Great Question. With Today’s Music, What Comes First: The Technology or the Music?

Several years ago, I was the content director for a travelling museum exhibit called The Science of Rock’n’Roll, which explored the history of rock through the lens of science and technology. Music and tech have always been inextricably intertwined and one question I kept coming up against was when it came to making new forms of music, what came first: musical inspiration or the technology that facilitated that inspiration?

That question is even more relevant today. From Noisey:

Recently, Pittsburgh-based, synth-obsessed DJ and producer Shawn Rudimanposted some thought-provoking words on Facebook: “In the 70s and 80s music machine manufacturers made machines for musicians. Today, we make musicians for the machines.” Shawn may have a point: the first commercial music machines, dating back to the late 1950s, were arguably far more musician-driven than some of the machines we see today, often tailored to the pre-existing needs of the artists who would use them.

One of the first-ever commercial drum machines to hit the market—the 1959 Wurlitzer SideMan—was designed specifically for live acts in need of a drummer but unable or unwilling to hire one. In the 60s, Don Buchla—the creator of the Buchla Music Easel—worked in close collaboration with composers Morton Subotnik and Ramon Sender of the San Francisco Tape Music Center to develop one of the first touch-sensitive synthesizer for live performance. In the 70s and 80s, Japanese companies like Roland and Korg began designing commercial synths with the musician in mind—honing in on layouts centered around the keyboard, and using western drum kit terminology for percussion effects.

Today, however, it can seem as though shiny new gadgets are appearing on the market faster than most artists—and their wallets—can keep up. For some, this means a host of new opportunities for self-expression; for others, it can create the sensation that technological innovation is dictating the ways in which we express ourselves—or worse yet, supplanting human self-expression completely.

So, what comes first in the world of music machine design and manufacturing today: the machine or the musician? Are musicians in fact evolving in response to technology, or is technology evolving in response to the musician? We asked Shawn Rudiman, Gunnar Haslam, Erika, and more to weigh in on the ever-evolving relationship between artists and their gear.

Great article. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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