Digital classicism

Theory (no doubt not original):

1. We have entered a new classical era, in which the pervasive use and influence of metrics, best practices, interoperability, regulation and so on (consequences of our particular technological-economic-legal moment) have defined standards of formal “perfection” to which practitioners currently find themselves beholden. I’m thinking particularly in terms of architecture (legal regulations, circulation, energy usage, sustainability), but  the same may also be said of many branches of film, television, design, literature, popular music and so on. Formulae and algorithms are central to the process. So is the consensus provided by digital checking tools, or sourced from the digital crowd.


2. Art music, perhaps because of its time-based nature, perhaps because of its preference for acoustic instrumentation and analogue practices of creation and distribution, perhaps because of its fundamentally ephemeral, non-commercial nature, is not subject to these pressures.


3. But at the same time perhaps it is. Perhaps I’m romanticising it.

4. What would that music be like?


12 thoughts on “Digital classicism

  1. Hi there,

    I can think of one example of where it could be said to be the case, and that’s in ‘French’ electro-acoustic music, which it could be argued is very much grounded in a kind of ‘common practice’.

      1. Yes, more likely than not. Do you think that although that example might be more obvious than most, it’s indicative of a tendency of artists (in all fields and disciplines) to attach themselves to institutions/groups/record labels/etc that have a certain set of underlying and inescapable principles?

        More food for thought: Although it may seem like it at times, would be safe to say that art music and the like is as tied to cultural norms as anything else, even when it is reacting against them? So even where there is no strict set of standards/idea of uniformity, if we accept that they’re in place elsewhere, should we probably accept that they strongly influence contemporary music practice one way or another?

  2. Yes, I would expect the perspective of the answer to change depending on which nation state was involved. For instance, the French electro-acoustic influence was keenly felt by the Brits, but because of a political inflexibility (discuss) left the majority of composers, except for a few, to search out a more Heath Robinson approach to spectral analysis together with an argument against Fourier Analysis. Trevor Wishart’s influence on Brit computer composition, anybody?

  3. I have given much thought to the analog v. digital issues. I generally find Marshall McLuhan’s edict that the “medium is the message” to be a useful way of thinking. Digital sounds different than analog, at least to my ears. I think that the select sampling methods which are essential to digital recording limit and potentially change the result which makes it to the ear. But like all art it is a method for better or worse.
    I am more concerned with the way metrics are used to describe musical/artistic experiences. The selective sampling of opinions are all too easily manipulated and the increasing reliance on such methods as produce the “top 40” type lists necessarily tend to exclude opinions and tastes on the fringe (so to speak). We have managed to create homogeneous statistically “mainstream” notions of music which dominate the listening spectrum and marginalize anything which deviates from the middle of the sampling curve.
    I realize that your post focuses more on digital in terms of the creation of music but I couldn’t resist commenting on its apparent effects on perception, distribution and funding of music. All the experimentalism which has the potential to advance musical art is more effectively sidelined by the creation of ever larger and more homogeneous and, in the end I think, bland, uninteresting groupings which slow progressive ideas.

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