In the mid-15th century, France was rules by Louis XI, otherwise known as “Louis the Prudent.” But he was always known as “Louis the Cunning” and “The Universal Spider” because he was always spinning plots and looking for conspiracies. When it came to dissent and wars, he was a brutal sort.
Being a despot is hard work and sometimes you need cheering up. That’s why he challenged Abbe de Baigne, a builder of things, to create a brand new musical instrument for his amusement.
The result was the Piganino, a keyboard that required a series of pigs of varying sizes. Each was laid out on a flat surface, smallest to largest. Above the hind end of each pig was a spike connected to a piano-like keyboard. By pressing a key, the corresponding pig would be spiked, resulting in an oink of a certain note. It was thus possible to play a tune by poking the pigs.
It didn’t sound very good, but it worked and Louis XI found it very funny. The pigs probably did not.
Music and technology have always had an interesting relationship. Sometimes it’s harmonious and wonderful. Other times—like with the Piganino—there’s a hideous clash. However, the Piganino, invented 600 years ago, was the forerunner of future music-related technologies like sampling, sequencing, and synthesis. The tech—or at least some of the concepts—would eventually win out.
If we step back and look at the history of science, math, and engineering and the practice of creating the art music, we’ll see that every time the two intersect, technology almost always comes out the winner. And that’s okay.
Something that seems radical, evil, transgressive, impure, and corrupting turns out to be a pretty good deal and music is the better for it.
Here are some stories about the clashes between tech and music. I’ll lay out the facts and you decide if these were good things or bad.
Songs heard on this show:
- Kraftwerk, We Are the Robots
- David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust (Peel Session)
- Elvis Costello, Radio Radio
- Depeche Mode, Just Can’t Get Enough
- Big Audio Dynamite, E=MC2
- Beastie Boys, Hey Ladies
- David Bowie, Ashes to Ashes
- Imagine Dragons, Believer
Eric Wilhite has a playlist for us.
The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:
- 102.1 The Edge/Toronto – Sunday night at 7pm
- Q107/Toronto – Sunday night at 9pm
- Live 88-5/Ottawa – Saturdays at 9am and Sundays at 6pm.
- 107.5 Dave-FM/Kitchener – Sunday nights at 11pm
- FM96/London – Sunday nights at 8pm
- Power 97/Winnipeg – Sunday nights at 11pm
- Sonic 102.9/Edmonton – Sunday at 8am and 8pm
- The Zone/Victoria – Sunday at 8am and 9pm
- The Fox/Vancouver – Sunday at 11pm
- Surge 105/Halifax – Sunday at 7pm
- WAPS/WKTL The Summit/Arkon, Canton, Cleveland, Youngstown – Mon-Fri at 9pm