“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.