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For many people, the authenticity of music diminishes when it relies on technological accouterments during the process of composition or performance. This presupposition reflects the assumption that raw sounds are innately superior to "cooked" ones; anything artificial that mediates an act of expression is felt to obliterate the aura of genuine communication. Careful study of the history of American popular music, however, illustrates that critical turning points in the production of popular music often result from the technology available to writers and performers. For example, take the erosion of the cultural supremacy of theatrical performers like Al Jolson and their replacement by the crooner school exemplified by Bing Crosby; the latter's conversational vocal style was in large part permitted by the invention of more sensitive microphones that did not require the kind of projection to which Jolson was prone.
It can therefore be argued that "the technology of sound recording creates what our idea of popular sound is" (Steve Jones, Rock Formation: Music, Technology, and Mass Media [Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1992], 6). Nevertheless, recording equipment users and manufacturers frequently have conflicting interests. The manufacturers of software regard recordings as a means of advertising the hardware on which mass-manufactured products can be played, underscoring the fact that profits from playback systems consistently outstrip those of cultural products. Nonetheless, consumers possess and routinely exercise the power to appropriate both hardware and software to their own ends, thereby playing a decisive role in the overall politics of culture. The history of popular music might therefore be examined as a narrative of the ways in which different groups use recordings and recording technologies for different ends, including but not exhausted by profits, the articulation of community, self-aggrandizement, or polemical protest.
The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) synthesizer constitutes a radical fracture in the edifice of the music industry and the legal foundation of intellectual property on which it depends. First marketed in 1982, MIDI initiates the process known as sampling …