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Courtesy B&O Play
Sofi Tukker perform at the grayDUCK Gallery in Austin, TexasCourtesy B&O Play

Back to the future for music?

Artists today are shaping the future sound of music through constant advances in technology

This article is part on an ongoing partnership between Dazed and B&O Play.

Trying to categorise the music of Tukker Halpern and Sophie Hawley-Weld, collectively known as Sofi Tukker, is near impossible. Words like “multi-genre”, “tech-based” and “world music” are all thrown up, but none quite capture the essence of this musical duo hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Their music is a blend of different cultures and languages, sometimes the lyrics are sung in Portuguese, sometimes in English or in a mix of the two, backed by a diverse range of instruments including bongos and cowbells.

Sofi Tukker is part of a wave of musicians all over the world who are taking music traditionally associated with other cultures, often made using traditional hand-played musical instruments by hand, and weaving that music into their own. For Sofi Tukker, technology is key to creating their eclectic sound and they are clearly a product of the technology age. Technology is imperative not only in discovering new music but also in the production process itself. It means they can mix it with “stuff that’s been around way before electronics like the charango, or tribal bongos or old instruments” says Halpern. Without technology “we would need a full band” he continues. Citing influences from the Buena Vista Social Club through to The Gypsy kings, Blink 182 and Nile Rodgers alongside modern sounds from other boundary-pushing artists like Stromae, the two have picked up musical inspiration from everywhere. Technology means that they can take those influences and delve more deeply into them to create their own unique sound.

Retrofuture in music isn’t a new concept. “The world is becoming more global and our music is reflecting that”, says Hawley-Weld and Sofi-Tukker is certainly a vision today of how music could develop in the future. The duo shows how far technology can lift and enhance musical production and this growing eclecticism in music through technology is undoubtedly a challenge that the technology of production has risen to. Music should be a beautiful thing all the way through from its inception to its reception and having the necessary technology to hear music at its full potential is just as important as the production. After all, music is made to be listened to.

While the idea of music being made electronically is one people are familiar with, what we aren’t so used to is the idea that music is a total experience. On Thursday Sofi Tukker performed at the grayDUCK Gallery in Austin, Texas, as part of the SXSW festival. Hosted by B&O PLAY, a brand that champions progressive musical talent, the interactive, multi-sensory experience gave attendees an insight into the importance of both sound production and experience. The event is aptly named “RETRoFUTURE”. Running as part of a series continuing throughout spring and summer in both New York and Los Angeles, the event will examine what the future of sound might be through visual art stories of B&O’s 90-year heritage.

B&O PLAY has produced a journal of podcasts to help better understand the research and conceptualisation that goes into all aspects of making music. The podcasts explore different aspects of sound including how our brains cognate noise, the effects of music on our brains, how acoustics work and the incorporation of recordings of wildlife and soundscapes into music. These podcasts look into the research and understanding of the very mechanisms for enjoying music that tech companies like B&O have put into their products to ensure the ultimate listening experience. B&O have always been at the forefront of musical innovation, but back when vinyl was the way that most people listened to music, B&O products were out of reach for most. Now they are far more accessible, and so is better listening experience. In the world of music today, there is no place for companies purely concerned with nuts and bolts. Instead, a deep foundational understanding and passion for music and sound are necessary for technology to be ready for the future.