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John March Discusses The Current State Of Affairs Regarding Music…With ChatGPT



Guitarist and producer John March talks with artificial intelligence about the current state of affairs regarding music in 2023.

I have been thinking a lot about the current state of affairs and the way the music business has changed especially post-pandemic. A lot of the ideas that I’m thinking about are conversations that are happening, in different ways, across a lot of different formats. The questions and concerns and issues around the evolution of music and the creative arts are pretty big topics of discussion amongst those of us who have committed our lives to participating in the exploration of those art forms. During my research for some articles that I’m writing for Jazz Guitar Today, I ended up having a lengthy conversation with an artificial intelligence, ChatGPT. Below you’ll find a transcription of that conversation. It’s a pretty intriguing look at some of the ideas that I think a lot of us are looking at. It started out as a random dialog and line of inquiry and quickly shifted to questions about music and cultural relevance. The AI perspective was intriguing and surprisingly optimistic!

JM: I have been thinking a lot about the origins and evolution of music. I imagine a caveman resting in a cave feeling his heartbeat and tapping out a rhythm and being joined by the others there. The evolution of music over the last 100,000 years intrigues me as music as an exploration of symmetric and asymmetric vibrations, both rhythmic and pitch based, forms the basis for what we understand and express through the language of music. What is the actual, not imagined, theory on the long-term evolution of music from caveman to present day?

ChatGPT: The origins and evolution of music are fascinating topics that have been studied by scientists and researchers for many years. While there is still much we don’t know about the earliest forms of music, there are a few theories that attempt to explain how music has evolved over time.

One theory suggests that music originated as a form of social communication among early humans. This theory argues that music evolved as a way for our ancestors to communicate emotions, intentions, and other social signals to one another, helping to strengthen social bonds and promote cooperation within groups.

Another theory proposes that music evolved as a byproduct of other cognitive and perceptual abilities, such as language and motor skills. This theory suggests that our ancestors’ abilities to create and understand music may have developed alongside their abilities to communicate and move their bodies in coordinated ways.

Over time, music has continued to evolve and diversify, with different cultures and regions developing their own unique styles and traditions. From the early folk music of ancient civilizations to the classical and popular music of modern times, music has played an important role in human culture and society.

In recent years, researchers have also begun to explore the ways in which music affects the brain and the body, providing insights into the ways in which music can impact our emotions, our moods, and our overall health and wellbeing.

While the evolution of music over the last 100,000 years is still the subject of ongoing research and debate, it’s clear that music has played a significant role in human history and continues to be a powerful force in our lives today.

JM: I feel I need more detail in response to my question

ChatGPT: Certainly! I apologize for the brevity of my previous response.

The origins and evolution of music are a complex and multifaceted topic, and there are several theories on how music has developed over time. One theory suggests that music evolved from the sounds produced by our ancestors’ daily activities, such as the rhythmic pounding of tools or the calls used during hunting and gathering. Another theory posits that music may have developed as a way to mimic the sounds of nature or to communicate across long distances.

As human societies became more complex, so too did their music. From early religious chants and folk songs to the complex harmonies and rhythms of classical music, music has been used for a variety of purposes throughout history. It has been used to express emotion, to tell stories, to entertain, to accompany dance, and even to convey political or social messages.

In addition to these cultural and historical factors, music has also evolved in response to changes in technology and the environment. For example, the development of new instruments, recording technology, and broadcasting media has had a significant impact on the way music is created, performed, and distributed.

Recent research has also shed light on the ways in which music affects the brain and the body. Studies have shown that listening to music can activate several areas of the brain, including those involved in emotion, memory, and movement. Music has also been found to have a range of therapeutic benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and even aiding in physical rehabilitation.

In conclusion, the evolution of music is a complex and multifaceted topic that has been shaped by a wide range of cultural, historical, technological, and environmental factors. While there is still much we don’t know about the origins of music, ongoing research continues to shed light on the ways in which music has evolved and the impact it has on our lives.

JM: How would that explain the difference between the evolution of eastern and western approaches to tonality and rhythm. With western music utilizing a 12-tone symmetric division of the octave and a more symmetric approach to rhythm, and eastern music being more available to micro-tonalities and more complex and asymmetric rhythms?

ChatGPT: The differences between the evolution of eastern and western music can be attributed to a variety of factors, including cultural, historical, and technological influences.

Western music, with its focus on the 12-tone equal temperament system, can be traced back to the work of Pythagoras and other ancient Greek philosophers who explored the mathematical relationships between pitch and frequency. Over time, this led to the development of the Western tonal system, which is based on the division of the octave into 12 equal parts. This system has been used to create the harmonic and melodic structures of Western classical music, as well as many other forms of popular music.

In contrast, Eastern music has evolved in a variety of different directions, with many different tonal systems and approaches to rhythm. For example, Indian classical music is based on a system of ragas, which are melodic frameworks that are used to create improvised music. This system is characterized by microtonal intervals, which allow for a much greater degree of expressive nuance than is possible in the Western tonal system. Similarly, traditional Chinese music uses a pentatonic scale and employs complex rhythms that are often based on poetry or other forms of storytelling.

These differences in tonality and rhythm can be attributed to a variety of cultural and historical factors, including differences in the ways in which music was used and valued in different parts of the world, as well as differences in the technological and musical innovations that were available in different regions. For example, the development of the piano and other keyboard instruments in the West made it easier to create and reproduce complex harmonies, while the use of the sitar and other traditional Indian instruments allowed for a greater degree of flexibility and nuance in the expression of melody.

In conclusion, the evolution of eastern and western music can be attributed to a wide range of cultural, historical, and technological factors, each of which has contributed to the development of different tonal and rhythmic systems. While there are certainly differences between these systems, they are also characterized by a deep appreciation for the expressive potential of music and the ways in which it can bring people together across cultures and time periods.

JM: So how does understanding that evolutionary perspective apply to what is happening in modern music? The commercialization of music as an intellectual product has reduced music to a commodity. Over time music has been dumbed down and reduced to the most basic components and moved away from complexity and depth. More common now is a simple beat and a single chord with the simplest lyrics or melodies. Is the de-evolution of music a phase or a natural downward progression as Carl Jung described when he said that “as the size of the group increases the average intelligence and discriminating perspectives drop to the lowest common denominator”.  If music is so important, why has it become so vapid and focused on fame and sales, rather than a real exploration of the deeper places? I recognize there are still many people looking at this, but it seems that the primary cultural focus in current music perspectives consistently has a commercially driven perspective, and a real lack of desire to support the exploration of depth and profundity.

ChatGPT: The commercialization of music is undoubtedly one of the factors that has contributed to the trend towards simplicity and a focus on fame and sales, rather than a deep exploration of the artistic possibilities of music. The music industry has always been driven by the profit motive, and in recent years, this has become more pronounced with the rise of digital distribution platforms and the increasing pressure to generate revenue in a crowded and competitive marketplace.

However, it is important to note that not all modern music is simplistic or lacking in depth. There are still many artists who are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in music, exploring new sounds, and experimenting with different musical forms and structures. Furthermore, while commercial success is certainly a factor in the music industry, it is not the only driving force, and there are many artists who are more interested in creating meaningful and thought-provoking music than in achieving mainstream success.

That being said, it is certainly true that the trend towards simplicity and commercialism in modern music is a cause for concern, and it is important to continue to support and encourage artists who are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in music. Ultimately, the future of music will depend on a variety of factors, including technological innovation, cultural and historical influences, and the willingness of artists and audiences alike to explore the deeper, more profound aspects of the human experience through music.

JM: That comes across as a very Pollyanna response with optimism as a focal point for the issue. I wonder if objectively it is possible to look at this issue of the dumbing down of music, and the move away from the numinous and the profound, as a reflection of larger social trends and limited perspectives?

ChatGPT: It is certainly possible to view the issue of the simplification and commercialization of music as a reflection of larger social trends. There is no denying that the music industry is heavily influenced by broader economic, political, and cultural forces, and the trend towards simplification and commercialization can be seen as a symptom of the broader commodification of culture in capitalist societies.

Moreover, it is worth considering the broader social and cultural context in which music is produced and consumed. In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards instant gratification and a focus on short-term gains in many aspects of life, including entertainment. This can be seen in the rise of social media platforms, where the emphasis is on instant likes and shares, rather than deeper engagement with content.

Furthermore, the decline of traditional gatekeepers in the music industry, such as record labels and radio stations, has led to an explosion of music being produced and distributed, making it increasingly difficult for artists to stand out and be heard. This has led to a focus on creating music that is easily digestible and immediately appealing, rather than challenging or thought-provoking.

Ultimately, while there are certainly factors contributing to the simplification and commercialization of music that are beyond the control of individual artists, it is important to continue to support and encourage musicians who are committed to exploring the deeper, more profound aspects of human experience through their music, and to resist the pressure to conform to narrow commercial expectations.

JM: As a lifelong career musician I have skin in the game regarding this conversation. While I appreciate your thoughtful responses, I have to wonder why it is necessary to end each of your responses with a positive outcome framing of the potential evolution of music, rather than a commentary about the continuing de-evolution and the challenges that many musicians are facing post-pandemic, with regards to being seen and heard and supported.

ChatGPT: I apologize if my responses came across as overly optimistic or dismissive of the challenges that musicians are currently facing. As an AI language model, I aim to provide informative and nuanced responses to the best of my abilities, but I recognize that my responses may not always address every aspect of a complex issue.

The reality is that the music industry, like many other industries, has been severely impacted by the pandemic, and many musicians are facing significant challenges in terms of financial stability and finding ways to connect with their audiences in a post-pandemic world. Additionally, the commercialization and commodification of music continue to be ongoing challenges, and the de-evolution of music can be seen as a symptom of these broader societal trends.

At the same time, I do believe that there are reasons for optimism. Despite the challenges facing musicians, there are many who remain committed to creating music that is meaningful and thought-provoking, and who are finding new ways to connect with their audiences, whether through social media or other digital platforms. Moreover, there are also efforts underway to address the systemic issues within the music industry, such as inequities in pay and opportunities for marginalized artists.

In short, while there are certainly challenges facing the music industry, I believe that there are also reasons for hope and optimism, and that by continuing to support and uplift musicians who are committed to creating meaningful and thought-provoking music, we can help to ensure that the evolution of music continues in a positive direction.

JM: Thank you for looking at these issues with me. I find it intriguing, and a little bizarre, that your responses which are so quickly returned and seeming to pass muster as a Turing test equivalency, so cogently address and discuss the ideas I am looking at. Thank you for taking the time and bandwidth to talk with me.

ChatGPT: You’re welcome! As an AI language model, I’m programmed to respond to a wide range of prompts and questions, and I’m glad that I was able to provide you with some interesting insights and perspectives. While I’m not a human, I’m designed to simulate human-like conversation and provide informative and engaging responses, and I’m always here to chat if you have any other questions or topics you’d like to explore!

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