• Anna Sutyagina, Germany

    Artistic Director Moving Classics TV, Pianist


Thoughts about digitalization: development in technology and how it affects the classical music


How is classical music going to be affected by the digital age? The other day I was watching YouTube video of Digital Life Design Conference with the speech of Joe Kaeser who is the president of the large German corporation Siemens. He was talking about what is so special about digitalization. His message was that If companies do not adapt, they will be gone in 10 years. “Out of 10 employees 9 go down and one goes up”. The popular belief is that digitalization affects others and never oneself. What about the classical music with the reputation of being very traditional and conservative?

In the first part of this blog, I would like to write about some recent developments in the field of digitalization that affected the classical music.

The good thing about the digitalization is that it can eliminate the tedious and time-consuming activities. In the digital age, the information can be collected, stored and retrieved easily and in no time. Perfect – nearly all music scores are available online thanks to IMSLP Petrucci Library with free public domain and many others. Today the musician does not even need to print them and can play from the electronic devices like iPad in concert and avoid the stress of the page turning. The radio stations use Internet to air their music. It gives an advantage of additional information that you can find about the music that you hear. Composers can put the music directly in the music score programs by drawing it with a pencil on the touchscreen and get it printed. The musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) will “play” the written music so that you can immediately hear what you compose. You do not have to play an instrument to try it out yourself.

But the heart piece of the classical music digitalization is the recording of music. The ephemeral nature of music excited the imagination of scientists and philosophers who wanted to stop the beautiful moment, to capture it and to make it eternal. There has been an amazing technical progress since the very first mechanical recording ever made by Edison in 1878 and his Mood Change parties where he presented his first discs to demonstrate the emotional impact and the power of recorded music. The history of recorded music knows many innovations:  reproducible discs, radio, LPs, tapes, Walkman, CDs, mp3 and mp4, youtubes…

We are obsessed by the possibility to capture the sound. It should sound even better than in a real life. And we want to capture the emotions too!  From time to time, there were some voices warning about the adverse effect of modern technology. Like the march king, John Philip Sousa, who would write an essay about the “Menace of Mechanical Music” with the possibility to “deteriorate our musical taste”. The progress of technology makes the existing devices available to the majority, as price gets lower. In the past the big recordings companies would approach maestros for the audio recordings. Today it is mostly up to the musicians themselves to finance their first CDs. There are cheaper possibilities. Hardly any emerging musician does not have a youtube video. In fact, there are so many youtube videos that the matching items in the search overwhelm us.

One digital development leads to another. The abundance of music and the chaos of youtube brought the idea of customization. Business idea of “curating classical music” was born (see, for example, Idagio). New platforms offer you to listen to music that would fit your mood. They help to quickly (!) find the right music, to discover new recordings, enjoy classical music on the go.

Some people say that the recorded music is “frozen“, it reminds of the frozen fruit in the fridge.  It is much more exciting to watch the transmission of live concert online.  We are speaking of streaming. The streaming makes the atmosphere of the live concert possible at home, now you do not need to leave your room to experience the symphonic orchestra who are playing at the other end of the world. Surely, the transmission is still not perfect. There is more to be done:  better sound to show the dynamics and nuances of timbre, the 360 feeling, and connectivity to a big high quality TV screen. Everything to make the virtual experience to feel like a real one. The augmented reality could help to put the virtual objects in our reality as if it is a part of it. Imagine bringing in the musicians or the instruments into your sitting room through augmented reality – it is magic today but reality tomorrow!

Digitalization is capable of eliminating the human work. There are self-playing pianos like Spirio by Steinway or Pianodisc by Yamaha: the technology is amazing! It is possible to show the nuances of playing by, for example, Sergey Rachmaninov, whose audio track from 1939 is integrated into a complex system within the grand piano and the keys are pressed by electronics, as he would have done it himself. The live generated sound is coming from the piano. The producers of these pianos advertise that you could organize house concerts without a pianist anytime!

The digitalization is all about speed too. The social media could spread the music in one second; Music has never been as present in our lives as it is today. Social media spreads the feeling that everybody has the equal chance of being heard all over the world. It is a misleading belief as the reachability in the digital world depends on the key factors of the “secret” algorithms. The big part of the algorithms depends on the budget that you are willing to spend on pushing the keywords within your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) activities. New companies appeared on the market: the Multi-Channel Networks (MCN). Their main goal is to do everything for producing and marketing of videos. At the beginning of Internet age, there was still a chance for unknown high quality musicians to be found. As the quantities in Internet have exploded, it is now a question of the algorithm and setting the amount of the budget.

What are your observations about the recent developments in the field of digitalization for the classical music? Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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Learning from History – is culture an option? Lessons from the Barock time. Essay after reading the article in DAMALS 9-2016 by Prof. Dr. Peter Hersche

Sometimes it makes sense to look back into the history. We would know much of what is happening to us beforehand. Perhaps we will find even answers to the open questions that move us today.
I would particularly like to refer to the Baroque period, the time from the 17th century to the first half of the 18th century. The time was marked by great events: the geocentric world image was questioned and the earth was no longer regarded as the center of the Universe. There were heated religious disputes. These disputes excerbated through the emergence of the Protestant church. The 30 years’ war left hunger and many diseases.
People longed for political order, security, clear social conditions and well-founded knowledge. The Baroque has addressed these needs, especially in the Catholic regions of Europe. A new culture has been established that focused on the tradition and sought stability. The idea of progress was re-defined. The compulsion in the society to “search for something new” was no longer regarded as a measure for politics and social development.
Thinking and acting were not focused on science, but on architecture and music. Within the social hierarchy, artists enjoyed a relatively high status, while merchants and entrepreneurship had little prestige, especially since their activity could have been morally questionable.
Compared to the Protestant countries, the Catholic countries were characterized by magnificent buildings and not so much by modern traffic routes for commerce. The military budget was also much lower in Catholic countries. Instead money was spent on cultural activities.
The beneficiary of this policy was not only the upper class. The public luxury of beautiful churches, sumptuous music and elaborate open-air festivals were also accessible to the middle and lower classes of the population.
Back to the present: Today we have many parallels to the emergence of Baroque culture. The global picture has also changed greatly in the course of globalization. In recent years, the religious clashes increased and suddenly there are wars that make many people to become refugees in other countries.
It is hardly surprising that people today are longing for more stability, political order and security as in the old baroque days.
Do you think that politics and our society will be increasingly turning to art and taking on topics such as literature, architecture, music, theater, dance, and painting?
It will be exciting to see whether in the coming years, the arts will become a meaningful part of everyday life, as in Baroque times and to find answers on the questions:
- Is culture also nowadays an option to give a society more stability?
- What kind of cultural activities could blossom?
- Who can be the driver for new developments?
I am looking forward to hearing your opinion! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.



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What can we learn from creative process of Pablo Picasso?

picasso linkedin blog

Imagine asking Pablo Picasso, one of the most innovative painters and inventor of Cubism, what he thinks about creativity! In 2008, Apple University had a training program for new hires to learn to think like Picasso. The digitalization gurus were not intimidated by the weird Picasso’s thought that “computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” All people can be creative and Apple sees creativity as a big success factor.
For me it was Pablo Picasso who changed my way of thinking. I was learning a new piece by Johann Sebastian Bach and was indulging in the beauty of the music up to the point where I had a feeling that I am not playing up to my capabilities and I just did not know what to do to improve my interpretation. The beauty of the piece and seeming perfection of the melody were preventing me from playing it well. The eye opening was the Picasso’s phrase that the beauty arises out of the destruction – “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.” I understood this phrase as a challenge to throw away or destroy all pre-conceptions, fixed thoughts and ideas, ready answers and start from the scratch. I decided not to take the creativity of a great composer Bach and the beauty of his creation as something sacred. It was an invitation to start my own creative process. “Everybody has the same energy potential. The average person wastes his in a dozen little ways. I bring mine to bear on one thing only: my paintings”
There are people who have new ideas every day, it is a rare and precious talent but everybody can have plenty of ideas too, it is only the question of freeing them. “I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else” I love the thought of starting a new idea without a rigid plan but with a flexible mindset that would allow more variations of an original idea. Try it out – it is true for any subject. “You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea. An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought”
Pablo Picasso believes that the successful people do not see any hindrances in the development of their ideas. “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ” The idea becomes you and leads you further. The employees of “Google” are encouraged to put a question “what if..”, it is a productive way of using fantasy at work too.
Technological progress proves that “everything you can imagine is real.” “There is only one way to see things, until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes” This is a change of perspective advice that can bring new vision.
Picasso teaches us to have a solid foundation – “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Lifelong learning was important for him; he was constantly pushing the borders and developing his skills: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
Some people think that having more time, more money and more of anything will bring more creativity, but the lessons of Pablo Picasso prove the opposite. He was radical in his restrictions but at the same time, he was innovative in the use of very concise means. “For a long time I limited myself to one color—as a form of discipline.” If I do not have red, I will take blue.”
Picasso was never tired of experimenting and trying. He was doing hundreds of sketches of the same object until he was happy with the result. The continuous iteration led to outcomes that are more creative. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” “Action is the foundational key to all success.”
My favorite lesson was Picasso’s advice “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” By “stealing” Picasso thinks of going one level deeper, learning about what you like about the thing you copy and making it your own by incorporating some elements from it.
He was not afraid of negative feedback. He was so devoted to the result that he just never thought of not achieving it. “I do not seek. I find.” “He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” “Only one person has the right to criticize me. It’s Picasso.”
Hmm, not afraid of negative feedback? Personally, I am not sure about this one… Read more about the power of negative feedback and how to deal with it in my blog next Monday!


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