A Short Piece on the Enabling Side-Effects of Technology

During the early 20th century there was much tech-scepticism. The belief that experimental Science could be a force for good; that Science (not God) would most likely save us, was turned on its head by the likes of Aldous Huxley and C S Lewis (in his mental Space Trilogy) as tech-phobic writers predicted myriad evil outcomes for a society led by Science and Machines.

There remains a strong Science scepticism today. My Facebook feed abounds with anti-Covid vaccine hysteria. Yes, Science is patently Evil.  Just think of it. The faceless scientific elite, hidden away in wicked sterile laboratories, had the audacity to question and examine everything, resulting in vaccination programmes that have saved countless lives.  Resulting in drugs which prolong those same lives. Resulting in machines that are not our masters but feel more like our friends.  Science is a marvel. It’s everyday magic. It’s teacher and oracle.

Look at me, typing away on my trusty laptop (my hi-tech friend) and then clicking ‘publish.’  Publish. At no other time, in God-forsaken history, could I, a mere pleb, have got anything published, other than in a world full to bursting with technology.  What’s more, I now have annals of research at my fingertips.  And I can learn anything and be taught that ‘anything’ (mostly) for free.  Why, even Word is correcting my punctuation, my spelling, and my grammar, as I sit here typing on my settee.

Yes, nowadays any Tom, Dick or Harry can do anything they set their minds to. Tom can give coding a whirl.  Dick can give recording software a go.  Harry can be an amateur movie maker.  He could be an amateur game maker. A budding artist.  A writer. A composer. A journalist.  Sell his own goods online. Be his own doctor (Dr Google knows what he’s on about, whatever your GP might say.)  Oh, the list is endless. And it’s all good. And it’s all enabled by people steeped in Science.

Son no.3 has been taking violin lessons for about three years, as a nice little hobby.  As a result, he has gradually been learning titbits about musical theory.  I have a music O level to my name.  Oh, how I hated it. We were subjected to German Lieder for one thing.  My advice, if you’re ever within earshot of someone warbling a German Lied, is to run away.

At the tender age of 14, I was forced to attend Wagner’s The Ring, where I fell asleep up in the gods. No mean feat when your ears are ringing with the unintelligible screech fest that is Opera.  But the absolute worst of that O level was Theory. I couldn’t get my head around it. It both terrified and bored me.  Son no.3 however has a GCSE in Maths (his mother failed Maths O level abysmally, three times no less) and a degree in Physics.  To him musical theory seems to be a breeze. Somehow, his logical brain has engaged with chord progressions, scales, dominant chords, degrees of scales, harmony, counterpoint, leitmotif, and on and on it goes – who knew music was so technical?  Well, I did, having suffered through that O level many musical moons ago.

And Son no.3 has technology on his side. Unbeknowst to me, he invested in something I’d never heard of  – a Daw (digital audio workstation) software package –  and has been composing ‘tunes’ at lightning speed.  The DAW is amazing. It provides the composer with many synthesised instruments, which can be overlaid to produce a mini orchestra. You can even record your own instrumentals and overlay them.  And Son no.3 has been learning musical composition, in his spare time, via YouTube – for free. No long, dragged out, expensive music degree for him.  No, he’s gone the apprentice route, as in ancient times. Times like the Renaissance, when budding artists would be apprenticed in post medieval workshops and instructed to copy the drawings of their Masters, to learn their trade.

Son no.3 listens to tracks, learns the techniques used, then produces his own music along the same lines. Except it isn’t at all. His tracks are entirely different.

Here are a couple of his tunes which I listen to as though they’ve been written by a proper composer – in fact I can’t tell the difference.  The quality of sound is not that good via your average device’s speaker. For example, I first thought that the synthesised instruments didn’t sound like the instruments they’re supposed to be at all. The sound was very ‘tinny’ and artificial. But one of the husband’s hobbies is the collection of old, gigantic speakers.  He played son no.3’s tunes through one of his old Bang & Olufsen six-foot high speakers and the difference was AMAZING.  Suddenly the drum sounded like a drum and the flute like a flute. It all sounded professional. Yes, science/technology has enabled something in son no.3 that I didn’t know existed.

Tune No.1

Tune No.2

3 thoughts on “A Short Piece on the Enabling Side-Effects of Technology

  1. It’s weird how connected maths and music are. I did music O level and music GCSE. (The plan was that taking the O Level a year early would give me time to do something else when it came to GCSEs but there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do, really. So I took it again.) O level had a lot more theory. I actually can’t hear more than one line of music in my head at once, so when it came to harmonising tunes for 4 parts or writing duets I had to do it all by maths, really. Consecutive thirds and sixths are ok, but not too many. Consecutive fourths and fifths are out. Etc. My teacher used to say ‘oh this is lovely!’ and I’d think ‘Is it?’. I still don’t know what half the stuff I wrote actually sounded like – unless she seized the moment and played it on the piano I didn’t really have a way of hearing it. But Son no3’s work is very good. Now you just need to write the lyrics to go over the top 😉

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    1. I tried writing songs at uni (words and music) and quickly realised I had zero talent. I couldn’t begin to do what son no.3 does (and thanks for listening.) He suggested we write lyrics to his ‘tunes’ but I’m stumped as his music feels predominantly instrumental to me. You must be very academic, taking an O level a year early! I only got reasonable O levels because an organised friend forced me to study at the local library every day with her for hours. My study habits were slapdash and of the let’s wing it kind, made worse by the fact that I never had a career goal and (whispers) didn’t want a career (shame on me.) The stammer was a big factor in the job thing though. Interviews were a nightmare.

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      1. If I was that academic, I’d’ve done maths a year early like the proper smart people 🙂 It’s so frustrating that it’s taking so long to help kids with different needs. I still know people with dyslexia who had a hard time at school. I’m sorry having a stammer was so tricky. That said, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a career goal either. I’m totally winging it.

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