Music? It went thataway

What will be the music of the future? Brian Eno, Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) and Tod Machover take a look into the beyond. Introduction by Nick Coleman
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In the future we will travel by hovercraft, wear catsuits and swallow a time-release nutro-pill every morning to alleviate the inconvenience of breakfast, lunch and tea. Music will be scientific and meet our needs in much the same way that food does. In common with the time-release pill, it will nourish us schematically. Music will be our very soil.

Or it would be if there were any such thing as the future. But of course the future is a construct, shaped only by what we know of the present. The above scenario, for instance, is a description of the future as it might have been fantasised by a small boy in the Sixties; at a time, indeed, when the word "futuristic" had great currency. Now we prefer "millennial" and are less inclined to anticipate the future than to gird ourselves against it. Our ideas of the future are closely identified with our understanding of our present condition.

In music, our present condition has been largely governed by recent developments in technology, primarily in the areas of recording and mediation. It might even be argued that the digital revolution has changed the status of musicians to that of software, as was suggested by George Michael in his recent legal case against his former record company. Certainly, in an industry that regards music chiefly as a 'sell-through' opportunity, and in a marketplace happy to view music as an undifferentiated leisure product, musicians had better get used to feeling like the gooey part of a technology sandwich.

Then again, music is as subject to the forces of post-modernism as everything else. And currently we spend an unseemly amount of time considering the ways in which our lives are shaped by the random governance of the past, both wittingly and otherwise. It is not possible to consider a future for music that does not include copious reference to its ongoing history, which gets bigger and more complex every day.

The three musicians writing on these pages are taking part in an experimental season on London's South Bank next week entitled "Now You See It". Eno and Scanner will be discussing the issue in a symposium on Saturday in the Purcell Room; Tod Machover of the Boston MIT Media Lab will demonstrate his hyperinstruments and "look at new ways of combining art, science and technology" on Thursday. Here are three perspectives on what conditions will shape the music of the future. NC