The first commercially available electronic music synthesizers were made in the late 1950s and were popularized in mainstream music use by the 1970s. The sound of the 80s essentially is just the synthesizer. Since then, electronically-generated sounds have been used to invent many genres of music as well as invaded those genres previously dominated by analogue instruments. If you turn on the radio you are most likely to be met with the sounds of synthesizers. The reader may be asking what the difference is if the synthesizer accurately reproduces the sound of the instrument. I posit that the way the music is produced has a deep impact on the overall pathology of humans. Admittedly this is very conceptual and not a systematized theory. It is just an idea that I have been playing around with for a year or two. Let’s go ahead and get right into the substance of this thought.
Analogue music played on physical instruments not only requires energy for each individual pluck of the string, strike of the key, etc, but the musician is required to dedicate much time and effort practicing and developing a relationship with their instrument. When the instrument is played, the depth of this relationship is revealed by all that is communicated in the way the musician plays, the tone of the sounds and the deep, fluid involvement of the person’s entire being in what they play. It is an incredibly human action to play an instrument. To have the energy and tact to play the instrument requires the person be awake, sober, preferably fed, and healthy. What I am really trying to communicate is the practical cause and effect required to play an instrument, from sounding individual notes to playing a complex song. This is contrasted with electronically synthesized music, which will produce infinite noise at the press of a button as long as the power plants continue to send electricity down the power lines. Admittedly, a person will need to learn how to work their way around a standard piano layout to become proficient with a synth, but it is obvious that the barrier to entry is drastically reduced, although it should be said that mastering a synth and the entire apparatus around using one is definitely an extremely impressive feat requiring lots of time and development of skill. That being said, you can make an entire complex song just inputting the notes individually despite not knowing how to play a piano. No one even has to play the instrument, what often happens is the note structure is programmed into it via code or the user interface of a computer application.
This important difference in the source of the sounds and the relationship between creation and creator, I argue, has a deep impact on the way a person thinks and their psychological environment. Electronically synthesized music in some indirect way influences people to more readily give themselves over to fancies of infinite pleasure and consumption, because necessarily the spirit of the music reflects the manner in which it is produced, while the analogue musician is more given to the grounded sober truths of life for quite the same reason. The fact that what stimuli we surround ourselves with affects our consciousness, moods, opinions, pathology, etc should be a given, but let’s also recognize that our surroundings do not have to have explicit, direct, black-and-white characteristics to cause a certain effect. I think the reader will find my hypothesis is validated when we look at the real world and the types of people who listen to electronic music and compare them with those that listen to analogue music. I’m sure you can imagine the types who attend EDM festivals, raves, and the like. That is not to suggest that eccentricity or ‘alternativeness’ is indicative of a moral failing, I am simply pointing out the common phenotype of the electronic music listener. You will rarely find these individuals playing instruments. If you look at the type of person who plays an instrument or sings, or the type of person who listens to genres based in analogue music production like classical, bluegrass, jazz, etc, these people are generally quite normal, grounded individuals with a sound mind and respectable appearance. That is not to say that there aren’t respectable-looking or acting people who listen to electronic music, or strung-out individuals who prefer instruments, but that is not the point. The point is the overall effects on pathology in the population, and pointing out the general trend of electronic music scenes as being populated by the oddball is just to demonstrate that.
Synthesizers do not just dominate the scenes of EDM or dubstep, however. They are used overwhelmingly to supply the backing tracks for pop music vocalists, they are essentially the only source of sound in hip hop, and in reality they are the basis of all of the most popular genres of music today. Even music that could just as well be produced by a skilled musician is often substituted by a synthesizer for convenience sake. I would compare the super-normal stimulus of the electronically produced sound to like that of the super-normal stimulus of fast food, or whatever other industrial-slop you’d like to consider. The immediate sensations produced feel very good, fast food tastes good and hip hop or pop sounds good (to most), but they are ultimately not good for you despite the pleasant experience produced. This could just as well be said about the stimulus of a drug and its eventual negative consequences, although I am not sure about the extent to which the addictive quality of certain music can be equated with that of fast food or drugs. Yet, electronic music is listened to by so many people, and not everyone is a freak like the stereotyped EDM festival attendee I suggested earlier. There are degrees of exposure here, the people who are the real oddballs mostly listen to purely ‘instrumental’ electronic music, such as dubstep, that have no words or anything human about them, and they have listened to it for years, hence why people who just went through a dubstep phase did not all turn out as alternative digital-heads.
The idea that certain genres or styles of music attract different archetypes of people should not be a controversial one. Nor should it be contested that exposure to music has deep psychological impacts that manifest in the real world as actions. People have long noted the different types of music played in different stores to influence people to buy products. It is not just the sound meeting the ears which causes the effects on a person that I’ve described, but the way the sounds are produced and what is required of people to produce them necessarily shapes the conventions and structure of the genres utilizing synths. Because electronic music is infinite at little cost, the songs more often contain themes of infinite fanciful pleasure, materialism, strong sensations for the sake of it, ultimately characteristics of the spiritually dead and vacant. Music is a spiritual activity, and the spirit of the person and the ‘instrument’ come together to produce a synthesis. The spread of electronic music to mainstream genres may subtly affect pathology in way as to cause the population to be increasingly unrealistic or naive (lack of practical cause and effect in music) and always hungry for stimulus. Admittedly, this contains some speculation and there are a great deal of other things which also cause people to have these characteristics in the modern world. To extend the discussion this far would include not only the source of the sound of music but also the character of music being produced. For example, a person who listens to mostly reggae will be much more likely to be peaceful, whereas a person who listens to mostly rap will be much more likely to be materialistic and hedonistic. This is partly because these people had these archetypes before the music matured them, but it is also true that people who would have otherwise not been a hedonistic materialist can be influenced into becoming one from exposure to music with constant themes of materialism and hedonsim, such as hip hip/rap. This is not due to the differences in analogue or digital alone, but has to do with the basic substance and spirit of the music as intended mostly in lyrics. It does not have to just be in the lyrics though, as different notes communicate feelings as well as words do. All that being said, the character of the music, lyrics, tone, etc, is deeply dependent on and affected by the requirements of producing sound.
As to what the exact effects will be on society and their intensity in the coming decades we cannot say. We’ve done enough to outline the general affect on the population in attitude and behavior. I reserve judgement on whether this conversation can be extended to the style of emitting sound, via a speaker, straight from the instrument, etc. Considering that all sound captured by the human ear has to be analogue sound waves, and thus all digital sound leaving a speaker are always converted to analogue upon leaving the speaker, I am inclined to believe that this is not a point with a relevant impact on the discussion. I am also not 100% sure that all electronically produced music has negative psychological or spiritual affects, and there are many instances where a song is electronically produced but uses samples of analogue recordings, or that perhaps the music is of good quality and composed in a skillful way as to not produce negative psychological effects despite being synthesized. As was mentioned earlier, this is a work in progress idea.