Making Music With Machines
Popular Mechanics South Africa|Popular Mechanics March/April 2021
From artificial-intelligence song writers to virtual-reality playlists, technology has completely changed the way music is composed and consumed. Here, we unravel some instrumental audio developments worth taking note of…
Tiana Cline

CAN BLOCKCHAIN SAVE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?

There’s more to blockchain than cryptocurrency. Being able to store and manage data in a secure way is something that could revolutionise the music industry. A blockchain database, or distributed ledger, is hard to tamper with – it stores digital information that can be distributed, not copied. In an onlinefirst world, this is key because artists don’t necessarily need a record label to produce and distribute their music. Social media platforms have made it easy for anyone to share anything online – Justin Bieber was first discovered on YouTube, Shawn Mendes originally posted music covers to Vine and a viral video of Charlie Puth singing Adele caught the eye of Ellen DeGeneres. What a blockchain could do is allow artists to have more control over their own licensing, rates and rules. It could give venues the ability to finally curb counterfeit ticket sales.

Singer and songwriter Imogen Heap’s music-development hub for musicians and makers, Mycelia for Music, uses blockchain. Out of Mycelia came ‘The Creative Passport’, a digital identity to store everything about an artist in one, secure place. Think of it as a personalised ID system for music makers, a mix of public and private data that includes press photos, biographies, metadata and more. Artists don’t have to pay for the passports; instead they can use the platform to learn from each other and do research. But it’s also about democratising data ownership. Because The Creative Passport uses a blockchain technology, it means that the data can only come from one authoritative source and cannot be altered, essentially giving an artist full control over their creative output.

MIMU AND IBM’S SONIC SCORE

Another Imogen Heap invention, MiMU gloves turn hand gestures into musical instruments. The wireless gloves use highprecision, wearable sensor technology to capture movement, something Heap calls ‘sculpting music’. They track the motion of your hands but are also fitted with lights and vibration motors to provide feedback.

‘Like most musicians, I often use computers when I’m composing, recording and performing. But I always feel that clicking a mouse or pressing a button, moving a fader, never really enables me to interact expressively with the sounds that I am producing. I always wished I could control my equipment more naturally,’ explained Heap, in her MiMU Kickstarter. ‘I’m often seen flitting between various different controllers and instruments. It really needed a rethink, I needed something more intuitive. I wanted to be able to play the computer as expressively as I could play the piano – for the movements that you make to be able to express the sounds that you hear.’

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