Serious contemporary music is under great pressure in the 21st century from the commodification of individual pieces via on-line streaming distribution. There are thousands of new .mp3 pieces posted each day, and their monetary value has declined to almost nothing. Even live performances have suffered, shrinking in quality and diversity every year. Part of the problem is that for the last 100 years we have been listening to mostly recorded music and acquiring records, tapes and CDs of those that we choose to like. But now that the value of recorded music is falling towards zero and live performances are a less likely option, musicians and composers will no longer be able to devote their working lives to creating serious music, at least in the manner as has been done for the last 300 years.
Before the advent of recordings, the listening habits of the music-loving public were vastly different. If you were attending church in Leipzig when Bach was cantor, it would be three years before a cantata for a particular Sunday would be repeated. For a while, Bach was writing, rehearsing and performing 20 minutes of new music every week, and his congregations expected this. If you were living in Vienna in the early 1800s, it might be weeks or months before the same Haydn or Beethoven symphony was heard again in the concert hall. How often was the Ring Cycle performed at Bayreuth? Clearly, the listening public did not have access to music on demand and this shaped their appreciation of new music.
Another part of the economic equation today is how music is composed. The methods of creating music have not significantly changed in hundreds of years, and the result is that a composer might spend days or weeks on a single piece. Music creation remains an 18th century craft while most everything else in our lives has been enhanced by mass production and computerization. The output of JS Bach between 1723 and 1725 is still the gold standard of composing productivity, even today when we have so much more technology to apply to the process.
The Eternity String Quartet is an experiment to counter the present discouraging trends in new music composition by improving productivity. The goal is to have a system that accepts only the creative element from the composer and then automates everything else needed to realize, distribute and perform the music. New variations are generated by the server every two hours and nothing is saved unless downloaded by a listener. A string quartet wanting to perform a new piece need only download the score – at no cost and no obligation.
It presently takes about 2 hours to create a new piece for the Eternity String Quartet. This allows for a full time day job and family life without great sacrifice. The software is available as open source and will operate on a typical PC with an Internet connection. Humans once made music with sticks and stones – why not exclusively through electronics?