Saturday, March 15, 2008

Garage Band - the redistribution of composerly autonomy?

So in 2006, This is what Lev Grossman of Time Magazine boldly proclaimed:

"But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes." (see,9171,1569514,00.html)

And with gusto, for the first time in its publication history, Time Magazine declared the Person of the Year 2006 YOU, a veritable high point before it was to declare Vladimir Putin Person of the Year 2007 (and not without its consequent outcries). So for aggressively building facebook profiles, constructing immaculate virtual domains in which we reside and find authorial endorphines more of the time than in real life, The WWW version 2.0 has indeed accorded the well-equpped surfer with a newfangled sense of agency, but not without its material repurcussions. As Karl Marx insisted, subjectivity has a direct consequence on material reality, quoting the famous spin on religosity to 'kneel', and one will 'believe'. Genuflect to the hot musical gizmo that has taken users of the popular American I-Mac by storm, aptly named "GarageBand" that combines the squeaky professional finish of studio beats with the thrilling pride of the DIY phenomenon.

Since its development by Apple in the late 1990s, GarageBand has spawned a whole society of song-hammering addicts. With just 100 (free) musical loops, anybody could be the latest author of professional sounding tracks. Only 2 years has elapsed since GarageBand was announced in 2004, quickly becoming a popular source of amatuer enthusiasts, and undergoing 4 updates.

I first chanced across this nifty little application from a post-grad student doing research on club beats. Inspired by a book on musical analysis applied to techno, she decided to give beat-arranging a go using GarageBand. The results were pretty astounding, and I was considerably impressed. I was even more impressed when I started listening to some of the tracks individual students at my university were churning up, some of them combining live recorded tracks with the free track loops as supplied by the program. But before one reels back, roars at the air and declares the liberation of the composerly professionalisation, one should not forget the words of caution from Alvin Kernan's "The Death of Literature":

"Literature is disappearing into another category of reality where it is becoming only one technique for written communication, one among many ways, oral, pictoral, schematic, and many modes, print, television, radio, VCR, cassette, record, and CD, by which information can be assembled, organized, and transmitted effectively." (1990, 201)

Although one may not go so far as to suggest that Classical Music is 'Dead' by the singular hand of GarageBand, the negative dialectic speaks louder for GarageBand - that the liberation (or the personalization) of the composer has instead revolutionized the possibilities in music making, as well as the modes of musical making. If the discourse of classical music has been attacked for being too wedded to hermeneutics, then the cultivation of GarageBand type tracks neccesitates two ends. Either that there is an impermeable space of music-making unexposed to the hegemony of hermeneutical analysis, or that hermeneutics has to uncover a new mode of musical reasoning that goes into the production of these tracks.

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