminology

Jan. 11 2010 01:01 PM
NoCash

You can go further back in time not just the past few decades and see music evolve, the sounds changing. The new instruments helped elvove music. Computers are the new instrument and they have definately removed the soul from music as stated above.
Things have flattened out and nothing has come out that rise to the top. It's all nostalgic.
People are afraid to give up what they are comfortable with. "I love my Hip Hop just the way it is"
Some baffoon above said he's happy with everythign being the same, all genres have combined or come together. This means we aren't growing/evolving.
Our culture has become stagnate.

Jan. 11 2010 09:34 AM
Freetime

Electronic/Digital music took the soul out of music. It removed the oneness of Artist and Intrument that is earned through years of practice.

Jan. 11 2010 09:22 AM
Freetime

The possible causes of the death of Music:
-Electronic/Digital instruments
-Indie/Emo you're a sell out if you go big
-MP3 = No Money No Motivation
-REHAB

Jan. 11 2010 09:21 AM
Calico

Assuming that this generation is sampling heavily from Past musical sounds, I still believe that the message and ideas are undergoing a huge shift. Music today is sooo self-aware, and that has social implications.

Jan. 11 2010 12:53 AM
Caleb W. Cliff

I definitely agree that decades prior to our most recent one have had a particular sound, usually guided and/or somewhat determined by the recording technology. Currently, things do seem to often be a mish-mash of other decades or something standard which is a product of a sort of generic pop filter.

Yet, as others have mentioned, some very unique artists are still turning unseen stones and taking interesting risks. It will forever be a pliable art. But with so many bands, side-projects, spin-offs, supergroups, mash-ups and band-friend-chains that the learning process will remain steep and often treacherous. And if we're lucky we find something that really refracts our previous sonic notions.

Jan. 10 2010 09:09 PM
Arthur

Does anyone face the possibility that the ability to create what's new and original may be finite? I know that technically "you can't step in the same river twice" so in that sense you will always be able to make something different, but in term of genres and movements could it be that we may be running out of places to go? It seems that most media seem to be going that way, relying on retrospection and irony. Could it be a real possibility? When I ask this of friends that are artists they react like it's the most absurd statement. It's are real questions that sciences have to explore. Especially modern physics has to ask wether there's an absolute limit to what we can explore experimentally and theoretically. Mathematics has also faced the problem of what lies outside the ability of current mathematics to prove statements. Technology it seems will be able to create new medias, but it may just be that currently our rate of development and size of civilization means that we've just reached a dead end.

Jan. 10 2010 02:30 PM
amanda

Another whiny old man upset that the music he is most comfortable listening to isn't what's playing anymore. Have you ever heard of a band called Animal Collective?

Jan. 10 2010 11:42 AM
Barbara P

I kept wondering when a distinctive 2000-2010 musical style would emerge & it never did. Oddly, the same is true for hairstyles and teen fashion. Is it really all just the internet, or is it because there's nothing to rebel against any more?

Jan. 10 2010 07:04 AM
Dave in Gahanna

Basically I agree with Max Cohen (above), but I blame U.S. monopoly radio more than the music industry. Much as ubiquitous right-wing blather has bankrupted AM talk radio, ubiquitous mega company FM has killed the music.

They don't care what we want to hear, and we no longer listen.

Hopefully, podcasts will fill the vacuum. Check out the top 100 audio podcasts on iTunes. It heavily favors NPR, PRI, BBC, and non-radio sources.

Jan. 10 2010 03:41 AM
tucker Tucker

This is all called the post-modern dilemma and definitely didn't start in the 2000's. It applies to all Art. Originality in Art has been in question from day one. I mean didn't the Beatles just appropriate black blues and rock like Elvis did?

I agree that this being worth talking about is a direct result of some guy reaching the "It's all been done before/turn that noise down" point of his life.

Jan. 09 2010 08:05 PM
mad max

obviously you're not up to speed with hip hop b/c I can definitely tell a track that was made in 98 vs 2008.
this is another old guy complaining about things aren't as good as they used to be, nothing new or worthwhile

Jan. 09 2010 03:06 PM
Alex Tripp

Gharam, we can't fall into the trap of subjective judgments. This is the internet, and it's pure chance whether the example I've cited is something you view positively or negatively, as I am positive that an impassioned expression of both views could be delivered. It can be interesting, this collision of ideas, but what I want to highlight is something objective, the existence of this practice of corruption of previously existing ideas into new aesthetics. You can find it in other places, like the way Black Dice work with recorded samples from television on their album Repo, or in other mediums, such as the Super Mario Movie that Paperrad and Cory Archangel made by hacking the rom for the NES game Super Mario Bros. There's no genre that you can make out of all this corruption, but it is a practice which objectively exists and is unique to this point in time. Now, what this leaves for future distinctions to be made for later times, I do not know. But my point in all of this is to say that the practice of corruption is what defines this previous decade. Think back to when Radiohead put out Kid A. So many people freaked out, because there were *synthesizers*! And they were a rock band! I don't think a reaction like that is possible in 2010 without looking completely ridiculous. That, my friends, is progress.

Jan. 08 2010 08:19 PM
Jason Allen

Frank Zappa called it "Death by Nostalgia" - and I believe it started somewhere around 2000.

Jan. 08 2010 04:34 PM
Robert Ashley

This guy is thinking about the internet like it's television or radio. He sees all the old stuff as reruns: cheap, already-produced filler.

The Internet isn't flattening culture. It's flattening time. Every genre of music that has ever existed is alive and well. You can find SOMEONE who is playing with and expanding upon every musical flavor of the past century.

Anyone looking for a coherent movement in any kind of art will be disappointed by the Internet age. The audience is breaking apart into thousands of sub-cultures and communities.

If this guy is interested in music that breaks the mold, he should be happy about that. It used to be nearly impossible to make it as an outsider--someone who made music that didn't fit commercial and cultural norms.

Now it's hard to figure out what the norm is. Good riddance.

Jan. 08 2010 04:25 PM
Gharam

I hate the auto-tuner that is so rampant in today's music! It is a cover for bad singing and is a novelty that will, hopefully die out. Everyone was making fun of it when Cher used it but now its cool cause the likes of kanye west and lil wayne. I think people are goin to look back at it and think "what the hell were people thinking". It is the lower back tatoo of the music world. If I wanted to hear a robot sing I would listen to R2D2 fart into a mic. It robs an artist of teh timbre of their voice. Its cool the first time you hear it but is stupid the second time you hear it.

Jan. 08 2010 02:28 PM
Alex Tripp

You're making technology out to be much more powerful than it actually is. Every implementation of technology is a collaboration, in which the user works with the machine to find the correct input that they must provide to gain their desired output. In every instance, what is done on the user end to shape their input and on the technological side is never invisible, with the technical aspects generally being more prominent. Although the bar may be lowered for genuine physical ability in music, there is more opportunity for more abstract conceptual talents in finding new ways of collaborating with technology, such as when T-Pain used auto-tune in a way that made no effort in hiding it's implementation. Although the effect does recall the vocoder effects of decades past, both it's qualities of timbre and the context of it's implementation in primarily r&b and hip hop make it an example of music that identifies the decade.

Jan. 08 2010 01:31 PM
Gharam

In general I would agree with Jaron that music over the last decade has lost a certain feeling of "freshness". It is true that there is a wider variety of "genres" and "sub-genres" of music now adays than in the past but I believe that this is part of the problem. The music industry has driven this catigorization in order to define you, the end user, as a specific demographic that they are trying to target. Any time there is a band that sounds new and fresh they package it as a "new sub-genre" of pop music and and fill that genre with bands that sound exactly like the first, which in turn diminishes the acheivements of the first. I believe that this catigorization is robbing music of its art. Not only has the music industry turned music more into a product than an artform, it also pressures new bands to fit into one of these genres before they even hit the stage.
Music should be an expressive and exploritory art form. In the 60's and 70's, Rock and Rolls infancy, the main motivation was not only to sound different then everyone else out there but also to evolve one's own musical horizons at the same time. The beatles went from please please me and I want to hold your hand to Helter Skelter to While my guitar gently weeps. They showed an evolution of musical tastes and a desire to keep not only
Rock and Roll fresh but keep themselves fresh as well. I have a hard time thinking of any bands that have had the same departure from their original roots in the name of being musically experimental. Maybe Outkast with the "Love Below". I am not exactly a fan of Outkast in general but they showed a huge departure from their original roots, exploring new sounds and complicated beats.
As far as technology goes I dont think that the internet is a bad thing. I think that the internet has the potential to enable listener to access music that the music industry has no control over. You can now pick and choose what you want to hear instead of being spoon fed the music that they want you to hear. The problem with technolgy that I see is that musicians no longer have to be as good as they used to be. With computer programs like pro-tools you can make the worst singer in the world sound like an opera singer. How many times have you seen a singer live on tv just to find out not only do they not sound like they do on the cd but they are just bad in general? In the past you had to be GOOD because these tools were not available. If you watch old concerts of the Beatles their harmonies are always spot on (and they couldn't even hear themselves play cuase they didnt have monitors). If find that this technolgy makes it hard to trust music today.

Jan. 08 2010 10:33 AM
tucker Tucker

This dude's photo is bumming me out.

Jan. 08 2010 12:43 AM
Alex Tripp

I think a lot of the retro stuff is actually full of indicators of its time. Take Wavves for example. He does the whole lo-fi thing that's been done to death, but with GarageBand software instead of the usual however many track recorder was all popular. Or in that one Deerhunter track that sounds like girl group pop and shoegaze at the same time. There's all these corruptions to established ideas that haven't been coming about until now.

Jan. 07 2010 09:28 PM
Nathaniel

Where is the new music? All around. But unlike in previous decades or generations, in which new musical styles were picked up and spread by radio, and you could expect to passively find something new to prick your ears up, you now have to become an active listener, seeking out those new sounds. Is a lot of today's music built on pre-existing forms? Of course. But I challenge you to find any "decade defining" style that was not, in fact, influenced, shaped by, or built upon things that came before. The truly great music is that which build upon existing points of reference, but which also adds something different and unique to the mix... a new perspective. Is Lady GaGa like Madonna, and would we have her without the 80s glam and New Wave? No, probably not. But I think most people sampled could tell you the tiem difference between Lady GaGa, and early Madonna. I think, as others pointed out, there is soo much variety, soo many styles being incorporated, built upon, exhorted, transformed, that its becoming impossible to pick out "defining" sounds... so perhaps that myriad of styles is what defines the 2000s...

As for me, I'm 30. I can definitely tell there is a huge difference between the music I was listening to in the 90s and the music I've been listening to in the 2000s.

Jan. 07 2010 05:18 PM
Kevin Marks

I always enjoy Jaron's provocations, but he needs to listen to Zoe Keating. Jad can point him her way. No-one sounds like her.
That we can now hear the music from any time in the past is a blessing not a curse; a richness previously denied us by the narrrow pipe of the mass media.

Jan. 07 2010 04:46 AM
Eustace

Because the new generations are not teched that music is a medium for self-expression, but just as noice to fill empty spaces.

Also Guitar Hero.

Jan. 07 2010 03:10 AM
Radishes

"he popularized the Virtual Reality craze in the 80s"

the operative word being "popularized". for inventing you'll have to look at people like William Gibson and his ilk

Jan. 07 2010 12:23 AM
Blah

Jaron looks bored as hell in that picture. Did you guys praise him for inventing VR enough?

Jan. 06 2010 02:15 PM
Monostereo

I think he has point in general, and it is interesting that the first part of the 2000s won't be credited with a major new movement in music (despite the creation of dubstep, Daft-Punk inspired house, T-Pain vocal stylings, the explosion of indy music, etc).

However, it would be a horrible oversimplification to say that that music hasn't grown in this time. Genres in general have grown more complex, and even the retro-styled looking to the past is a legitimate step forward (as the music overall sounds influenced, but not created in its inspired decade of orgin). If anything, I would consider this period a time of reflection, where the way forward is not clear, but is not abandoned either. It may also be natural to harbor a certain amount of nostalgia for the past as we mentally prepare to live in 'the future'. And perhaps it is unfair to expect each decade to be so unique in terms of music styling and fresh genres; It wasn't so long ago where new music genres were developed over centuries rather than decades.

The point about the internet flattening the playing field is perhaps valid, but only to the point that the field is being flattened to build again. If anything, access to more music styles and influences will help to create something unique, memorable, and vibrant.

The Rolling Stones were originally lambasted for just regurgitating the blues... I suspect that Jaron Lanier is somehow making the same mistake.

Jan. 06 2010 01:21 PM
bildungsroman

I agree with Harbour and john: if you only focus on rock music, there really is nothing that new going on. Indie rock was innovative in the 90s, but today it's mostly a regurgitation of what was done a decade before. The most innovation is taking place in electronic music, in genres such as dubstep, which didn't even exist a decade ago. And the most innovative indie artists are finding new ways to incorporate electronic elements into more traditional sounds - think Olafur Arnalds, Bat for Lashes, Grizzly Bear, Four Tet...

If you want innovation, start listening to more innovative genres: post-rock, neoclassical, ambient, dubstep, doom, and so on.

Jan. 06 2010 06:54 AM
Laputean

Jaron Lanier might not like it, but I am so far from New York and so close to his ideas that I urge anyone to twitt live from the event, please! Let me know if you can do that...

Jan. 06 2010 06:12 AM
john

I'm pretty sure he hasn't been out to a club in a long, long time. Dubstep is new, distinctive and doesn't sound remotely retro.

Jan. 06 2010 04:39 AM
Ben Luckman

You can't step in the same river twice. Music and muscians are constantly building on what they hear. A good artist knows how to use their influences (pay homage) and incorporate their own spin. A bad artist, and I'm hesitant to say artist, just regurgates the same garbage. Check out this as an experiment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0Gs4xGw1Eg&feature=player_embedded

Jan. 06 2010 03:58 AM
David

There are people producing interesting new work but what he's saying is generally true. There's a lot more collage going on than composition. "X in the style of Y" has been stale for quite a while but it's still the easiest thing to do because of computers.

Jan. 05 2010 10:24 PM
jeff w

It would be a terrible shame if we ran out of musical ideas.

I read that slightly altering prose to cover plagiarism is easily detected, and that writers can’t perfectly duplicate short passages of their own work without directly copying. It seems there is always “weak” change (in music), and influences can be identified. But further, musical possibility seems too vast to exhaust creatively. What about percussion? Can time structure of music be exhausted?

Brett Dennen sounded so unique and interesting to me at first. He still does, but as others have written, he closely channels Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, and others. Is it merely the timbre of his voice, new lyrics, and new melodies that give “uniqueness”? Is this “weak” and trivial change, not yet demonstrative of truly “original” work?

Jan. 05 2010 09:57 PM
Meghan Rayburn

An interesting observation, and I think I might agree, to an extent, but I'll have to do some more research in my own music library to really form an opinion.

The biggest thing that I have noticed is that for the past couple decades, drum beats are the biggest defining element. Basically, they all sound the same, when it's not an entirely acoustic song (in which case, it is probably never played on a popular radio station.)

I won't get into my theories on which direction I think music should/will go in the future, but this argument made me think, so thanks for that.

Maybe, like Paul said, we'll just have to wait and view the past couple decades in retrospect to really define them. But honestly, it shouldn't really matter whether or not the decades are defined by their music. There are too many genres now for that to ever be possible again.

(There is new music, you just have to look for it. Or write it yourself.)

Jan. 05 2010 07:44 PM
Max Cohen

I think the music industry is largely to blame for the homogeneous rut that contemporary popular music is now stuck in. Record companies are more corporate than they have ever been before, and old style A&R guys aren't making decisions about what constitutes "good music" and what artists to sign. In an attempt to appease shareholders, the approach record execs take is to sign acts that have the same attributes of previous successes. In short, they are out there looking to sign the next Brittany Spears (for example) because it's the "safe" thing to do. On the contrary, signing someone unique and original is tremendously dangerous to the record exec. If it fails, they stand to be blamed and fired. But if they sign an act that has all the attributes of a previous success, and IT fails, they can sit there and blame it on the fickleness of their market. So essentially, the industry is married to a business model that will NEVER reward backing an innovator. That is why it has all sounded the same for so long. Furthermore, that is why the only really interesting music that is being produced is to be found on independent labels.

Jan. 05 2010 07:06 PM
Image Sickness

Culture has devolved, but music is alive and well you just have to look around. These are the days of everyone getting seat at the table - that's the grace of the internet - no censorship. As a musician for the last 25 years, I've worked to be new at all times and my music remains contemporary (see link).

Jan. 05 2010 11:27 AM
Chris

For better or worse, current pop music has indeed created its own idiomatic "sound" and is clearly recognizable as unique from pop of the late 90's. With the introduction of heavy autotuning, sampling, and increased post processing of pop music, the very technological growth Jaron identifies as flattening music variety has in turn created its own sound.

Compare many of the pop hits of the late 90's to songs such as "Live Your Life- T.I.", "Dance- Lady GaGa" and notice the richer tonal texture and identifiable "sound" to modern pop hits. They may have the same insipid lyrics but their rich background tracks reflect the ever scattered interests and attentions of their plugged in listeners. Pop music continues to be a mirror to the culture of the time.

Jan. 05 2010 05:27 AM
Paul

One problem is that he is speaking from the perspective of the baby boom generation. It's hard to hear new sounds when you've been around for so long.

Another problem is that the "decade" styles really don't become clear until years later when viewed in hindsight. Did we realize how "80s" the "80s" music sounded when we were hearing it in the "80s"? I don't think so.

Jan. 05 2010 01:06 AM
Eric

I believe that what he says may be true for the genres he is interested in. However, if you asked me to think of some bands/artists who have changed their sound from their '90s beginnings to where they are in 2010, names such as Linkin Park and Tom Delonge (from Blink to Angels & Airwaves) come to mind.

Another possible cause of this phenomenon is that the tastes of America today are increasingly varied and colorful. When I look back at the decades, each one had a style of music that seemed to be predominant. After the '90s, however, the variety of "popular" music exploded. At least that's how I see it, and I could very well be wrong, having only been around since the 90's myself.

Jan. 05 2010 12:54 AM
Nikolas

The internet managed to make geography meaningless, and archival easy. Now there is a HUGE range of musical styles, genres to sub-genres to sub-sub genres that can flourish without a local fan base. Artists who have the same ideals can work with each other, and expand on each other, no matter where or when they are from. Now it's less about when your made music, but why you make music. That seems richer.

Jan. 04 2010 10:15 PM
will

octopii, not octopusses

Jan. 04 2010 09:23 PM
Harbour

I think he must be talking to the wrong people... I think that pop music has settled into a blur, but there is plenty of current sounding electronic and indie music that is very of now, indie bands such as Grouper, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear... electronic musics like Shackleton, Rustie, Flying Lotus...

Jan. 04 2010 06:35 PM
Jennifer DeRose

It's all about reaching back into the past and morphing old musical ideas with new ones to create a sound both new and old, timeless. Timeless sound is more important than being pigeon-holed into a particular decade or genre... You can only say 60's garage-folk psych so many times before it loses it's meaning. The best music is the hardest to describe...
And I'll take that test any day.

Jan. 04 2010 04:58 PM

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