AbstractThis essay categorizes and describes the responses of musicians – primarily composers – to changes in music technology. The description and examples range “total embrace” to “total rejection” and specific composers are cited to illustrate the various attitudes and working habits assumed by the musicians.
In 1967, Doc Watson, famous in folk music circles, made some recordings with his son Merle Watson in their home in Deep Gap, North Carolina. They did it for their own pleasure and to document Merle’s proficiency on the banjo which he had been learning to play for five months at that time. The recording engineers were family members, particularly the mother and wife, Rosa Lee Watson. In 1998, T. Michael Coleman was reviewing Doc Watson’s private tape collection, found that tape from 1967 and suggested to Watson that with the help of computers and some trusted musician friends they could turn the 1967 duets into versions for three to six musicians. Watson agreed. The disc produced is called Doc and Merle Watson, Home Sweet Home. (Durham, North Carolina: Sugar Hill Records SHCD-3889, 1998.) T. Michael Coleman in his program note writes:
“Here was the challenge: How to arrange material recorded so long ago, so others can add their own instrumental performances? Thanks to Bill Wolf, the computer, and a lot of planning we were able to edit and create picking space for all without deleting a note played or sung by Doc and Merle.”
I cite this example for two reasons. First, it reminds us of some of the less obvious things digital technology has made possible for musicians. In earlier times the ability to “make room” for additional solos performed by the musicians might have been extremely difficult and prohibitively costly, or simply impossible, while in 1998, the digital recording and computer manipulation of the original tracks made it feasible. Second, it shows how it can be sometimes surprising who will embrace the new technologies and for what purposes.
In considering the responses of artists to technological change it will be helpful to define “response” and for the moment what I mean by “response” is the music they