February 8, 2012
Why Is It So Hard for New Musical Instruments to Catch On? 

New instruments have come to market at a steady clip in recent years, offering novel and occasionally fanciful ways to perform music. Maybe you’ve heard of the the Eigenharp, the Tenori-on, or the Harpejji?
Or maybe not. Good luck hearing any of these contraptions on the recordings of prominent modern artists. You’re more likely to come across Tibetan singing bowls (Fleet Foxes), 17th-century Indonesian angklung (Okkervil River), or the zither (P.J. Harvey). In other words, established pop and rock musicians seem more inclined to try just about any instrument other than a new one. The turntable might be the last new implement to break into pop music; there’s even debate over whether that qualifies as an instrument, despite having its own form of notation and a course at Berklee College of Music. According to hip-hop lore, Grand Wizzard Theodore invented scratching 36 years ago. Suddenly, the turntable became a device used not just for listening to music, but performing it. And like the guitar, it turned into a focal point in live performances.
Now consider some of the instrumental developments in the 36 years prior: the solid-body electric guitar, the pedal-steel guitar, the steel drum, the electric bass, the synthesizer, and the drum machine.
Music technology in general has charged forward, and computers, digital sampling and MIDI have dramatically shaped music. But no one mimes to music on the “air sampler” and the idea of a “Software Hero” video game, with its own simulated laptop, is a little glum. Will a brand-new instrument ever capture hearts, minds, and speaker systems again? Read more.
[Image: Composer Tod Machover poses with a Beatbug, a percussive instrument, in a 2003 AP photo.]

Why Is It So Hard for New Musical Instruments to Catch On?

New instruments have come to market at a steady clip in recent years, offering novel and occasionally fanciful ways to perform music. Maybe you’ve heard of the the Eigenharp, the Tenori-on, or the Harpejji?

Or maybe not. Good luck hearing any of these contraptions on the recordings of prominent modern artists. You’re more likely to come across Tibetan singing bowls (Fleet Foxes), 17th-century Indonesian angklung (Okkervil River), or the zither (P.J. Harvey). In other words, established pop and rock musicians seem more inclined to try just about any instrument other than a new one. The turntable might be the last new implement to break into pop music; there’s even debate over whether that qualifies as an instrument, despite having its own form of notation and a course at Berklee College of Music. According to hip-hop lore, Grand Wizzard Theodore invented scratching 36 years ago. Suddenly, the turntable became a device used not just for listening to music, but performing it. And like the guitar, it turned into a focal point in live performances.

Now consider some of the instrumental developments in the 36 years prior: the solid-body electric guitar, the pedal-steel guitar, the steel drum, the electric bass, the synthesizer, and the drum machine.

Music technology in general has charged forward, and computers, digital sampling and MIDI have dramatically shaped music. But no one mimes to music on the “air sampler” and the idea of a “Software Hero” video game, with its own simulated laptop, is a little glum. Will a brand-new instrument ever capture hearts, minds, and speaker systems again? Read more.

[Image: Composer Tod Machover poses with a Beatbug, a percussive instrument, in a 2003 AP photo.]

2:30pm
  
Filed under: Music Arts Inventions 
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