Ongoing History of New Music

The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 997: The endless battle of music vs. tech

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:

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

Alan Cross has 38464 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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