The Sound Of Music

It’s becoming a habit, yo-yoing in and out of London on the train. Here at Hotel Washington, in Bristol, the sound of someone wonderful practising clarinet drifts in through the open window. If you look hard enough you can see the notes floating on the balmy air. The clarinet is singing plaintive old songs, memories of mists and mellow fruitfulness, sleepy slow loneliness, while I rest my head on the single bed, waiting for my time to play.
Why is this sound so romantic, so beautiful, so alluring, so charged, like a secret, like a promise?
So beautiful, the way it dances on the background sound bed, the familiar rumble and swoosh of city traffic, the constant of urban life. It is human energy, movement, tracing a twisted pattern of thought as it runs round my head, spilling technicolour balls of wool, unravelling like magic wires, dancing themselves beyond the laws of science and nature, every rhythm a dream, every note a new idea.
Then I’m in the club (Big Chill Bar for the record), talking, and I’m saying, above the sound of music:
This is the first time in the history of making music that it’s possible for the music never to exist physically. It’s a revolution, perhaps as massive as the point, only just over 100 years ago, when music was recorded for the first time. I never thought about it so specifically before but listening to that clarinet then going to the bar has really brought the thought into focus.
Much of the music I like now never leaves the digital domain. It is made on a laptop using virtual instruments / soft synths; it is mixed in a software programme using plug-in effects; mastered in another programme with more plug-ins; then distributed digitally for people to download it and listen to it on their computers. There’s nothing ‘real’ in the old sense of the word, about it. It’s all, always, ones and zeroes, it doesn’t actually, at any point, physically exist in any form.
And the covers of the records we used to buy and cherish are now used as cheap, quirly artwork on the walls of the bar. And when Dave Westernsoul plays his 7” singles he admits that lots of people don’t know what they are.
What does that say about the people who make digital music? What does that mean for that lovely person practising the real clarinet in a real flat in a real city called Bristol? What does that mean for the future of music? I don’t really know, but in some way it changes everything or at least shifts it somewhere else and that somewhere is going to be really interesting.