Skip

Robot of Canned Music
February 19, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

After the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, all bets were off for live musicians who played in movie theaters. Thanks to synchronized sound, the use of live musicians was unnecessary — and perhaps a larger sin, old-fashioned. In 1930 the American Federation of Musicians formed a new organization called the Music Defense League and launched a scathing ad campaign to fight the advance of this terrible menace known as recorded sound.

The evil face of that campaign was the dastardly, maniacal robot.

posted by troll (43 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the internet age, we can learn so, SO much from this history.
posted by Melismata at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


And its name was ... Metallica!
posted by Curious Artificer at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wait, really?
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:44 PM on February 19, 2012


Well, no. But wouldn't it have been great if it was?
posted by Curious Artificer at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


And its name was ... auto tune!
posted by curious nu at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2012


Iron Maiden is a far better name for an evil robot.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:54 PM on February 19, 2012


A lot of these (especially this one, in which the robot plucks the strings on a $-shaped harp) could be repurposed for the battle against RIAA and such.
posted by Nomyte at 1:54 PM on February 19, 2012


Seriously, is this real? I honestly can't tell.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:58 PM on February 19, 2012


Great find, thanks.

Automation has been looming large in the public discourse for years and these ads come off as both absurd and poignant. 80 years later, what should we actually think of this issue? I have no idea but here's my attempt to figure out whether "canned music in theaters":

Pros:
-lots more people can hear music in movies (movies become cheaper)
-performance quality may be higher (if they get the best musicians to do the initial recording)

Cons:
-musicians out of work
-quality of the reproduced sound was probably much lower initially
-some other problems associated with greater media standardization (e.g. people missing out on the live performance "culture"; less participatory media)

The interesting thing is that while they lost the battle for movie theaters, they held their ground for other live performances. A thorough objective evaluation doesn't make sense without thinking about leisure trends and disposable income.
posted by ropeladder at 2:04 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great, now I care even less about music, but I sure do want one of those robots!
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:07 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a bookstore employee, I'm off to beat up PWK's.*

*People with Kindles
posted by jonmc at 2:08 PM on February 19, 2012


Seriously, is this real? I honestly can't tell.

Is it the real life?
Or is it just fantasy?
Reading the Blues'
No escape to reality
Open your eyes,
Look at the screen and see,
I'm just a con'd boy, I get no sympathy.
Because it could be true, could be fake,
Might get you to spit take
Ordinary pictures - they might be real or fake....

(Less than 30 second sample AND parody - take THAT RIAA.)
posted by rough ashlar at 2:11 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eighty-two years later: Skrillex. Even worse than they feared.
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:12 PM on February 19, 2012


Agapé, Agape
posted by chavenet at 2:12 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dang that Robot Devil...
posted by pupdog at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2012


How do they know the robot cannot love?
posted by Toby Dammit X at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Automation has been looming large in the public discourse for years and these ads come off as both absurd and poignant. 80 years later, what should we actually think of this issue? I have no idea

Neither do others.

Robots will steal your job, but that’s OK: how to survive the economic collapse and be happy. You are about to become obsolete. You think that you are special, unique, and that whatever it is that you are doing is impossible to replace. You are wrong.

Almost enough meat on them bones for its own FPP.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


How dramatic! Of course most movie theatres across the US then didn't have suave chaps in tuxes playing cellos, but little old lady piano teachers, or teenaged girls, playing out-of-tune upright pianos. And they hadda buy their own sheet music.

Before the 30s, records and then radio were putting the poor musicians out of work. Half a century later, electronic music was portrayed as robotic (vocoders didn't help!). Now Japan is building robots that make what might be generously be called music.
posted by Twang at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2012


Wow. Fifty years later, the radio DJ's in my city were about to be replaced by canned presentations, and they regularly railed against "robot radio".
posted by telstar at 2:23 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a terrific post!
posted by JHarris at 2:34 PM on February 19, 2012


What will the millions of middle-age, unskilled workers do when they are displaced by technology?

Reminds me of Heron and the steam engine. And (later) Emperor Vespasian looking at more efficient methods of construction work: "Sine me pascere plebeculam meam”
Let me feed the (my) poor.

Of course, the problem is economic only as it relates to power. "My" poor.

I'm a big Bjork fan and
what
I am.
And I like where she was sort of going with her new album. The whole educating people about music, interaction, all that.

The barriers are between the regard and the regarded. "My" poor.
What happens when you can produce your own music?

Sounds silly, but all humans are geniuses, artists, etc. We're just taught otherwise. And that learning is thrust upon us.
Once technology frees us from the discipline required for something, then we can have self-discipline and do - whatever.
Ask an Welsh Longbowman - what if everyone can kill someone at hundreds of yards?
Same thing with smart bullet technology. Sniper? Pfft. Anyone can hit someone at three miles, what's the big deal?

So - if you can create your own music, the acts become about sharing don't they? They stop being monetized (and prone to parasitism, of whatever form, capitalism, communism, blah-ism).

But I think that'll lead to voluntary regard rather than navel gazing (self-regard). There's a sort of mystique live music has (IMHO) that I don't think it will ever lose.
Star Trek, I guess.
And "Back to the Future III"
'If everybody's got one of these auto-whatsits, does anybody walk or run anymore?'
Doc Brown: Of course we run. But for recreation. For fun.
'Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?'
posted by Smedleyman at 2:45 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Awesome find. I love live music for silent films and for all that I like "talkies" and soundtracks, I'm glad I have the option to see films with live scores on a semi-regular basis where I live.
posted by immlass at 3:22 PM on February 19, 2012


Recorded music was seen as a threat to musicians' unions for decades after that. The reason the BBC gave its experimental electronic music studio the decidedly unmusical name of the Radiophonic Workshop, perpetuating the fiction that its function only peripherally touched on the kingdom of music, was to avoid a confrontation with the unions of the musicians who worked on other BBC broadcasts.

It's a bit like Apple's original audio APIs being about playing back tones at frequencies specified in Hertz, rather than notes on scales, because of a trademark settlement with the Beatles' record label.
posted by acb at 3:38 PM on February 19, 2012


The music industry is killing the music industry.
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:46 PM on February 19, 2012


What the A.F.M. (musicians' union) should do now is run an almost identical (But updated) campaign for all the casinos in Atlantic City and elsewhere. They have these digital boxes -placed under the keyboards of real pianos-- that continuously play the same 2-3 hours repeatedly. Of course, many of the Country Clubs followed suit, and a lot of us professional pianists lost longstanding, lucrative and steady work from all that. The only fights the AFM seem to engage in is for Broadway players. They have no balls anymore and it just totally sucks. The art of cocktail-jazz piano in such venues is just about gone forever.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 3:47 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Robots sort of did take all the jobs, except they're not robots and they all have Chinese names.
posted by tommasz at 4:04 PM on February 19, 2012


Etymologically, is this the earliest use of "canned" to mean "pre-recorded"? One of the pictures even has music going into a literal tin can.
posted by themanwho at 4:58 PM on February 19, 2012


I've seen a few movies with live music. It's pretty awesome. I wish I could see more.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:09 PM on February 19, 2012


I love this post. Musicians always struggle with technology, it seems.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:09 PM on February 19, 2012


I've seen a few movies with live music. It's pretty awesome. I wish I could see more.

OTOH, movies with live music being a special event undoubtedly pushes the standards up beyond the pre-talkies level of an amateur playing the piano.
posted by acb at 5:11 PM on February 19, 2012


Seriously, is this real? I honestly can't tell.

The smithsonian doesn't do parody.

And I think the same thing every time I see an RIAA or MPAA ad.
posted by empath at 5:21 PM on February 19, 2012


an amateur playing the piano

What would the difference between an amateur and a professional be? Having a job?
posted by Wolof at 6:01 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This here is what metafilter is for.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:35 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, $500,000? Did they mean to say the equivalent of that?
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 7:53 PM on February 19, 2012



What would the difference between an amateur and a professional be? Having a job?

A professional (at least in the context in which we are speaking) would be one who has spent years, perhaps decades, studying music and theory and is versatile in various styles, can play in many keys and tempos, and dedicates himself to making a living by doing it.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 8:36 PM on February 19, 2012


Etymologically, is this the earliest use of "canned" to mean "pre-recorded"? One of the pictures even has music going into a literal tin can.

I would think that it meant "made ahead of time and preserved" ever since the canning of food was invented (which I think was during the U.S. Civil War?)
posted by XMLicious at 9:22 PM on February 19, 2012


and dedicates himself to making a living

Ahem.
posted by Wolof at 10:31 PM on February 19, 2012


What would the difference between an amateur and a professional be? Having a job?

In this context, obviously, skill. Like the difference between me playing chess (I'm pretty good, have played for fun since I was a kid--even took some lessons!) and Kasparov playing chess.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:13 PM on February 19, 2012


and dedicates himself to making a living

Ahem.


I bet you're fun at parties.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:17 PM on February 19, 2012


Let's back up. I reject the assumption that the standard pre-talkies musical accompaniment was that of an "amateur playing the piano". These films came with cue sheets, suggestions for appropriate dramatic musical interludes, (mostly presuming a familiarity with the classics), und so weiter. It was vastly more structured and less spontaneous (although still requiring improvisational skills of a high level) than the film clichés of the drunken pianist or the theatre organ megalomaniac. The accompanist was likely paid. This is the usual definition of "professional". Somebody who gets paid to do a job.

Whatever the skill level of the pianist, once these jobs dried up with the advent of recorded sound, it is no longer possible to be a professional in this specific context.
posted by Wolof at 11:38 PM on February 19, 2012


Obligatory.
posted by Prince Lazy I at 12:48 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I find interesting about this ads is that the word "robot" itself was of extremely modern coinage at the time.
posted by Skeptic at 5:24 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


wouldn't print be mechanical writing by this logic?
posted by Dogmania2009 at 2:06 PM on February 20, 2012


« Older The Cornell Ratio   |   A New Twist in the Sad Saga of Little Albert Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post