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Posted by on Jan 21, 2010

Modern literacies and music composition: To compose and to perform?

I have been doing some thinking about modern literacies recently. What does it mean to be literate in an information driven world? Does literacy pertain to technological skills, the ability to navigate a series of systems and tools? Does literacy refer to traditional textual literacy, the ability to read, write, and disseminate textual information? Or is there a heightened social intelligence that is necessary to be considered truly literate?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I am encouraged that people are starting to ask them. The discussion above has been prompted by technological change; a series of tools and services that have allowed us to do things we would have otherwise not been able to do. One aspect of this shift that I find most interesting is the approachability of the previously unapproachable, those bastions of what it was to be considered genius, talented, refined.

Rigmarole aside, I am referring to music. The ability to compose and perform music.

In other times, those skills would haven’t been synonymous, but they would have been more logically linear than they are now. When Mozart composed a concerto, there was the expectation that he could perform the work as well. We have evidence there of a conceptual and technical acumen. An idea translated into a skill.

A piano, aka another musical instrument I can't play.

To compose and to perform were always separate entities; traditionally, they have blended into some sort of composite. I would think less of my favorite bands if they couldn’t perform the songsthat they composed. As well as my relatives. It just wouldn’t seem right.

But they really are separate skills. To compose is to construct, to author. To play is to recite, to recreate. They are different. And now technology has blown those two things apart a bit further.

A piano application for the iPhone.

It is conceivable that I can create music without any ability whatsoever to play it. I can string together sounds using tools (perhaps this was always the case?) and never have to produce those sounds on the actual instruments themselves (the non-virtual ones).

In the inverse, I might be able to play without ever being able to compose. This seems to be the case for most musicians now. They are recreative practitioners.

Does technology make music more accessible? Does this represent a leveling of a previously unassailable field? I believe so. I have apps for my iTouch that can attest to this for music, art, and photography.

One is reaching a point where limitations exist only in one’s mind. What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this technological coil.

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