Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: Best & Worst New Musical Instruments of the 2000s

30 December 2009

Best & Worst New Musical Instruments of the 2000s

Copied below is my response to the contributors' poll H+ Magazine published on New Year's Eve Eve, 2010: "What were the best and worst _______s of the 00s?" Everyone chose a different topic, although most people preferred to ignore the "_____" and suggest more sweeping milestones for the decade. A few months later and I'm sticking to my guns about this one...

Worst New Musical Instrument:
Guitar Hero

Essentially an electronic sample-triggering interface with near-zero control over which samples — more of a percussion toy than the guitar to whose lovers it was marketed — Guitar Hero exemplifies to me a massive step backward, the mascot of an obsolete paradigm. User input is a binary endeavor — you either march on beat to the manufacturer’s selection of Top 40 content, or suffer the annoying clicks that announce your failure. Way to perpetuate the producer/consumer divide, Guitar Hero! Way to reinforce the Pavlovian nightmare of school bells and rote learning that already undermines the last-resort creative capital of the western world.... This kind of musical training will cripple our next generation of musicians when the time comes to prove our worth next to improvising robots. And that’ll be, like, now.

Best New Musical Instrument: The Reactable

If Guitar Hero operates on the centralized, consumption-centered media-model of television, The Reactable is the musical avatar of Web 2.0. Not only is it a content-free revolution in musical control interfaces with a negligible learning curve (kids can pick it up almost immediately) that screams for collaborative applications (it can be played by as many people as can squeeze themselves around the table), but it was actually designed vision-first with these qualities in mind by an entire academic music technology department in Barcelona. And the tech they developed to make their dream a reality is applicable to a ludicrous range of “interactive tangible multi-touch applications” limited solely by our collective imagination. Watching this device in the able hands on stage with Björk last year made me feel like I’d been abducted by the future — and if the future bears any resemblance, it will be an awesome party, indeed.

(Read the whole contributor's poll at H+ Magazine.)