Making Horrible Music Together
As a young man I was a classical music addict. I had a traveling job as a field engineer, and I carried my music system with me everywhere I went. Setting it up was the first thing I did at every job.
Back in the Fifties we had discovered hi-fidelity (Hi-Fi) musical reproduction. The primary recording medium then was the long-play (LP) vinyl record – which played, of all things, stereo music! We discovered that we had two ears after all. And that they were capable of hearing a much wider frequency range than we had imagined.
Electronics had also matured, and amplifiers appeared with huge output transformers to match huge bass speakers in their huge cabinets. Popular musicians were quick to discover this new power: any moron could stuff a microphone in his mouth, and with amplified guitars backing him up, produce a new kind of music more in tone with its times: music that was loud and vulgar.
But I stayed resolutely in the 19th Century, with its classical music and good manners. Listening to it, I was transported to another world – where things made sense. Bear in mind that I was raised in the rural Midwest, far from any symphony orchestra. But we could buy records, as my father did, and read magazines about the latest classical recordings, as I did. Classical music was only as far as the nearest post office.
Magnetic tape also matured, and my father was in avid recorder of anything that would go on them. He always had the latest tape recorder, no matter what his bank balance was. Cassette recordings and recorders became common. But then the CD appeared and blew everything else away. With all this progress, we should have been in heaven – but we ended up in somewhere that resembled the other place. And that is what I want to write about. What the hell happened?
As a naive young man, the symphony orchestra seemed like the perfect model for any organization – whose objective would simply be to produce beautiful music, of various kinds. Beautiful new products and services. And I was continually baffled when this didn’t happen.
In twenty years, from 1980 to 2000, I never worked on a single successful product – and most of the companies I worked for went out of business. I had doctor my resume hide this brutal fact (that I had worked for ten companies that had failed) – and every company that was hiring overlooked this. Everyone was overlooking this: that we were producing a massive failure – the biggest failure in history.
But no one was bothered by this – because what we were really doing was destroying the modern world that we hated. This was progress – but progress in a negative direction. We never noticed, we just knew things were changing – and changing fast!
I want to emphasize this: that progress can be either constructive or destructive. And the 20th Century was destructive – in spite of its vast technological progress. It destroyed people and their society. People were no longer important. Machines were – and technology is all about machines, and nothing else.
A few saw this problem coming. Emerson, for example wrote “Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.” But no one imagined it could be so overwhelming – after all, nothing like this had ever happened before. It just happened, and no one noticed. The reason for this is simple: because people had been eliminated, as an automatic part of the process. And with no people there could be no awareness.
And no beautiful music – only chaos. The world became a huge battleground – where we were the losers.