Birth of Digital Work Station
In a 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Walter Benjamin famously argues that, although technological reproduction may diminish art’s originality and authenticity, it also demolishes hierarchies and erases distances between the work and its audience, making the art more democratic.
He may not be necessarily talking about music but the inventions such as phonographs, vinyl records, cassettes, CDs, digital audio etc. have completely transformed not only how we make music, but also how we listen to it.
Furthermore, the widespread use of computers to record and edit sound has transformed music in profound and unexpected ways. Artists can now work anywhere they can plug their laptop/computers into programs like Ableton and Logic Pro, giving them unprecedented freedom and control.
But the laptop-based studio didn't just arrive by accident - it's taken well over sixty years of development to get to the stage we're at now. Back then, computers would take hours to record just a few seconds of music.
Circa 1961, the first mass-produced supercomputer IBM 7094, retailing for $3.1M which boasted a maximum speed of 0.5 MHZ with a 32 Kb memory was witness to the first-ever program that belted out one of the earliest musical pieces named ‘Daisy Bell’.
Max Mathews in collaboration with Bell Labs - a fertile ground for groundbreaking 20th-century inventions such as Laser, Transistors, and Photovoltaic Cells - wrote a computer program in machine language called "MUSIC" - The first software to synthesize sound on a computer.
“We knew at the beginning that the computer could make any sound the human ear could hear, and any timbre,” Mathews expressed. “That was not true of traditional instruments. The violin is certainly beautiful, but it will always sound like a violin. That can be very good, and it’s also limited. And the computer is not limited.”
Interestingly, Arthur C. Clarke was a regular visitor at the Bell Labs, impressed by the remarkable speech synthesis he later suggested Mr. Kubrick use ‘Daisy Bell’ in 2001: A Space Odessey as a swan song for HAL 9000.
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