Why is so much of the music of today different from the music in Beethoven’s time, or even the music of the swing era? A lot of it has to do with a fancy thing called innovation. (If Beethoven wasn’t thinking about new ways of writing music, his Fifth Symphony may have sounded a lot like Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro!) Another big part of why the music of today is so unique is that we have another fancy thing called technology. Without new musical inventions, where would pop or rock music be today? Could Jimi Hendrix have done what he did with an electric guitar had the electric guitar not been invented?
Last night I went to a concert that was one of the biggest spectacles of musical innovation and technology I’ve seen in my life. This concert was part of jazz/fusion guitarist Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion tour. The stage setup was unbelievable!!!! On stage there were two grand pianos, a marimba, a xylophone, a whole slew of percussion instruments, and many, many more. So one must think, “How did he get all those musicians to go on a world tour with him?” Well, he didn’t have to! The entire ensemble behind him was controlled by robotics! Metheny performed his 5 movement suite for Orchestrion on electric guitar with the ensemble, and then did a couple of improvisations. During these improvisations, Metheny was able to use his guitar to control the instruments all at the same time, and compose a piece for the full ensemble on the spot!
This really was an amazing example of creative music technology that I feel can be the next step in coming up with some new type of music that none of us have ever heard before. Keep listening to new things, you never know what you may hear next.
In the fascinating video clip below, Metheny talks about the history of his Orchestrion.
By Alan Rigoletto, Guitar Teacher at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts