Quotes of the Week: Machover, Banalaties, Suspicion

The MIT Media Lab legend and early music-technology figure Tod Machover contributed a rangy essay at nytimes.com this week. After a brief autobiography, he talks about the relative democratization of music technology, and then about an opera he’s been at work on. In the process, he expresses his own concerns about the pace of progress and the potential negative influences of technology:

“Musical technology is so ever-present in our culture, and we are all so very aware of it, that techno-clichés and techno-banalities are never far away and have become ever more difficult to identify and root out. It is deceptively challenging these days to apply technology to music in ways that explode our imaginations, deepen our personal insights, shake us out of boring routine and accepted belief, and pull us ever closer to one another.”

And yet, as is so often the case online, the comments are riddled with enmity. One commenter writes, in full,

“One more marketing guru talking about ‘The Future Of Music’. What’s the name of his iPhone application we must buy to be considered cool hipsters?”


“This man is obviously desperate for big-figure grants.”

The culture war isn’t an entirely contemporary affair, either; writes a third,

“As far as music technology and pop music is concerned, you can directly trace the collapse of songwriting to the explosion of studio technology in the ’70’s.”

Another commenter goes all ad hominem, attacking not Machover’s ideas or his expression of those ideas, but his

“unbridled egotism and hubris.”

While the comments (55 as of this writing) aren’t necessary reading — nor are all of them negative — they do lend context to Machover’s article. Even for all the populist success of his efforts over recent decades — as he notes, Guitar Hero and Rock Band resulted from ideas explored in classes he has taught — the mesh of music and technology (more broadly, of art and technology) remains a potent source of suspicion.

Full piece at nytimes.com.

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