How Will We Make Music in 200 Years?

A group of innovators were asked to imagine what music will be like in 2214. If they’re right, it could be pretty bizarre

Zen Sonic Satellite
Artist Yoshi Sodeoka envisions musical instruments carried in satellites orbiting the Earth that would be able to “neutralize nations at war." Kim Laughton

Music has gone through some serious changes in the past 200 years. Consider that back in 1814, Beethoven was cutting edge, and the year’s most famous song was not about love, but war, a tune titled "The Star-Spangled Banner." Yet as much as music has morphed since then, its transformation will seem trifling compared to what will likely happen to it over the next 200 years. The pace of technology guarantees it.

Sponsored by the popular energy drink, the Red Bull Music Academy is a month-long festival of concerts and workshops featuring innovators in music. The event has had a 16-year run and moves to a different city each time. As part of the 2014 event in Tokyo earlier this month, some of the more creative minds in music, art and technology were asked to share their takes on how we'll make music in 2214.  

The artists responded with a wide range of visions, some of them seeing music 200 years hence as an intensely personal, even physiological experience, although another one suggested that only machines will be around to hear it.    

Here’s a sampling. The images are by graphic designer Kim Laughton, who offered his own prediction. 

Clone 101 Reality Player: Musician Jeff Mills

In Jeff Mills’ imagination, people in 2214 will experience music through a full-body “liquid suit” they apply like sun tan lotion. This coating, called the Clone 101 Reality Player, would contain thousands of microscopic sensors that enable the wearer to actually feel the vibrations of the music. 

But that’s not all. Mills suggests that Clone 101 would allow people to experience the creation of the music through the mind, sight and “psychological feelings” of the person who created it. In short, you would be there at the creation. Explains Mills in an artist statement: “Understanding how anything is created has enormous benefits to any art form. The thought process and the mindset of the creator leading up until and after the music was made could be a valuable tool in which to understand the true purpose and direction of the work.”

Gan: Writer Adam Harper

According to Adam Harper, author of the book Infinite Music about the future of music, there will a game-like quality to experiencing music in the 23rd century. He has come up with Gan, which he describes as a “cross between a synthesizer, a record collection and a game of golf.” A person carrying “smart paper” visits a Gan field—a three-dimensional park with “grassy hills, sculptures and unusual architecture.” The paper serves as both a map and a sound membrane that plays different loops of music depending on where you are in the field. As you move through it, you create your own compositions.

Some music loops in a field would remain constant, but others, which Harper refers to as “the weather” would change from day to day. “What’s more,” says Harper, “you can find and use pre-existing loops and recordings, interact with the other Gan players you meet as you roam, listening to and drawing on their loops, and employ props and vehicles for various compositional purposes.  Gan is a musical instrument you walk around inside.”

The Body Modulator: Web developer Mike Guppy

Mike Guppy thinks that musical instruments as we know them will be long gone by 2214. Instead people will be using devices, such as the "body modulator." Music would be created by passing this gizmo over different parts of a person’s moving body. Those movements would trigger “different spectrums of music,” and that music would enter a “collaborative music cloud," he said. There it would mix in with sounds from other people to create a continuously changing musical stream.

Guppy foresees a completely collaborative world. “People won’t just consume music, but participate. As everything is hyperconnected, nothing is passive,” he noted. “Everything would contain feedback loops. We’ll be less likely to share whole songs written by one person, but hooks and melodies and beats would go viral and be interpreted en masse, and the piece of music would be an emergent property of these patterns.” 

Zen Sonic Satellite 3000: Artist Yoshi Sodeoka

Yoshi Sodeoka thinks the music of the future will save the world. He envisions musical instruments carried in satellites orbiting the Earth that would be able to “neutralize nations at war, quell rising crime rates in urban and suburban areas and reverse environmental damage caused by decades of wrongdoing by flawed human beings.”

As Sodeoka sees it, the satellites would play melodies that could be heard by everyone on Earth in real time. Well, not so much heard—they’d be barely audible—but through “advanced radio microwave technology, they will directly communicate to the spirit of all living things.”  

The Spine: Musician Seth Woods

Seth Woods is a cellist with a vivid imagination. He sees a marriage of music and movement through a wireless, digital exoskeleton called the "Spine." Reinforced with titanium, yet extremely flexible, the Spine would sense and map the movement of a performer and convert the data into music. 

“As well,” says Woods, “there is the possibility to map and measure blood flow, bone density and muscle tension of the performer and use it as part of the data set for sonic translation. It’s sort of a complete bio-kinetic instrument that allows the performer to be in control of the expressive and artistic output in ways one could never dream of. You can finally play what you feel and hear it.”

Human Instruments: Artist Akihiko Taniguchi

Akihiko Taniguchi is confident that by 2214, human body modifications will be pretty commonplace. She believes by then people will be embedding small electromagnets under their skin that will enable them to feel music in a visceral way.

But why stop there? She says a person would also be able to use them like an electric guitar pickup to amplify sounds made on or near their body. “Fingers will become mono plugs,” she adds, “and sounds will occur when you insert a finger into a mixer or amplifier.”  

The Shout Box: Rapper Tyler, The Creator

Rapper Tyler Gregory Okonma, better known as Tyler, The Creator, introduces something he calls the Shout Box. An artist screams into the small cube. That’s right, screams. And the Shout Box will take that scream and convert it into one of thousands of different sounds. 

“No more drums, synthesizers, strings or bass lines,” Tyler explains. “The cube will have the option to change your screaming into one of those instruments, similar to a MIDI keyboard, but overall screams are going to be clogging the radio.”

Post Singularity: Graphic Artist Kim Laughton

Let’s cut to the chase: Kim Laughton offers a pretty bleak take on the future of music. Actually, not just of music, but all of humanity. He assumes that no humans will be left on Earth by 2214; instead the only thing that might pass for music is the buzz of supercomputers that will cover the planet’s surface.