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16.10.19

[Article] The future of music: Singing tomorrows? by Cédric Fabre

Prehistoric, traditional or classical instruments, technological development then transition to the digital age, from prehistory to the present day, music has never stopped evolving. So what does the future hold for us? How will music be created? How will we listen to it? How will it be broadcast? What role will AI and digital play?
Journalist and writer Cédric Fabre takes us on a journey into the future of music through a foresight exercise.

Robots or holograms that replace real-life rock stars; applications that create our playlist according to our mood; sounds that enter us through our bones ... The assumption here is that, far from smothering musical creation, the new technologies will lead to an increasingly democratic way of making and listening to music.

Neuroscientists have recently shown how the brain can restructure itself through music; it has even been observed that music reduces apathy in people with Alzheimer's disease. We can appreciate the symbolic value behind the medical aspect of this anecdote; more than ever before, in an increasingly complex world, we will need the arts in general - and music in particular - to provide us with balance, not to mention the pleasure of listening, which is constantly increasing through incredible innovations.

Musicians - actually playing an instrument - will be less and less dominant in the field of musical creation, even if do not fade away completely behind artificial intelligences and other "sound designers". While they may seem to be declining, classical music or jazz will become the main genres still sold in the form of records, while pop music becomes increasingly dematerialised - essentially downloaded or streamed. The return of vinyl is also a sign of resistance to the "all-digital". As far as classical music is concerned, not only are we moving towards revolutionary methods of learning music theory, "by the body", like at the Conservatoire de Vincennes, but the genre is about to be rediscovered thanks to innovative venues, such as the SoundBox, a converted building in San Francisco in which the San Francisco Symphony performs. It a kind of "classical music nightclub", with several stages and giant screens…

Increasingly synthetic music

Instruments will continue to evolve, and the voice could even become the true instrument of tomorrow, using "augmented" vocal cords or the development of the Auto-Tune, software that corrects the defects of the voice while changing it. Not to mention the "piezoelectric" violin, which transforms the vibration of the strings into an electric current, which is then transformed into a sound wave. We are also looking forward to the widespread fashion of connected clothes, like the digital glove that transforms everything it touches into sound, or trousers equipped with sensors that become an actual battery when tapped in specific places. And we would argue that artificial intelligences, which compose using data banks and will increasingly produce muzak for shops or public places, will never be able to replace creative human intention. In the words of the French musician and producer Pedro Winter, who supervised the mixing of one of his pieces by AIs: "It is precisely the failures of the machine that interests me". AI boosts creativity!

The end of "rock stars"?

We are witnessing – “unfortunately” we would be tempted to say - the disappearance of the traditional "rock star" (like David Bowie or Mick Jagger), synonymous since the invention of rock with transgression, who also aimed to make a political statement and provoke a certain (r)evolution of morals. For the English essayist David Hepworth "rock stars did not just live their own lives, they also lived our own by proxy. New stereotypes emerged, the hypersensitive diva, the filthy rich hip-hop godfather, social network stars who put their daily lives on show, or the fleeting stars of talent shows". Will there still be a Bruce Springsteen standing in commitment alongside a presidential candidate of the United States once censorship-defying Chinese or Iranian punk or rap scenes emerge? The stars of tomorrow will not necessarily be human. We already have robot conductors, like Yumi... with Japan already leading the way in the hologram field with the "singer" Hatsune Miku whose voice is generated by speech synthesis software. Are we going backwards? Not necessarily ... "Fictitious beings are the most spectacular ways to break with society," says the anthropologist Agnès Giard. 

More collaborative productions

The future may see a revolution of independent artists, thanks to social networks that will make it possible to launch new forms almost on demand, funded by the collaborative economy. It is also possible that in the future video games will become one of the main sources of music distribution, especially because the market is constantly progressing and will have the funds to finance superb soundtracks - original or otherwise - for products sold on a very large scale. Streaming will become the main way of listening to music. In Europe and the United States, it now represents, nearly 75% of revenues from music sales. Furthermore, artists seem to be gaining increasing autonomy and control over their work; in the end, they expect that digital technology will help broaden their audience. And the Internet will not have killed copyright: some people point to the danger of artists being exploited by the platforms, as well as a failure to distribute revenues, but at the same time we are seeing the development of blockchain-based rights identification prototypes. One specific major future challenge will be how to manage rights concerning the paternity of a work produced by a computer from a database: software will establish to what extent any borrowing from authors will be too obvious. Finally, we are sure that the future of musical creation will play out in big cities. Within a decade, Bamako could therefore become the largest pool of French language music …

 "Live shows": more spectacular ... and more virtual

Falling musicians' incomes will lead in future to a boom in concerts with outstanding groups or singers from China or South Africa: in fact, no one was expecting the success in the "West" of Korean pop Boy Band BTS. We can imagine increasingly wild concerts, on oil platforms, in space shuttles, under air-conditioned domes in the desert - not the best idea from an environmental point of view! -, with works by computer-assisted "video- jockeys". We will also have virtual headsets to allow us to "participate" in a concert without being there, walking in the crowd and flying over the stage, thanks to drones equipped with cameras.
A future anti-war Woodstock could well take place one day in Dakar, Tunis or Brazzaville. And we could almost bet on a "Summer Of Love 2067" in Kabul! 

Customised listening and discoveries

The "concept-album" will no doubt have disappeared, but we will find ambitious works included in installations mixing light sculpture and 3D video performances - such as the digital frescoes by Yann Nguema, the bassist in the group Ez3kiel. Algorithms make it possible to discover new artists who would never have emerged otherwise, and we see this as a real advance, even if some people worry about possible "formatting", since home automation will progressively push us towards more personalised listening, with playlist suggestions that could vary according to our mood - by semantic analysis of our email exchanges or our status on social networks - but also based on our daily schedule. And bone conduction will revolutionise the way the body "hears" sounds, with a headset that transmits music through the bones of the skull, rather than the "simple" ear canal.

At the end of the day, we remain optimistic: the "No Future" announced by the punks in 1976 will probably not come to pass, at least in music terms!

Cédric Fabre
Journalist and writer 

The stars of tomorrow will not necessarily be human.

Cédric Fabre

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