In The Key Of Change

Jacob Cappe


There is no question that as time goes on, things change. This can be said for numerous things such as technology, climate, humans, and economics. All of these things have undergone transformations as time goes on. If you were to compare the
technology of the 1950s to now, you would see a very stark difference. Music is
no exception to this pattern of change. In fact, it may be one of the best
indicators of where today’s society is headed.

Music takes many forms, including pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, and, of course, classical. If you stop and think about it, the transformative patterns that are taking place in
these genres of music are fairly consistent. Almost all of them have an aspect
of technology associated with them.

If you think back to 1790, around the time of Ludwig van Beethoven, classical orchestras were generally composed of orchestral strings (violin, viola, cello, bass,) horns, trombones, bassoons, flutes, oboes, clarinets, and percussion; basically your
typical instruments in a typical symphony. But now, we see that in addition to
the composers changing,  the compositions
themselves are changing. New and unique instruments are being added to the mix,
and these new instruments often involve some form of technology.

“So Percussion” is one of the world’s premier percussion ensembles. They strive to create music that explores all the extremes of musical possibility. They have been called “an experimental powerhouse” by the Village Voice, which is indicative of their
“wacky” style of music making. In their most recent Toronto concert at Koerner
Hall, they used an array of acoustic percussion instruments, as well as a
variety of electronic instruments. Some of the electronic instruments included
custom synths, laptops, multiple sequencers, and who could forget the amplified
cactus. Yes, they amplified a cactus and used the needles as instruments.

There was even an audience participation aspect of the concert where the audience was given instruction as to how to participate. For example, there was a moment where
every member of the audience was instructed to take out their cellphone and
call someone, and put it on speakerphone There was another moment where the
audience was instructed to access YouTube via their cellphones and play a
Nirvana song as loud as possible. Compare this to sitting in a concert hall
watching a symphony. These are two very different experiences, and one of the
fundamental differences is the addition of a technological aspect.

Lorne Cappe had the pleasure of attending (and participating in) this concert.  He said that, “it was certainly very different than almost all of the other concerts I’ve seen in my life. I never really thought that I would be told to keep my phone on for the duration of a
performance, much less that I would have to blast Nirvana in the middle of a

But what do the musicians themselves have to say about all of this new technology that is rapidly creeping its way into modern music? Ian Smith, a percussion teacher and
freelance percussionist in Toronto thinks that, “there’s only so much you can
compose by using nothing but musical notes, and in today’s society, where
technology is so prevalent, it is one of the many ways to make music more
versatile and relevant.”

It is important to note that the addition of technology to music isn’t the only thing that has changed. Composers are finding new ways to go about composing pieces to make
them interesting and relevant to the listening audience. For example, Tod
Machover, a current American composer, is in the midst of writing a new piece
called “A Toronto Symphony.” Even though Tod Machover is known for electronic
music and digital interactive systems, this particular symphony includes only
traditional symphonic instruments. The way the symphony works is Torontonians
will submit requests and input for this piece. Once this is done, he will begin
composing. There is a clear difference between Beethoven writing a symphony in
a room illuminated by candles, and Tod Machover using social media to compose a
piece reflecting a city.

Comparing music from many years ago to modern contemporary music is a fascinating process. Simply put, it is very different. Hugh Livington, an expert in baroque music,
and a local music teacher, thinks that “the addition of technology to music was
inevitable, wasn’t it? I mean, what doesn’t involve technology these days? I
use technology the first second I get up, to make coffee!”  It would be interesting to know what baroque, classical, and romantic composers would have to say about this music. It would also be interesting to know what virtuosos like Glenn Gould would have to say about this new era in music. Would they like listening to it? Would they like
playing it? Would they like writing it? These are things we will never know.
However, we can make an educated guess. Considering the fact that the baroque,
classical, and romantic eras are all characterized by different sounding music
and composers, this is quite possibly the next era in music.

So, things change. This is firmly established. It’s just the way the world works. What makes this change interesting is the comparison between then and now. Music really
encompasses the changes that we are seeing in society, and I think that the
ramifications of this change are ongoing and ever changing.