On this week’s show we are joined by music artist, designer and story-teller Timo Peach to explore the history of music technology, and ask what we might learn from it to apply to other realms of tech?
You can find out more about Timo’s work at https://www.momotempo.co.uk/
This week’s automatically generated transcript…
Chris: Welcome to another episode of WB 40 everybody. It is fantastic to be back and we have another guest it’s going to be fantastic. Matt, what have you been up to this week?
Matt: Well, it, it’s obviously we’re recording a day later than usual, so it’s Tuesday. So summer has broken. If you paying attention, you’ve got about another.
24 hours or so to be able to enjoy some of it before it ends again in time for the children to break off from school. Which is if you had more evidence of the non-existence of any sort of eternal entity in the sky, other than clouds, that’s it? The last week has been it’s she gets to the point where this down thing, where you just go, Oh, fuck.
Sake. Can we just now stop and then realizing that no, it can’t stop. You got to carry on. So I’ve been getting a bit bored with well, Matt,
Chris: to your previous point, what you’re describing is perhaps evidence or lack of evidence of a benevolent entity up there. It doesn’t rule out the alternative.
Matt: That’s true.
It could be that the, the, the entire overloading system is run by a misanthropic psychopath. Which actually, when you look at it, suddenly I could believe in religion out the back of that. Quite bizarrely. That’s the first time I think I’ve ever had that sort of regulatory thing, actually that on the WB 40 signal channel, which used to be WhatsApp, but signal for the cool kids.
And I, there was a piece that I think John Harris wrote in the guardian at the week or the observer of the week. It’s all the same these days about the difficulty of being unreligious during such time. So there was nothing to, to fall back on. There’s no cushion of religious softness to be able to.
Soften the blow of Matt global pandemics. And thinking that as a point of that, that maybe the WB 40 group is a religion substitute which seemed to be rounded, divided by the group who then went back to talking about it, addressable LEDs or whatever it is that paid for
Chris: them. Yeah. Marina is an old things.
Brought to beautiful. Ready before we get there, we don’t really have one.
Matt: No returns. How’s your week been? Christopher? My
Chris: week has been very much like any other week as always having, I said that. Right? So this last week I did a, a conference in Serbia, which was good, fun. All from, of course the comfort of my misery hall is my office.
And I also, I went to lunch with a bunch of people. And it was, it was quite nice actually. And it was organized by their wonderful Amanda Brock of open UK. And it was a launch of their report that their recent report into the use of open source software in the UK. And I happened to be talking to her and she said, why don’t you come along?
And I did. And they send me somebody to eat. So that was nice. And I had to spot a lunch with some people I’ve never met before, including somebody who works for Google, who. Wrote a bunch of software for the Google keyboard. He reckoned his software is used by about 3 billion people around the world, which is kind of cool.
And and so that was good. And yeah, can’t complain. Here we go. And w we were already Tuesday, so the weeks thundering past already.
Matt: Well, it’s not Tuesday, probably when people are listening to this, but you know what makes sense Tuesday? It was, I sat next to Vince surf on a bus once. Just talking of people at Google.
Vint Cerf is one of the people who basically invented the networking standards around TCPI P I believe. Oh, and a lovely bed. Don’t know. Indeed joining us this week Timo how’s your last seven days been
Timo: well, yes. Not, not quite as existential as YouTube by the sounds of it. I mean, this, this podcast goes deep, fast.
I can see that I was just bumbling along reading things on LinkedIn.
Matt: I can’t stand LinkedIn, the superficiality of it, or the lack of
Chris: conversation, forest superficiality, and for the occasionally, you know, price, Leslie den, things that people put on there. And sometimes there’s some good stuff as well, but Gregory for some, there’s some funny things.
Timo: I came back to it as a necessary, I don’t know about evil, but a necessary irritation.
I’ve had actually lots of good conversations with them and I will confess. But if you think of LinkedIn as sort of performance art, it changes the enjoyment levels.
Matt: I, I tapped, tend to think about most of modern life as somehow being performance art. I think this government in the United Kingdom at the moment is just basically a very long-winded piece of situationist.
Timo: It’s a stunt of some sort, isn’t it? I agree. And unless you respond in kind and imagine that you yourself are creating some sort of living installation, then then it’s all downhill. And I dunno which data are you gonna turn to, but you’re gonna have to find one of them.
Chris: You need some sort of philosophical, philosophical rock to tie this art to this, like Alibaba come with business.
So it’s something that in his world that you you’d need, you need to tie to that and that then, then yet you’re okay. You know, if you could say an absurdist kind of theater, I think we’re, I think we’re good with her. Gosh, this does get deep.
Timo: Isn’t it? Yeah. It does. And I’m also now mentally walking along a beach in Morocco somewhere you know, reading KEMU inset in situ and I’m wondering now they’re so vivid.
Is this easily to mind that my year in lockdown is means that I’m wondering whether I’m actually, this is all taking place in the last few seconds of my cerebral cortex. And it’s you guys, my brain has it all to mine. So welcome. Welcome to the last moments of Timo. Going off on
Chris: a tangent.
Timo: That really?
Matt: Yeah. I, so actually there’s a thing because there’s been a lot talk. We haven’t talked at all about NFTs over the last few weeks instead of emergence on the internet as yet another wacky pyramid investment scheme. But I was, I was chatting to somebody on the Twitters earlier today and talking about he was talking about whether, you know, what, what do people do?
Do they take these these artworks that they’ve bought with a non-transferrable token of what it is that NFTE stands for? Non fungible, token changeable. That’s
Timo: something you can get at the
Matt: chemist. No. Lord knows I’ve tried, but the th th the, what do they do? Do they sit in sort of a dark and drum and then open up a JPEG image of the thing to be able to say.
But I was, I was thinking about that and something has been going through my head about it is that, although the whole NFT thing is obviously utterly ludicrous. Nuts and, and probably a massive pyramid scheme. Is it any different to buying a main Elbit of, of canvas that some 40 a hundred or so years ago, door with pigment and linseed oil.
And I’m not sure necessarily it is any more preposterous. No,
Timo: if people are buying them there it is. And we can be sniffy about the art world, but it’s a nice little world to be part of. And I think of an artist like Joanie Le Mercier, who’s really looked at this from her own work. She’s kind of gone into this kind of a lot and found a very empowering community there for herself and, and made a living out of it.
And then for her, she did this wonderfully. Sort of honest piece looking at the, you know, how, how great and how empowering and looking forward and taking, taking back control for artists, the whole idea, isn’t it? Ah, how instantly terrible it is because of the carbon footprint. It’s not just a bit bad, but colossally terrible.
Because of all those. Servers humming away while people mind thing. So, yeah, it’s got a way to go to iron out some kinks, but it sounds like there’s some, for some people there’s a really good positive thing there and yes, from another perspective, like most things in arts in the art world, rather it can look preposterous if you’re not in there.
Matt: Yeah. I don’t know. Have you been tempted crest to buy any
Chris: NFTs? I haven’t. Partly because You’re
Matt: all locked up in your
Timo: Bitcoin investments. You need, you need one Bitcoin theoretically worth a billion billion us dollars, but you can’t cash it in or don’t know where it is or you can’t turn the mining off.
I don’t know how it works though. There are
Chris: people out there who, you know, like that guy in Wales, who’s trying to find it. Todd drive that he threw away 15 years ago. That’s worth,
Timo: it’s a nice urban myth. Isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s real, but I
Chris: feel his pain. Th that will be right, because once upon a time, this was all just fun, fun, and games.
Right. And it was 10 quit. And now it’s. Always with the millions of pounds. And it’s no, it’s not, it’s not fun of games anymore. My book,
Timo: it’s my Mac, too, that I
Chris: bought that. It’s a, well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? This is in terms of in terms of magnetic media and stories and all these things that come it is, it is rather impermanent as, but as, as, as are all things, but the.
So I, I saw that the first one that would be Paul or whatever it was that thing. And it was millions and millions of dollars or whatever on Ft. And my, my thought when that isn’t there, nobody’s bought that because they think, Oh my God, I must have that. They’d bought it for it’s like a flattened. Dubai is it’s a, it’s an investment by somebody with a whole bunch, as you say, cryptocurrency.
That they could change to normal money, but they’d get a massive, massive tax bill and all sorts of things would happen at that point. And somebody might start to want to scrape where it’s come from and all that kind of nonsense. So it’s a way of taking a massive amount of money that they probably don’t need to turn into interfere currency and putting it in something else just to see what happens.
And there’s a lot of people out there not, you know, Not the majority of crypto holders, but there are lots of people out there with a lot of paper, money or digital paper money that doesn’t, isn’t really worth anything to them because yes, they could, they could cash it in, but it’s just not worth it. So that whole, that thing that happened and the, all the hype about it, it’s all about.
Okay. Can we make this worse, something more? Is it just about pumping a market when you get down to the, is it worth digitally signing something so I can tell you I own it. Well, that’s another question, isn’t it? Because we that’s, we redo that with. Oh, we tried to do with computer games. I tried to do it.
We tried to do it with media. You know, home taping is copies, killing music, all that kind of thing. Trying to sign something to say, you have the right to look at this, or you, you own a bit of it or whatever. There’s loads of that going on. There’s this, this was always, this is just a, this sort of thing.
Think that’s happening.
Timo: It’s just, it’s nothing new. It’s just a slightly different setup. Tools and a bit of hype, it’s a bit of fun for people and people. Those are lots of money invest in the art market and somebody like people or others, you know, what spelt them up is years of grafting away in a shed.
I myself, am in a shed you know, building something that seems like integrity to you, truth to you. And then if you end up in the middle of a hype machine, like having a hit record, you know, keep your head, it’s rather fun. If it can actually pay some bills in the real world, happy days, but not many people can get there purely through a cynical stunt that has no nothing in it.
And I, I, I think in a way that the front end is always what the paper’s right? Yeah. This is insane because it is, but the backend. Yeah, the sketchbooks, the interesting bit about art, always. I, I, I miss
Matt: though the days I’d might, I think actually, increasingly as I get older, my artistic heroes are the KLF.
And when they went to burn a million quid fun, and if you’ve read the autobiography or biography, they still to this day, do not have the first idea why they did that. Just
Timo: do it depressed. That’s even better. They still regret it. The fact that they a, they did it and B they real enough. To then go, what the hell were we doing?
It makes me love them even more. I agree.
Matt: Well, anyway this week out of a an observation from a month or so ago, stems an entire show. So I think we should probably get on with it.
Matt: A month ago. I was asking about this technical term with some music software, which I do quite a lot. It’s kind of my out of work moment for me. And I will spend hours sitting in my office with the spreadsheets turned off and the PowerPoints turned off. And instead with various bits of musical equipment sitting around me, some of which are quite new many of which these days are based in software.
And some of which are quite old and some of them are mechanical, have a couple of saxophones. There’s some old keyboard thing that I’ve got, which is about 30 years old. I’ve got a digital saxophone, which is great fun. And the thing that struck me when I was doing this, I a few weeks back was how seamlessly music technology works with other bits of music technology in a way that the nearly 30 years of working in.
Business technology and various organizations over the years has shown me that most technology simply doesn’t that I can take a piece of technology that was built nearly 30 years ago. The AI still works because it’s not wasting for another firmware upgrade or a connection to the internet so that you can renew a subscription and plug it into a device that is new, that plugs into my PC or into my iPad, or even into my mobile phone and will enable me to be able to allow.
The fat and then software on my mobile PC or whatever. And it all works and it still works. And I cannot think of anything else in terms of digital computer based technologies that has got that sort of longevity, or actually to be fundamental, still works. You know, you couldn’t run windows 3.1 software effectively really.
To do anything these days, if you try to fire up an old internet browser from twenty-five years ago and tried to search the internet, now it happens. It’s all broken. There’s none of that kind of ability to be able to still use things and to use them with other things that you get rid of use technology.
So I thought it’d be interesting to be able to explore that a bit. So think a bit, a bit about the history of that, and then to be able to maybe draw some conclusions about what might the rest of the acknowledge he learned from what we can glean from. How music technology works. And so I thought, well, I could prattle on about that on my own, Chris.
And it’d be very delicate. Somebody who actually is more than just a weekend Putler. And so Timo you’re a musical artist music artist, you’re a designer. You tell stories you have podcasts for global goals, music road show. You’ve got, you know, you’ve got a lot going on and, and you are Momo tempo.
Timo: I am all of those things. Yeah. And I suppose for me, this is the most. Gloriously intersectional thing I could be asked to do. And I’m surprised I had not thought of this topic. You’ve really got my imagination running. It’s so obvious. So close to home for me, where sort of futurism meets tech meets vintage since meets art meets the whole culture of globalization.
That’s driven by, in my opinion, the cult of engineering and, and here we are to talk about how it all fits together.
Matt: Good. So let’s go back a few hundreds of years because I think the starting point for this is the structure of music and within all of this conversation, I think the caveat to it all is we’re really talking about Western music here and actually a lot of the technologies that I’ve just described.
They’re brilliant. If you’re doing stuff on a 12 note scale and in. Time signatures that are kind of conventional around threes or fours or twos or, or if you’re really, you know, way out there and Dave Brubeck sevens. But if you’re doing with microtonal, which is say a lot of Eastern music where the, the intervals between notes are much.
Well, very different to Western air, whatever it doesn’t really apply. So well. But go back maybe a couple of millennia, right? The roots of our few millennials are the roots of music and people starting to be able to not only play music, but make notes too, or no down what is going on with music so that they could record a version of it for posterity.
Timo: Yes. I mean, this is why all music is essentially a technology experience because technology it requires technology to create an experience, but it’s the experience you’re actually making. Which gets to the heart of why this might be a bit different as a tech sector, but unless you’re opening your throat doing choral work, which is how our sort of instinct for self-expression happened, musically you needing something people I think immediately reached for sticks to hit and for.
Skin stretched across hollow sound, hollow chambers to make sounds. And that gets into tone immediately. I think humans wanted to make more of it. So you’ve got to, well, how do you note that down? You need a language. And my understanding is there’s examples of cuneiform that notate some sort of musical experience.
Pythagoras apparently had a word or two to say he suggested unsurprisingly there’s might be a mathematical relationship between tones. The Greeks came up with some sort of Tetra chordal system where they thought might be four notes in a four key notes in a, in a. Scale. And then, you know, you’ve got a thousand years later, about sixth century, some Rome of like birth.
Yes. Who was a Roman Senator wrote some influential paper about music and around then people like Pope Gregory. He did a lot. He started calendars. He also started music schools. But this was still before people were actually writing down notation and some, some person said, Isidore, a Seville said, this is daft with he.
This person was deeply irritated with forgetting tunes, which I add onstage every time I perform, because I don’t read music. So they kind of came up with an idea of sort of marking the flow of a melody, the cadence, the ups, and the downs with notes. But. They didn’t represent specific notes. Some it was a bloke I’d never heard of a Guido dot.
So. It was a music boffin who came up with the idea of staves lines and, and representing specific notes in a, in a 12 note scale. And that sort of got iterated through the dark ages. You had the basics of that around the 13th century through a few different people. But I think it’s a lot of this, like so many Chavon culture goes back to, you know, kind of 400 years where.
Yeah, the seeds of the enlightenment, but also orchestral music started to overtake folk chambers and more and more instrumentalists were added at court and they all needed to know more specifically what they were doing rather than just strumming along and they needed more fine tuned notation and this sort of developed.
More and more until by about Mozart’s time, you know, you could read his charts. We do to this day kind off and recreate it with an orchestra. Now that’s 300 years of 250 years of technology that hasn’t radically changed. That’s amazing. Yeah. And that,
Matt: so somebody today can look at something from. Three or 400 years ago and have a pretty good stab at it in a way that actually probably even language would be a bit challenging.
Certainly handwriting would be challenging. So we’ve got this standardized way of being able to write music down. We’ve got series of different instruments as if you know, a lot of evolution of those instruments from the Baroque period through to the classical period of Mozart into the romantic periods of Beethoven being the bridge point then.
But we basically got stuff that you scrape stuff that you. Below into whilst making raspy noises, we did Epps stuff that you blow into whilst getting a bit of wood or read to be able to vibrate stuff that you blow across stuff that you hit. If I missed any of the major categories of musical instrument,
Timo: no, that’s kind of it.
It’s, it’s hitting, blowing and scraping on a, on an Epic scale over really finely tuned bits of timber and canker. And
Matt: that carried on until probably the early 20th century or missed start to that and see a new type of musical instrument that is based around electricity and Circuits valves and
Yeah. You had a low, I mean, electricity, I mean, obviously in the 19th century, lots of experimentation happened and the boundaries between sort of science innovation. And, and music were very lots. I mean, all boundaries are, we’re a little bit blurred, even as they will try to pin it down with good labels.
And you had it. I mean, the word sort of electrical thing, things happening in the late 18th century because of the early development of battery power John made his, what was it? Clever scene electric. And it was mucking about with. Sort of, electromagnets trying to resonate bells effectively. So a bit of a gimmick, but there, it was sort of electric hundred years later, you’ve got Elijah Grey’s musical Telegraph, trying to sort of make tones down the new Telegraph system.
And then later on. Instruments that use the phone systems because there were no other speakers, but the ones in people’s, you know, emerging handsets. So that, it’s interesting. What we will try. And some of this stuff was about imagining ways to send data like a Telegraph, but they found themselves making tones and making accidental oscillators effectively.
And then when radio valves really took off. And radio as a technology happened in the very first part of the 20th century, a lot more instrumentation started to come out of that. It was blatantly electronic and the first, the very first kind of synthesizes effectively by oscillators and stuff like that, which brings us to the famous Victor Timmerman in the twenties, which made music by magic,
So the, the theremin was a device that was using. Electromagnetic waves and probably most famous for being the lead noise in quite a lot of the beach boys stuff. And the star Trek theme tune, I think was the thing
Timo: might’ve been in there. They had a female vocalist doing there might’ve been a Thurman in the back there as well.
Sermons were very popular in 50 scifi, but they’d been around for 25 years by then. And it uses electromagnet. Magnetic presence, doesn’t it to affect the oscillator and the pitch the time where we kind of sound. Yeah. That’s magic. Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: So let me ask a question because I’m, I’m, I’m I’m, this is outside my domain, really, but I’m interested because of course the reason somebody can come along with electricity and as you say, he kind of resonating things.
They never really knew that that that musical notes were They w were resonant frequencies. They understood that. And that was, that was not that wasn’t a revelation at that point. So when you get electricity and when you start to understand how electricity works and magnetism, electromagnetism, et cetera, you could start to think, okay, I’m going to make a, a an instrument or whatever, but there was a, it’s also about.
What you do with that, right? Because it’s quite easy to make a tone, like a pure tone of say, we’re going to this, this is going to be 500 Hertz or whatever, but actually actually doing something that is replicating an, a musical instrument, which has a whole Watson, lots of different hardware harmonics going on.
That’s another question, isn’t it. So there must’ve been a point where people thought, well, here’s some tech, we can do something with it. And there’s the intimates. We know, we know we normally play it and trying to figure out what the what’s the, what’s the relationship between this thing that I can do like a tuning fork.
Right? So if the tuning forks are around, everybody knew that you could create a pure time from a tuning fork. In fact, it wasn’t there like a. Tuning for you, then they say, okay, it’s gotta be 400 and something hurts. That’s an a 440. And before that, there were more than one a, so actually you could write down your musical notation, but depending on where you started from, you would have a different, you would have a diff you you’d maybe have a different outcome.
So all of that kind of stuff had to happen. But then you can say, you got to go through this. Okay. That’s that’s what we call a pure E too. That’s an a, on a piano. Well, that’s an a on a harpsichord or that’s an on, on a violin or whatever, and that that’s a bit quite an important leap, right?
Timo: Yeah, it is.
But I think it also illustrates the, the, kind of the, the debate that we’ve had in nascent. Tech terms over a hundred, the last a hundred years, but especially think of somebody like Alicia gray who made his musical Telegraph, he was driven by this idea of purity and trying to make pure sentiments. Your sounds.
We can make the most pure AE ever and get rid of all the imperfections, what a weird thing, because yeah, of course, when you study Sonics and harmonics at all it’s all the imperfections that make it work. It’s the imperfections that make the emotion. The obvious thing, being that if you made an exact pure sort of, it wouldn’t quite be assigned way, but a really pure violin note.
And you managed to duplicate that across five violins. You wouldn’t get emotion, you get this slightly weird pur perfect sound, which nature doesn’t do. But when you get five violins or scraping things, how are the expertly. In all these minute differences, what you get is a surge of emotion. It’s the imperfections that make music work.
It’s the imperfections that give character to everything imperfections from our sort of level of make it really shiny and clean. There’ll be science in there, but it’s much finer grain that’s and that’s beautiful. It’s poetic for me as an artist, that’s kind of wonderful trying to clean it up. It’s that?
It’s the dirty bits that make it great.
Matt: It’s one of the things that I remember talking to my grandfather. It was a physicist. And it was about the time when CD was becoming the dominant form for for amazing. My grandfather was born in 1913 and talking to him about the irony of how music that was mostly.
Rock and pop music, mostly featuring electric. Attells that mostly depend on the fact that there is massive amounts of distortion going on. We’re being then crystal clear, recorded on CD. And he didn’t really understand cause he never really ever listened to rock music. He’d have no idea what I was going on about.
So we’ve got evolution, no technology is coming along. We’ve got new ways of being able to make noises other than just scraping, banging or. Billowing and people are willing to experiment as well. I think that’s the other thing here. Isn’t it? So the, the my, my main musical instruments, saxophone and adult Sachs, he was a prolific inventor of instruments.
Timo: An awful lot of people at time where.
Matt: But, and it was also finding the medium by which people would be willing to accept that. So he worked with people like Ravel. So Balero the thing that told and Dean made famous in the eighties had two saxophones in it, a Turner and a soprano cause they were working together on this idea of being able to get that into orchestral music.
So you need to be able to find people who are willing to experiment to be able to get these ideas kind of pre-step for them from the twenties through to the, I guess the forties and the fifties, you start to see more and more electronic based keyboard instruments start to emerge. But all of these things are still devices that are being played by him.
Timo: Yes they are. I think you’ve got to the thing about the 20th century, the modernist period is this, this massive redirection. Of the, of ways of seeing. So I still cling to that as a, as you know, my primary definition of art. It’s about new ways of seeing that was the phrase that came out of late modernism in a way.
And. They were, everybody was questioning what everything was. And it was a wonderful blur in lots of ways between science and an art and traditional experimentation and what an energized frenetic time. And then in the middle of the 20th century tape technology was a big dirtier actually in lots of ways to, to, to try and record and capture things.
The early sense of sampling. And of course, famously Pierre Schafer music concrete started to say, well, what if sound can be music? If you hear it differently by splicing it up and repeating it is, is, is that musical? Isn’t it. And it, through all the purists and classical people into no causes, no noise, blah, blah, blah.
And into those sorts of arenas came different levels of technology, making. Actually new sounds to the human ear. Think of that ear as where nobody had heard oscillators doing certain things or particular filters or combinations or chopped up samples on tape. Wow. And that turned into the auntie. They put those into keyboard of all instruments as well.
Like the what became the Mellotron. Yeah. And earlier versions of it we’re out in the late fifties. So it says there’s a lot going on fifties and sixties. And then of course we have to mention before we get to our main point, Bob Mogue, and they mentioned that the, of what we now know is the synthesizer.
He was actually selling Melodia theremin kits from his basement as a sort of late teenager. And he met at a sort of trade show. He met a guy called herb Deutsch, who was a composer musician, and they just fell in love with each other’s. Love for electronic music. And then what? Well let’s form a company and George managed to go back to his college is able to give me a bursary 200 quid to go and work with Bob Mogue and event the synthesizer between them really quickly.
They come up with the first modular synth in 1964, which did get shipped with a keyboard. So still a basing these things around interfaces that we, that were recognizable tech going back three centuries. I caught it
Matt: was, was it Wendy, Carlos, who did the bark, which was all about the Mo instruments, but it was just basically playing the same notes at the same notation that went back 400 years.
But just with a new. Sound,
Timo: it was switched on bark. I mean, it’s amazing that you know, a trans artist actually is a turning point in music because when she put out that record, it got the attention. Of people like the Beatles and the rolling stones and others legend has it, the rolling stones bought a Moke modular system and used it once in a film and then sold its Tangerine dream.
There’s a whole bit of this and yeah, it just, it just caught people’s imagination. Cause it was so weird and wonky and that cover with them. Somebody dressed us back in the 17 hundreds garb with a wig in front of the mode modular. It’s still cool to this day. Yeah, but they were essentially just saying, look, we can reinvent the sound and then, but that led to people like Tommy eater.
In the seventies kind of reimagining how you’d even approach that with early kind of homemade sequences. And lots of people were making ways to use pulses and sort of our paginations and fudge things from those machines. So there were some rhythms going on and some early drum machines happened in the sixties as well.
But yeah, this is the turning
Matt: point, I guess they’d been the peer NOLA. So in the, in the. Well, and those go back to Victorian era is essentially big clock work devices that playback music using sheets of paper, which was in fact that there is a fantastic argument to say that that was one of the core founding principles of computer technologies is those punch cards, which were used in that, which originally had been taken from mechanical looms then became the way in which she programmed dirty computers.
But. We then started to see in the seventies, rarely, I guess the ability for machines to start to play instruments.
Timo: I think of bands like craft work. I learned how to make music by listening to them. And they, they represent an interesting evolution because they started. In, you know, kind of 1970, the year I was born and they showed up at this big space in Berlin that had been rented out cheaply by some legend, as some sort of local businessman, he hired a big space and said, you can all come and make noise and, and.
All the kind of early kraut rock has ended up in this GAF where social space had been made and they begged borrowed and stole synthesizes and they jammed and they just, and they all questioned this young generation. First young adults, post-war Germany. What even is music? What is patriotism? What is sound?
What is melody? They deconstructed stuff. And they had fun and craft work. They’re able to sort of go from being quite. Yes, flute. There’s a lot of Yas float on really any craft work but with sense and other stuff and groovy kraut, Rocky beets into slow to get more sequenced. And it’s not until their album at the banned machine in 78, where they actually worked out how to synchronize all the kit and it shows it’s really tight and it’s not done with what we’re about to talk to.
It was done with CV Gates and clocks, but they worked it out. So all the students they could program. And it sounds like early versions of Donald’s music today. And so that’s the point
Matt: at which you’re starting to see people gaining not only machines playing. The instruments. So you program the instrument, it goes off there, but then also enabling these different instruments or machines to be able to do it in time with each other.
And the only way she talks about the CV control boast is, and pulse is being sent out and, and it was every manufacturer had a different set of ways of doing it and it, it, it didn’t quite.
Timo: Well, yeah. And so it brings us to the sort of nexus of, of the history in a way, if you want to see it that way and your point, which I think is fascinating.
It’s the arrival of this shared protocol, middy musical instrument, digital interface. And that was first proposed in 1981. First, since it came out with it attached in 1983 and. This is why I think it’s interesting for the podcast so that we’ve done this back history here, which geeks like you and me and Matt will find interesting to me.
The interesting bit really is how it obviously how these machines make art and express human, emotional truth. And what part of great revolutions in sound and society. But it’s also interesting for this podcast, from the culture of technology, because in researching this, I found what I inferred a superior human reason for why we ended up with middy.
Now, middy is of course, this shared protocol that got competing devices talking to each other and somehow. They managed to negotiate, starting to ship and manufacture things that could talk to each other by rival companies, which I think is remarkable. What do you know about that, Matt? What’s your so
Matt: originally it was, does it, Dave Smith has a company called American company called sequential
Timo: sequential circuits.
Matt: They, I used to have a sequential multi-track it was dreadful couldn’t hold its pitch at all. And it was all computer controlled, but still analog underneath it. It was, it was, it was an abomination of synthesize of that. That’s another story. So he suggested that there was a problem here. He spoke to a number of the other American manufacturers at the time.
So people like Mogen Oberheim and others, and he couldn’t get the American keyboard. Manifests. It says a manufacturer is interested in this idea of coming to some sort of common standard, but he managed to talk to some of the Japanese companies. So people like Yamaha and cog and and Roland and the Japanese companies bought the idea.
And so they then started to work together. And as you say, in the early eighties started to be able to then get kit, which had five pin din standard. So like centimeter and a bit across round connectors. And it’s essentially a network standard. It’s a network protocol to be able to share musical data.
That’s all it is. And it enables you to allow one cable to control another device or a sequencer to be able to send out pulses that enables one or many devices to be able to. Connect, you do things in you connect things in sequence, so you can have one thing to connect to another. You can then chain off the back of that.
And it’s, it’s, it’s very simple in the way in which it operates, but through quite a simple set of code is able to encapsulate everything that was in that music notation that was set up, you know, formerly four or 500 years ago. And it’s still at the core of it all four, three, four, two, three, four, five beats in a bar.
Up to 96 segments of that beat pitch based around octaves over 12 note scale, and other bits and bobs around
Timo: it. Now, my understanding of the way that worked out, I was thinking, how do they negotiate getting all these different companies to sign up to it? Dave Smith. I think would have been still quite young in the business because he developed the profit five, which is an absolute all-time classic since.
So you cleaning out a bad experience of sequential circuits. He basically was working with microprocessors during the day, kind of like music and he thought, hang on, we haven’t got any sense that can hold their programs. You have to retune everything by hand. My beautiful mogul liberation is exactly that there’s no patch store.
He and he simply sat at work one day and said, well, surely we could use microprocessor to just ally that with the synth tech. You could then store your sounds surely ARP or mogul, just get, and they didn’t. So he did, and he made the profit five and it was a smash success came out in 1978. So he was still quite fresh.
But my understanding is that actually it was Roland’s founder, it Kotaro khaki. Harshi who. Approached him because he actually approached Tom Oberheim first and Tom Oberheim, like Dave Smith was working on some sort of protocol and calculate how she thought it’s a bit too clumsy. So he went to Tom, found him receptive and then went back to the bosses of Yamaha, Kauai.
Of course himself and got them all to sign up and I’m thinking, well, that’s how that the histories I’ve read, don’t ever explain quite how they got back to work. They do describe this beautiful moment at the nom show in 1983, where they got khaki Harshi himself and Dave Smith stood next to each other.
Supposedly. And he had a Roland, JP six and Dave Smith had a new prophecy prophet 600 and they linked them up with a mini cable in front of everybody and went, look, they can play each other. And everybody’s supposedly went. Wow. And it was a cultural breakthrough that then took off. And you got to remember that Kakehashi oversaw Roland for well, like 40 years.
And it was under his guidance that Roman made. Tra two Oh eight drum machine and the T R nine Oh nine, the TV three or three. Basic thing, all these geeky things that are to this day, cherished loved icons. You have an eight Oh eight as your main image on it, or most of your pages, don’t you a Matt, it’s a sort of iconic looking eighties drum machine.
And everybody would know the sound if it was pointed out to them and all these other scents that could suddenly talked to each other. And as the guys from the org said, thank God for Medi, because it meant that we could suddenly make Epic sounds when we weren’t classically trained. And we only had two hands because everybody does.
And suddenly a whole new form of art was open to people now. Before we get into sort of the impact of that. The reason I think is interesting is I think it’s khaki Hashi’s background. I simply rent his story and they didn’t make any connections in the story version I read, I did. He grew up, his parents died young.
Both of TB tuberculosis, you grew up with his grandparents. He worked down at the docks in a soccer doing sort of technical work. He was there during the war. Their house got destroyed by bombs. He couldn’t get into official university because of. Supposedly health problems. He started at clock making shop, working from self.
He went back to Asarco, got caught up in a great big food shortage there that devastated Osaka after the war. And he then got TB. He ended up in a sanatorium supposedly for years and only got better because he got given an experimental drug trial. Essentially given to him to try and his health got better and he thought, right, I’m going to start on electronic music shop.
And I want to design the best synthesizer. And he’s motivation seemed to be a passion, the music, but he was untutored just like me as an artist. And I think there’s some psychology in that and yes, something to do Japanese working together and what they saw and for him to reach out across the Pacific to San Francisco and find young Dave and.
And push to make music that was inclusive and more affordable, and that people across cultures could plug in with it. Each other. I know I’m reaching here, but I found this increasingly meaningful seeming. I know nothing about it. Kakehashi as a person, not seeing him speak than what personality was, but to me, there’s an awful lot of human context, motivating that technology.
Now try to imagine Apple, Google, Amazon, blah, at owl, having any event in that DNA at the core, I think it was at the core of Roland driven by him. And just a last note on this, I would say it’s beautiful. In 1989, Yamaha went corporate bought sequential circuits from Dave Smith. And they immediately closed it down, out, goes an iconic name.
And 20 odd years later, he was working for himself again and trying to get the name back. And Kakehashi as an old man, went to the boss of Yamaha in 2013 or something and said, I think you should give Dave. The name back, don’t sell it, give it to him. And his quote was something like, I think we shouldn’t have unnecessary friction between electronic music manufacturers.
We should be helping each other. And this is the spirit of middy. And honestly, when I read that choked up, I thought, yeah, that’s, that’s why music tech works. It’s because there were people who had. Emotional reasons to do better and came to places, places of influence and we’re, after all helping people make these immersive emotional experiences computers for a thousand practical jobs, the musical instrument is to make music.
I think the psychology in, in the tech there that has helped it find better moments along the way, and quite a few.
Matt: Chris, do you see parallels with. The things like the open source movement in that story,
Chris: in that particular story? I think, I think yes there is. And as much as there are definitely altruistic community-based views on what is useful, what can be, what can be shared and what, what, what’s the point of it?
Really? What, why are we doing this? And, and there, there are. Yeah, there are examples in the open source community. These days of I was reading an example today actually, of, of software that was being used by American immigration and then some con contributions then pulling their work for it because they weren’t happy with it.
And then somebody has to go and we rebuild it, et cetera. And these there’s definitely an ethos behind some of this stuff, which, which has parallels. Hm.
Timo: I think for all the romance of these things, which I think we need to keep tapping back into to do good, frankly, you’ve got to find some romantic passion for envisaging better, but also I would say yeah, at the time when I was just falling in love with music as a teenager, middy to me did seem really plastic and farty.
And like, like the eighties were finally going to kill music. Cause I was just discovering these. We’re actually quite creepy old seventies records with this old technology, but I found it hauntingly compelling. And at the same time, my mates were just starting to get hold of ways to get synced, to talk to each other.
And my mogul liberation that I bought in 1987 for peanuts doesn’t have many, but it’s Beautiful thing and made, he just seemed really reductive 16 channels. And then general lady came along as an, a new lowest, whole destroying conformity. Yeah. Well, I always have a piano one Oh one and you get 128 sounds and they all line up and it just seems so kind of.
Oh, get rid of all the fun knobs and buttons and big oscillators, and we’ll go digital and have five black buttons and a weedy LCD screen. And that’s your interface and Mitty will make it all work. And I wasn’t enamored with it. But as time’s gone on, it just works and it doesn’t get in the way. And it still works 40 years later.
And now, yeah, it’s a, it was a revolution in emancipation for everyone. I, my generation, your generations got to make music and muck around in bedrooms. And I’m a music guys now because of middy.
Chris: Yeah, I know. I do think, I think there are some technological parallels in as much as, as you say, I remember listening to media middy files of Beethoven, you know, on, on computers in the nineties and you think, Oh, okay.
You know, it’s like chirping away and it’s, it’s not really not the, you know, the hit that doesn’t really convey the convey the, the majesty.
Timo: Did you see Chris that
Chris: got, but it wasn’t there. It wasn’t, it couldn’t, it didn’t have the depth. In the same way that years ago in the sixties, you know, computer nerds used to print out ASCII art, pictures of the Mona Lisa.
Right. That was the thing that you used to have on your wall line, print them up, Mona Lisa, and the technological parallel that, that, I always think of that when we come to this kind of, does it work? Does it still work is VGA, you know, in 19 eight in the late 1980s, The IBM PC moved from CGI, which was like, w w which Smith do it, simpler and columns and, and stuff like that to VGA.
And that’s the D shaped connector that you can still get, right. That monitor you’re looking at now how’s that BGO can act on it. And you could probably get a VJ monitor from 1990, plugged it into your computer. And it would probably work long as you didn’t try and push it to high resolution. And that’s the, you know, back in the eighties, Early nineties, you could have a picture of the Mona Lisa on your PC, and it would be crap.
You know, it would look like it was drawn in paint, and now you could have it and you could zoom in, you can have a digitized image of the thing. Then you can see every single stroke, you could see it, you know, you can do, it’s not quite the same as having their canvas in front of you. You know what I mean?
But the quality and the ability of the technology to keep up with the, the, the, the desire. To convey the art or the, or whatever it might be is now at a point where it’s, it’s, it’s completely feasible, but that’s the, the VJ standard is a really good example. In fact, the only, yeah, it’s not, it’s probably about on his death bed now.
You don’t get money. No laptops. I’ve VGA, mainly because of the size of the dumb thing.
Timo: It’s too thick for an hour. Okay. But, but you
Chris: know, it, it, it did, did you for a long time,
Timo: Yeah, well, I’m thinking of that. Yeah, those lovely ASCII pictures and they’re kind of stunts, but they also say something, they become their own kind of art and a little experiment I’m looking at at Tushi or just, Samas very experimental notation score from mid century last century.
The issue can walls and it’s. He’s literally drawing faces with the crotchets and quavers, and I’ve heard somebody beautifully with an eight bit tone generator, try and play their score. And it is musical it’s nuts, but it is musical. And yet the. The, the, the score itself, it’s a graphic score and the, and it’s clearly a piece of work in itself and how, how fun for all this, but really, I think the interesting, it gets past when technology is new and it’s been around, it got boring so that people can sort of.
Be less hypnotized by it and get back to their own thinking. W I mean, th th the 20th century was this incredible series of rolling frontiers and all the heroes are generation still connected to generation X, especially still connected to all these frontiers and expectations of progress. And so we think of all the great synths heroes or other pioneers, they did things first.
They got to do it first, wow. To be in the right place at the right time. And everything’s a sort of. Pay limitation, but I’ve always said singing into your hand brushes. However, music artists starts it’s it’s joyous, but it’s when you get past that. They kind of trying to be clever or trying to copy others and find your own voice with your own imperfections.
That’s when you get actually get interesting. And so now is it Galatarian all through the eighties, people were moaning about technology, killing music, the snotty little stickers in, you know, a lot of musicians, cars kind of windows. I remember those. And it sort of was the, you know, early iteration sounded a bit crap, but then it also, yeah, a whole new types of songwriting, whole new sounds.
And now, you know, it’s down to the quality of your ideas, just like making films, just like all the other ways that digital work has has brought us all into the field for better or worse. There’s a ton of content, but it’s also never been richer for ideas. And for people getting involved. .
Matt: Fascinating stuff. I thank you very much for joining us this week. Absolute pleasure. That was it. It was good. And there’s, there’s definitely something there about looking at old technologies and current technologies and how they all interplay play with each other. What’s the week ahead looking like in a.
Timo: not getting enough of the things I planned to do dumb because I am now just drink of taking Easter weekend off and not staring at screens much. But Thursday night I do have episode 10 of the global girls music roadshow with my colleague. AYI young, who is the us young leader to the UN.
Force of nature and sustainability championing as a music artist. He and I have been making this show now promoting his battery tour, which is amazing. It’s just been amazing fun in, BtoB just learning as we go out a live stream, a show and bring guests in with these amazing stories of how they’re having a go at change-making in lots of different ways.
So that’s Thursday night and then I’m going to hang up my headphones, I think for the weekend and and go for a bike ride along the promenade in Bournemouth.
Matt: Nice. Now we’ll put a link to where the various shows that you do on the WB 40 podcast website. So if you want to find out more about that, you can go to the website and you’d better find out the links.
Christopher, have you got a exciting week ahead?
Chris: Well, it’s exciting. And as much as Friday is a day off and which means that today’s Tuesday. So in the next two days, I have to crash through a whole bunch of things. So that I can relax on Friday rather than worry about the things that I didn’t do because even more so, because actually next week is a holiday for me.
I I’d over a year ago, we’d, we’d booked to go somewhere this week. Now, of course we’re not going to be going anywhere, but I’m still taking the week off because damn it. It’s time to take a week off, you know, sometimes you just have to take some time. So I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m hoping I’ve become afraid to, like you said, early on that to the that my hopes are not high for a a sunny and a t-shirt to short sweet, but it’s it’s something that I can get on with things around the house.
And I can just, just take a week off work. I think at some point we all need to take a week off
Timo: work. Well, I think, I think take a week off, sit in his shorts on the floor in the kitchen and have a good weep. And, and let that be next Tuesday and then just see where that takes
Chris: you. Yeah. I, I think, I mean, that’s not a bad idea.
It’d be kind of, kind of boring to do the same thing that I’ve been doing for the last six months, but still wonderful.
Timo: the Bronx shouts and maybe move into, I mean, it’s high time you moved here,
Chris: if that helps, you know, maybe, maybe, yeah.
Timo: Whatever gets at your emotional truth, man. It’s all. It’s all fine. That’s
Matt: good to hear. Well, I’m glad that you too will be you know, lounging around and, and, and caterwauling. They’ll be long weekend with the stuff we’ve got various things where we’re going to meet people.
Good grief in places. And then I’m back to work next week. So hopefully be relatively quiet week to be able to get some strategic thinking data modeling and. Other various bits and bobs completed fast. No is nobody’s around to be able to distract me from the task at hand. So we’re going to be taking a week off next week because it is Easter Monday and we do as a.
As a collective on this little show needs to take a little time to be able to recharge our batteries. I’ve managed to actually this evening to be able to put in a guest booking that takes us all the way now to June with a remarkable series of people to continue the incredibly high standard of guests that we’ve had so far this year, including a good self their team.
Timo: So when we get pulled back there, I thought, Oh no, that sounds a lot. Their own Bobby, listen to this one.
Matt: But when we come back, we are going to be joined by a class lb who is going to be talking about some of the work that she’s been doing at Kingston university around getting students to get experience of what it is to work in agencies, by setting up an agency that students work in which is a family.
Fantastic idea. And she’s also been doing some really interesting work about regeneration of the retail parts of the center of Kingston upon Thames, which quite frankly, if you walk around it at the moment, it looks like everybody’s moved out because quite a lot of people have moved out. So anyway, that will be the first show back in the the second week of April.
And then we’ll put a list of the upcoming guests on the podcast on the. Paul website. And don’t forget if you want to join us for the ongoing quite random conversations that take place on the WB 40 signal channel you can do. If you just send us a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, then we can send you the magic link so you can join in the fun with that.
Have a lovely Easter break and we will be back in April.
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