If we want real change, we may have to push some of our own buttons.

Whatever part of the political spectrum, whatever part of the world community, as you come to the CDM community I do believe that we as creators are touched by larger issues. I think it doesn’t make sense to talk politics directly on this site when it’s not relevant, and I’m sure we’d all disagree about those issues. But as the world waits to find out what kind of leader the US President Obama will be, now is as good a time as any to talk about the larger responsibilities we all have. I’ve had conversations this year about politics with people far from the US – and I think now is the ideal time to make the changes we want ourselves. Politics are powerful and personal, but they’re also not everything. We have opportunities to lead the kind of world we want on our own, regardless of political affiliation or the country we call home.

As the US’ incoming President referred to the importance of “makers of things,” that seems especially appropriate. The world economy now seems strangely unhinged from actual production, meaning there’s nothing better than the DIY spirit as an antidote, to get us back to making things. And music (and motion) at its most ephemeral I think is real “making.”

In darker moments, I think it’s easy to see making music with technology as being extravagant. But there is a lot we can do as digital musicians that really does contribute to our world in material ways.

And yes, there’s more than just the latest music tech toys – though I think you’ll see, those have their place, too.

Learn to make stuff, and share what we’re learning. I shoot off my mouth about everything on this site for one reason – I enjoy learning from readers, whether you’re inspired or arguing, sharing or correcting. I think we have many opportunities to continue to develop the skills we want as musicians and technologists, and to share some of what we’re learning with each other.

Contribute shared tools and work. There really is something to be said for a “commons,” a shared set of tools and visual and audio work that other people can build upon. I believe open source and Creative Commons licenses can be tools themselves to make better stuff, whether for code, hardware plans, or media. I also think these can be compatible with traditional approaches toward intellectual property ownership – you can use the right tool for the right job. I hope we can build a more effective “commons” for music and visual technology that helps artists and technologists be more expressive and support the things they want to do. The monome has been one of the biggest projects this site has covered, and there’s a reason for that – and it’s also the tip of the iceberg.

Build creative businesses. Commons are great, but business is important, too. It’s important for us as people who write about media and technology to keep a critical eye, but at the same time, I really appreciate the fact that I meet people whose livelihood is supported – in whole or in part – by software and hardware companies and composing gigs and VJ gigs. Around the globe, the readers of this site face all sorts of economic challenges. I know we also regularly have to defend the value of music and visual tech to governments – and sometimes to family members. But I do think there are plenty of reasons to believe all these businesses have a future. Just supporting yourself or supporting one employee can make a big difference in your world, and I think all we can do to run smarter businesses that support what we want to do is valuable.

Use technology to raise literacy in science and thing-making. If you’re reading this, you’re likely part of a fortunate bunch. You get to use some of the world’s newest technologies and push them to their limits – even if it’s a computer or game system. These same tools can be powerful means of teaching people about electronics, how to design and make stuff, how to write code, and how to understand basic concepts in mathematics, geometry, and physics. If you’re like me, you probably wish you’d learned more of that stuff in school yourself. Because we’re fortunate enough to get to use this technology, and because the fundamental technologies can reach everyone in the world – including the people around the corner from you – we have a chance to share those gifts with more people by teaching them what we know.

One little tool that has helped was a nearly-free, business-card-sized oscillator circuit from PAIA that I know even kids can use – no soldering iron required. (Full details) I hope we can do more things like this.

Be compassionate. Artists are often criticized for being politically active. But I believe it’s no accident that artists and musicians (and programmers, very often) are aware of their world and more likely to be tolerant of difference. We have an extra gift, in that we can express those feelings in the stuff we make. Sometimes, that takes on a very political meaning – Georgia Tech’s Gil Weinberg used robotic-enhanced percussion as a way of setting up musical collaborations between Jewish and Arab percussionists. But I think any time we’re sharing work with friends, that matters, too.

Now, I’m not writing this to preach. I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues lately. This is stuff all of us can do. Often times, the first step is just to do what you were doing anyway, but better – and better documenting your work to make it easier to share.

And this for me is also a template for some of what I want to do in 2009 on CDM. Inaugurations aside, NAMM always seems like New Year’s Day in this business. So consider it a New Year’s Resolution to you. And if you have ideas for how we can better support you, let us know.

  • Thanks for this Peter. Having spent so much time working and talking with you over the years, I know how passionate you are about the politics and societies which shape our worlds and the art we put in to them. I'm sure everyone agrees that it's important to keep our CDM ecosystem reasonably apolitical, but it's great to see your personal feelings leak out occasionally.

    This does indeed feel like the start of 2009 for the CDMs, and I'm looking forward to making things with you, and sharing them with everyone.

  • Michael Una

    Beep-it button FTW!

    Obama was talking about Handmade Music Night!

  • Ha! Yes, with enough mental effort, you can make speeches mean *anything*. 😉

  • bliss

    Amen, Peter. 😉

  • stk

    I would extend your thoughts to "make anything".
    I have a (very personal) philosophy regarding voids and (intentionally lowercase) art – but to cut a long story short, if everyone spent a significant portion of their time creating and sharing what they love, the world would be a much better place.


  • chris

    great thoughts. we'd all do well to bookmark this and read it again every few months. Preach it.

  • jonnyfive

    This is a really nice post, thanks Peter, (and stk for that nugget too)

    I am excited to see this meme of enthusiasm/empowerment/action/change taking root throughout various (virtual and and non-virtual) communities of which I consider myself a member as well as many of my friends IRL. It's pretty rpofound the effect this whole Obama thing has had, as a lot of inspiration seems to stem from his message/material.

    I am especially intrigued by the call to Build Creative Businesses as I am currently very aware of the drain my current employment takes on my creative energy/output. I would love to hear more of these individuals stories and the nuts and bolts of how they are cobbling together a living doing (mostly) things they love. So anymore exposure you want to give to that is welcomed by me and I'm sure others

    At any rate very nice post and thank you.

    Heres to 2009. It's our year!

  • if everyone spent a significant portion of their time creating and sharing what they love, the world would be a much better place.

    To adopt another part of the same speech: "people will judge you on what you build, not on what you destroy."

  • DooKoo

    <blockquote cite="…Build Creative Businesses … I would love to hear more of these individuals stories and the nuts and bolts of how they are cobbling together a living doing (mostly) things they love.">

    OK, as an exercise, I tried to come up with a list of US companies where they are making actual physical objects like sound synthesizers and controllers and are clearly in it because they love what they do. I'm sure you guys can add to this list. (Because of the Obama connection, I limited the list to US companies making physical objects (if we included software and made it international, the list would be too long to fit here–and that's a good thing! Even better!) I don't know about you, but seeing this long list at a time when everyone is telling us to crouch under a table and wait for the next great economic depression is actually pretty inspiring to me. Thanks guys for continuing to create and make the things that we love!

    Starr Labs
    Haken Audio
    Serge, Buchla & other modular synth designers
    Symbolic Sound
    Open Labs
    Moog Music

    Please add to and expand upon!

  • lilith



  • Eoin Rossney

    I always enjoy your comment pieces Peter, but this has to be one of my favourites. The part about using technology to raise literacy particularly struck a chord as this is one of the main reasons I'm interested in learning Processing: building focus tools to do a particular job or demonstrate a concept.

    Personally I'm convinced the only way I have a hope of understanding mathematics/statistics in a way that sticks is through interactive visual and audio examples (along with exercises and practise). I do think if students deserve to learn they deserve to learn in the way that best suits them – not the common denominator. With tech, if one method isn't working you can rapid-fire through different ways until you find one that works. And that works better if the tech is custom made – a computer can be the blackboard, the pen and paper, the workbench or the lab… I hope to leverage that as much as possible in the future.

    Thanks for making me think about this!

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  • Preach on brother. 'Makers of things' = acknowledgment. wow. in an inauguration speech. Go makers!!!!!!!