All The More Reason

New ways to sing old songs
February 3, 2007, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Before the pianoforte, there was the harpsichord. No matter how hard you struck its keys, the harpsichord played at the same volume. This was because it plucked strings instead of striking them (although I’m sure someone could design a harpsichord that plucks at different velocities). The pianoforte was given its name due to the fact that it could play both softly, piano, and loudly, forte. This dynamic difference between the harpsichord and the piano proved to be the difference for the last three centuries. With time, as often happens, the name was whittled down to the piano. Here’s a new manipulative technology that looks like it’s somewhere before the harpsichord on the digital evolutionary chain. It comes across mildly like conducting synthesizers – or playing air hockey with a soundtrack.

The musical potential of this technology looks quite limited for the moment, but it’s possible that later versions could show more promise. For example, the ability to change pitches (the note) quickly and efficiently to the pitch one desires looks very cumbersome. This is one way in which the piano truly shines. And yet, this kind of development does stimulate the mind, and provides intuitive musical opportunities for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have a decade to learn the piano. Specifically, the idea of being able to move musical objects around, whether they be digital or analog, has not been explored in the same way as treating an instrument with care and not letting it leave one’s grasp.

Sometimes I feel that oral debate between politicians could benefit from a similar use of imagination or zest. The advantage of having a traditional debate is that the audience is certain to understand the narrative structure of the debate, and thus the issues themselves are allowed to take centre stage. The disadvantage is that with a routine so well known by experienced politicians certain lines and even paragraphs of the debate are almost word for word verbatim to their speeches. This leads some listeners, myself included, to think that one’s time is better spent simply reading their campaign plan. The risk with livening things up a bit is that people will remember the fireworks and not necessarily which politician stands for what issue. And yet, politicians do use real fireworks all the time in their own campaigns.

The show Whose Line is it Anyway is a perfect example of how political debate could be changed somewhat without making it a farce at the same time. In that show, the audience was actively encouraged to shout out ideas that comedians had to improvise upon. Also, the comedians were required from time to time to use props in their skits. A few choice props with politicians could be a wonderful thing to see. If nothing else, this kind of debate would do the following:

1. Show a politician’s humanity and flexibility. This would benefit certain politicians and hurt others (one could have the debate about whether or not politicians should be on a different level and somewhat removed from their fellow citizens or not – personally I think it’s the position that’s special and not the man)
2. Inject some humour.
3. Encourage other kinds of people to consider political office who normally wouldn’t.
4. Encourage even other styles of debate in the future.

It’s amazing to me how often debates, even between political commentators, are allowed to run along the same roads they all know so well. Sure, television stations have incorporated better graphics and theme songs along the years, but little of it appears to be interactive with their guests. This doesn’t have to be digital. A good moderator, with a few cue cards and markers, could get our politicians to flex their grey matter a little.

Jonathan Smith


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