The future of music: technology is amazing, but ‘music’s a human thing’

Barely there: Peter Gregson plays a futuristic cello. Photograph: Shamil Tanna
Barely there: Peter Gregson plays a futuristic cello. Photograph: Shamil Tanna

From The Guardian:

Edinburgh-born Peter Gregson is a cellist, composer and founder of the Electric Creative Colab, a body that aims to foster collaborations between the arts and technology. Last year, working with composer and “sonic artist” Daniel Jones and the Britten Sinfonia, Gregson produced the Listening Machine, a piece of software that absorbed the tweets of 500 people around the country and turned it into a continuous stream of music. A debut album of acoustic and electric cello music, Terminal, was released in 2010. Later this year Gregson will start work on a new album and a film score.

Is technology making music easier to learn?

There’s so much nuance and physicality to music – it’s a human thing. I’m fortunate to work with some of the top people in these fields [of music-teaching technology] and I’m yet to see anything that does anything. Cello bows with accelerometers and gyrometers attached… The idea being that you make a piece of kit that for a couple of thousand dollars will teach someone how to hold a bow, play a bow, learn how to do good bow changing. I’m sitting there, and nobody else seemed to have seen the elephant in the room – that this cello bow, with all this stuff fitted on it, bore no relation to a real cello bow. As a professional cellist I was able to accommodate it. But the point that tool would be useful would be when you’re four or five. And this thing was heavy. There’s software that listens to what you play [and judges it] by looking for pitch tracking, but you can trick these things very easily. You can play with horrifically bad technique and make it think that you’re doing it really well because it can only look out for a certain number of things. It’s nowhere near as sophisticated as a person sitting looking at a pupil playing the violin. It’s entirely possible – I’ve tried it – to make this technology think you’re playing a beautiful scale but by using a piece of fruit to play your cello instead of a finger. I used an orange.

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