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.MP3 - "Evolution, devolution or Revolution"? by Rotcod Zzaj


As many in the improvising world know, your friendly author has been "hooked up" since long before the Internet was the "in thing" to be doing (mid-to-late '80's, in fact). My ability to collaborate with so many folks around the world in the early 1990's was surely enhanced by my access to electronic mail, faster WWW connections (than many average bears had) & some of the best teachers (tech-gurus) an underground musician could ever have. From the time the WWW began evolving into something I could visualize the mechanics of, I've thought that there must be a (non-intrusive, non-spamming) way to USE it to the advantage of those who produce music outside the pale… a means to get the WORD out to those who haven't heard (yet) that there are alternatives to commercial music! The challenge, of course, would be to have it be something a musician could "use", without having to learn whole volumes of new technology.

With that thought in mind, let's examine the three phases I (personally) went through in learning how to use these tools:

 Evolution:   Clearly, those of us who had access to WWW technology in the early stages were amazed by the potentials it seemed to have. Fast (at that time, our highest speeds were 14,400 baud per second (bps)) transfers were possible, so we could put pages up on the web in a matter of (only) minutes, instead of the hours it required at the original speeds of 300bps. As speeds improved for dialup connections (28.8bps, then 33.6 & finally 56.6bps), we began to realize that we had enough bandwidth available to put up pictures of the people who were making these sounds, album covers and all kinds of other visual attractions. At that time (1990-1994), few of us believed that the tools AND the speeds would advance to the levels they have today… some Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services offer you relatively cheap connections at 128,800bps, others (slightly more expensive) can boost you to 768,000bps (on a regular old telephone line, believe it or not)! In addition to the fantastic increase in speed of file transfer, other developments (in particulate, audio and video streaming as well as advances in database technologies) from those more in to the development side of the tools have made it ever more easy for a musician to make their presence (and their music) accessible to thousands more folks that might have otherwise never heard them. The evolution we speak of has brought the technology to a level where ANY musician can learn them well enough to use them without becoming too "geeky".

Devolution: What began to happen (for me, as well as several other musicians I know who were "in" to the the technology) was a tendency to rely on the tools of technology as the trade! The WWW, with it's streaming audio and video, newsgroups & other communications tools, was being viewed (by some many musicians) as the message, rather than the vehicle! There were many discussions (that I remember) where we were talking ONLY about the tools… to the degree that almost no MUSIC was being accomplished. When an improvisor (or any musician, for that matter) becomes so focussed on knob-twisting, it's nigh impossible to create any MUSIC! Now, don't read any intent on my part to discourage use & expansion of knowledge about th' TOOLS - just go about it with the realization that it's a natural phase; musicians (& particularly those who improvise) can't escape a certain degree of excitement about the capabilities of some new gadget, electronic or elsewise (remember yer' first 4-trak?). The real danger (& some have encountered it already) is that an all digital world can make it (much) easier to retreat… to form our own worlds… to escape contact with others of like mind/inclination. That danger is even further amplified by the fact that the tools have advanced to the point where those choosing this kind of isolation can actually get away with it! This is a fine-line to tread for those of us who improvise, too… it's very easy to see the isolation as a way to create more & better visions… in fact, if you stop and think about it, the improvisor has always done this (to some degree, anyway). The only way to escape the boundaries is to go OUTSIDE of them, whether individually or in concert with others who share this compulsion to do things differently. The thing to remember, in the context of a digitized world, is that in order to go forward, we must (even if only occasionally) get OUT… SEE, TASTE & FEEL the realities around us - that's where the spark of inventiveness is BORN! The friction between "normal" and "outside" is what causes the creativity in the first place! As long as that's remembered, the alchemy will continue to evolve, rather than devolve.

Revolution: We truly ARE on the verge of genuinely NEW ways of doing things… (some) musicians are already experimenting with online collaborations; others are combining the audio and video capabilities of the WWW to create (nearly) interactive tools to communicate with their audience. It's (quite) possible that in a very short span, speeds will have increased to the point where live music concerts (improvised or naught) will occur on a daily basis (performing from your living rooms, of course). That idea is really EXCITING to me… what better way for an audience to get to know the performers than a quick online chat session right after such a performance? .MP3 (or whatever the current format happens to be) will force commercial interests to accommodate new genres & formats that the PEOPLE demand (it already has, to some degree). Instant gratification (not in a negative sense) will become recognized as the positive force for change that it SHOULD be! In some wild moments, I imagine that improvisation will be seen as a totally natural way to live… that all form will be decried as weird. Am I dreaming? You BET… for it's dreaming that causes the tumult we need to turn the normals to living/breathing beings that deplore cruelty… inhumanity… and the insanity that we see around us.

Hopefully these meager words will inspire folks in the various musical communities around the world to THINK about what stage(s) they've been through & contribute their ideas about how it could (& should) change in the new world(s) we are moving in to. Feel free to contact the author via his (main) WWW site, at or via e-mail to




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