The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

In Defense of Music Technology: Adapt or Die

Posted in Sabrina_Pena_Young by iawmblog on January 23, 2010

Last year after an electronic music concert, I found myself defending electroacoustic music to a fellow composer who did not understand why composers in my field insisted on using multimedia in their works. Her companion agreed, and as both verbally snubbed composers who use electronics, I realized that music technology divides even the most knowledgeable of musicians. In my mind, there are not composers in “my” field of electroacoustic music and “their” field of strictly acoustic (and presumably better) music. Electroacoustic composers simply compose for electronics like they compose for a choir or orchestra, and many can just as easily create a symphony as a computer music piece.

Critics have always shunned innovation, whether it be the pianoforte, the record player, radio, the internet, virtual reality, or electroacoustic music. Whatever their motives – fear, ignorance, embarrassment – these critics wish to maintain the status quo, until their stalwart stance dooms them to obscurity. Unless a composer hides in a cave armed only with a pencil and manuscript, he or she will succumb to the digital revolution. The contemporary composer knows that posting one’s latest clarinet trio on YouTube is as important as learning how to write a string quartet, that a collaboration can mean anything from working with an alternative band down the street to jamming with a Kenyan drumming ensemble over i-Chat, and that publishing a score globally takes only a few clicks and broadband.

The musician who chooses to ignore technology may find that his or her music quickly becomes obsolete, though not for lack of quality. Competition committees pass over works with sloppy handwritten scores and noisy analog recordings, instead accepting polished computer scores with MIDI realizations. Music enthusiasts swipe audio files off an artist’s website instead of attending a live recital. Traditional mediums like physical recordings, music magazines, and terrestrial radio fail as, vlogs and blogs, and Pandora become the music distributors of choice. Composers who insist that they do not embrace technology still need to record their performances digitally, depend on Finale to publish their scores, and use e-mail to communicate with other musicians. Even the artist who reads this blog has chosen to accept new technology.

Today successful composers exploit electronic innovation by self-promoting their music through blogs and internet radio, hosting concert premieres through virtual worlds like Second Life, collaborating internationally through video chat, and composing new hybrid works with live performers and Max/MSP. Revolutionary composers not only utilize existing contemporary technology, but push the artistic envelope by inventing new digital marvels that further transform music. Cutting edge musicians turn to independent companies hosted by a single CPU in a music fan’s basement, and performers reach new audiences as advanced communications shrink the market. A digital tsunami has struck the world and only the technologically evolved will survive.


Sabrina Peña Young is an Intermedia Composer teaching at Murray State University and an experienced blogger. Her specialties are composition, technology, world music, percussion, and film & video.


6 Responses

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  1. Linda Swope said, on January 26, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    You are right. I am very interested in learning more, but how do we catch the wave? I love creating new sounds, and I think new sounds for old instruments is the way to go as we try to achieve something new and different -something that will excite our senses and please our audiences as well. I wonder if a lifetime is enough to learn about all there is out there that is being done. We need to have a way to be introduced to new things…you know…colleagues, a club, something, so that we can learn hands-on how to use the newest programs, equipment, etc.

    • Hsiao-Lan said, on January 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      You are absolutely right. We need someone who is in the “loop” to help us get in the loop. That’s why IAWM is such a good community to be in. If only we can all share our experience with one another in person! There are many tutorial websites such as or just stuff on youtube that can get everybody started on these technology related topics.

      • Sabrina Pena Young said, on February 15, 2010 at 11:25 pm

        Hi Linda! I think one of the best ways to learn new technology is just to go in there and get your hands dirty (figuratively speaking, of course). You can usually tell fellow geekoids when they ask “What program did you use?” instead of “How did you ever think of using those intriguing harmonics in the violin?” Find out what you want to do, and then find the simplest program that will accomplish it. For example, if you want to try video, then start with something easy like i-Movie, then move up to Final Cut Pro or 3D animation. Want to mess with the web? Then set up a free site through gmail and see what you can do. Sometimes things work out great, sometimes they flop, but it is all part of the learning curve. And feel free to contact me through IAWM. 🙂

  2. […] and Music Posted in Sally_Macarthur by iawmblog on January 26, 2010 Sabrina Pena Young’s blog (Jan 23, 2010), defending electroacoustic music, opens up important questions to do with […]

  3. Susie Cohick said, on March 6, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Wow, pretty cool website, added it to my feed reader

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