The character of Professor Wilson (Richard Gere) from the movie Hachi- A Dog’s Tale is seen playing a piano before his sudden unexpected death. After playing a piece he talks about pianist Anton Rubinstein who refused to have any of his recitals recorded by Thomas Edison on his newly invented phonograph. Edison went ahead and recorded it anyhow. Wilson continues:
"I'm a lot older than you but I tend to think that there's an element of music that cannot be captured. Life cannot be captured. Human heart cannot be captured. The moment of creation itself is fleeting."
I wonder how much of recorded, amplified, electrified music we have come to accept as normal, even as being actual ‘creation’ of music. While these endeavors are incredibly creative, I cannot help but think that we are removing a part of the creative process from the body of work when we do these. My basement sound mixer accepts 7 inputs from different sources, including my guitars, microphones, computer and iPhone, carries with it effects, a little amplification and feeds the signals into a home theater which amplifies it even more. The home theater adds even more effects if necessary. When we add a completely electric instrument such as an electronic keyboard or electronic drums, where there is no analog sound at the moment of ‘creation’, the signals are converted into analog only at the speaker.
With the advances in science, perhaps we can look forward to a day when our ‘creation’ of music happens simply in our brains from where it is accepted as is, into a receiver as electric signals, modified on the fly with effects and fed into another person’s brain through wireless receptacles that eliminate the need for an analog sound. Anyone who can compose music in the brain can reproduce the sound of any instrument in her mind and present it to the world with no need for what we have so long known as ‘real’ music.
Professor Wilson’s understanding of the fleeting moment of creation is turned on its head under this scenario. When music is available to each of us in this way, there are great benefits. What was once privileged luxury has now been made accessible to almost everyone. But is this reflective of creation in the real sense? Doesn’t creation involve physicality? Helen Keller, though deaf, enjoyed music by it very vibration. But this points to an even greater truth. Our process of creating any music, analog or digital, is not ever creation ex-nihilo, though we claim it as such. We are tinkering with the tools we have been given. The digitalization of sound is an interpretation of the vibration. But what gives music richness and joy is a gift by the Creator.
Our oft-repeated claim of being able to ‘play God’ by arranging or modifying genes to correct ‘defects’ has often understandably led to serious discussions on bio-ethics. Let us not pretend that we can ever play God. We are tinkerers at best, and how we use our tools are all that is left to us.