Whatever part of the political spectrum, whatever part of the world community, as you come to the CDM community I do believe that we as creators are touched by larger issues. I think it doesn’t make sense to talk politics directly on this site when it’s not relevant, and I’m sure we’d all disagree about those issues. But as the world waits to find out what kind of leader the US President Obama will be, now is as good a time as any to talk about the larger responsibilities we all have. I’ve had conversations this year about politics with people far from the US – and I think now is the ideal time to make the changes we want ourselves. Politics are powerful and personal, but they’re also not everything. We have opportunities to lead the kind of world we want on our own, regardless of political affiliation or the country we call home.
As the US’ incoming President referred to the importance of “makers of things,” that seems especially appropriate. The world economy now seems strangely unhinged from actual production, meaning there’s nothing better than the DIY spirit as an antidote, to get us back to making things. And music (and motion) at its most ephemeral I think is real “making.”
In darker moments, I think it’s easy to see making music with technology as being extravagant. But there is a lot we can do as digital musicians that really does contribute to our world in material ways.
And yes, there’s more than just the latest music tech toys – though I think you’ll see, those have their place, too.
Learn to make stuff, and share what we’re learning. I shoot off my mouth about everything on this site for one reason – I enjoy learning from readers, whether you’re inspired or arguing, sharing or correcting. I think we have many opportunities to continue to develop the skills we want as musicians and technologists, and to share some of what we’re learning with each other.
Contribute shared tools and work. There really is something to be said for a “commons,” a shared set of tools and visual and audio work that other people can build upon. I believe open source and Creative Commons licenses can be tools themselves to make better stuff, whether for code, hardware plans, or media. I also think these can be compatible with traditional approaches toward intellectual property ownership – you can use the right tool for the right job. I hope we can build a more effective “commons” for music and visual technology that helps artists and technologists be more expressive and support the things they want to do. The monome has been one of the biggest projects this site has covered, and there’s a reason for that – and it’s also the tip of the iceberg.
Build creative businesses. Commons are great, but business is important, too. It’s important for us as people who write about media and technology to keep a critical eye, but at the same time, I really appreciate the fact that I meet people whose livelihood is supported – in whole or in part – by software and hardware companies and composing gigs and VJ gigs. Around the globe, the readers of this site face all sorts of economic challenges. I know we also regularly have to defend the value of music and visual tech to governments – and sometimes to family members. But I do think there are plenty of reasons to believe all these businesses have a future. Just supporting yourself or supporting one employee can make a big difference in your world, and I think all we can do to run smarter businesses that support what we want to do is valuable.
Use technology to raise literacy in science and thing-making. If you’re reading this, you’re likely part of a fortunate bunch. You get to use some of the world’s newest technologies and push them to their limits – even if it’s a computer or game system. These same tools can be powerful means of teaching people about electronics, how to design and make stuff, how to write code, and how to understand basic concepts in mathematics, geometry, and physics. If you’re like me, you probably wish you’d learned more of that stuff in school yourself. Because we’re fortunate enough to get to use this technology, and because the fundamental technologies can reach everyone in the world – including the people around the corner from you – we have a chance to share those gifts with more people by teaching them what we know.
One little tool that has helped was a nearly-free, business-card-sized oscillator circuit from PAIA that I know even kids can use – no soldering iron required. (Full details) I hope we can do more things like this.
Be compassionate. Artists are often criticized for being politically active. But I believe it’s no accident that artists and musicians (and programmers, very often) are aware of their world and more likely to be tolerant of difference. We have an extra gift, in that we can express those feelings in the stuff we make. Sometimes, that takes on a very political meaning – Georgia Tech’s Gil Weinberg used robotic-enhanced percussion as a way of setting up musical collaborations between Jewish and Arab percussionists. But I think any time we’re sharing work with friends, that matters, too.
Now, I’m not writing this to preach. I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues lately. This is stuff all of us can do. Often times, the first step is just to do what you were doing anyway, but better – and better documenting your work to make it easier to share.
And this for me is also a template for some of what I want to do in 2009 on CDM. Inaugurations aside, NAMM always seems like New Year’s Day in this business. So consider it a New Year’s Resolution to you. And if you have ideas for how we can better support you, let us know.