Check out the latest entry to my blog. I wrote this for the Omnivorous Listeners Blog, at the Institute for Research and Community Website.

Thank you, Internet

This entry was originally posted on the Institute for Research in Music and Community (IRMC) website. You can find it here.

by Luis Ramirez  ¦   January 25 2018

In my teenage years, I was a compulsive music listener. I did not hesitate to spend my entire life savings on buying an iPod Classic (which for a 17-year old from Mexico was only around $200CAD) with 160 Gb of storage, for the purpose of keeping most of my music collection with me at all times. I had already accumulated a lofty 600 Gb of music on my hard drive, so I loved having a convenient and portable way of listening to it.

In hindsight, I would say that my non-classical music preferences were completely determined by my siblings’ taste in music. I was the youngest of 5 kids, and as such I inherited their favourites. Even before I had any knowledge of music theory, I was leaning towards the tunes with the coolest harmonies. These pieces were so impactful growing up that I could listen to them at any time:

Café Tacvba is still one of the best Mexican bands to date, in my opinion. They create a unique mixture of Mexican rock, folkloric instruments, and indigenous narratives. Each of their songs seems able to morph into a different style across the spectrum of Mexican culture.

To be honest, I felt that my musical taste was reflective of everyone else’s taste. I just liked everything. Even the boleros that my grandparents liked to dance to had its place in my repertoire of influences. This lineage is a testament to the “eternality” of Mexican musical culture – while the popular music may evolve rapidly alongside the rest of the world, there is a core Mexican repertoire that seems to remain integral to life in Mexico. Music like Contigo, by Trio Los Panchos – gorgeous vocal harmonies and beautiful lyrics, complete with juicy interjections on the guitar.

My main source of self-exploration was through classical music, but this was no small task in my hometown of Aguascalientes, Mexico. We did not have a music library, there were few classical concerts, and all that could be found in music stores were insipid compilations such as “Best Classical Music for Falling Asleep”. Naturally, these barriers forced me to gravitate towards a place where I could have an unlimited amount of resources: The Internet. As soon as I discovered my ways around it, the internet became a magical portal that provided me with thousands of hours of music I had never heard before.

I immediately leaned towards the Soviet composers. I navigated my way through obscure message boards in Russian, converted videos to mp3 from YouTube in its infancy, and downloaded many torrents. I was devouring everything – if there was a composer I liked, I would not be satisfied until I had downloaded their entire oeuvre. Instead of expanding horizontally into new genres and styles, I wanted to extract as much as possible from a single composer. 600 Gb might seem like a lot of space, but armed with the internet and an insatiable curiosity, it did not take too long before my new iPod was full of music.

Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Schnittke were at the top of my list, and soon I was listening to things like this:

I was mesmerized. My fascination kept me glued to my iPod, listening to music every single minute of my day.  Most nights I fell asleep with my music playing, often waking up to some beautifully frenzied Prokofiev works:

My obsession was such that I ended up memorizing more than half of Shostakovich’s fifteen symphonies from top to bottom. What’s not to love about this?!

Or instead of listening to my favorite recording of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony by Kirill Kondrashin, I can also find the flavourful afro-Venezuelan version:

One of the most interesting tools for music-making provided by the internet are collaborations with people around the world. One of the artists who is making use of this collaborative potential in an admirable manner is Jacob Collier with his Patreon site. Emerging as one of the most promising artists of today, his schedule is saturated with performances all over the world. Yet, he takes the time to invite fans into his creative space. He collaborates with them by taking user-submitted melodies and harmonizing them with multiple copies of himself, creating charming, colorful, and delightful renditions of the originals. Additionally, He regularly livestreams his entire process on his YouTube channel, providing a unique window into his compositional methodology.

When people on the internet find others with similar tastes and skills, a collaboration is often in order. One can simply download a video, add their part to it, and upload it, creating an environment in which original content evolves as it changes hands. Someone like Jacob Collier can upload his groovy a cappella arrangement of “The Flinstones” theme, while MonoNeon – a bassist with over 700  YouTube videos of him playing over other people’s videos –  can download that video, include himself in it, and upload it, creating a kind of “forced” collaboration:

Then, a like-minded drummer named Reuben Gingrich sees this updated version and decides that he wants a piece of that funky fun:

The chain could go on indefinitely.

Thanks to the internet, the exploration of new music is one click away. Everynoise is a scatter-plot of 1524 different music genres – with just one click you can discover everything from vintage Italian soundtrack to progressive uplifting trance. Another great place I like to visit to discover new sounds is the top posts category from the list of all music subreddits. Simply add top/?sort=top&t=all to the end of the subreddit’s url and voilà. It’s a wonderful way of discovering new sounds, (even some for your children!) thanks to crowd-curated sites like Reddit.

Speaking of subreddits, a very interesting trend emerged recently when the user /u/smallgoblin posted a video of herself writing some equations with a pencil. The intentional strikes of the pencil were such that their rhythm lined up perfectly with the Cantina Theme from Star Wars. The combination of psychoacoustics, rhythm, and micro-inflections in the pitches of the pencil strokes gave the illusion that the listener was able to hear the actual soundtrack. The video went viral and alongside it a new music-making community was born: r/pencilmusic. In just a few days, the community grew to over 15,000 members. To me, this shows the potential of a globally interconnected world, finding community over shared interests in the oddest of places. The internet is changing the way people make and discover music together, and I can’t wait to see how music-making continues to evolve in the years to come.

Wanting to get in on the fun, I attempted my own pencil music cover of the Super Mario theme. I hope you like it, and thank you for reading me.