Figure and Ground

One of the interesting things I managed to grasp in school that seemingly had nothing to do with music and the industry was the concept of ‘figure’ and ‘ground.’  Please check the wiki article I just linked…I may not do it justice but here’s what I got from the idea.

The best way to describe it is that figure is that thing you’re focusing on…let’s say ‘Television’ or…even ‘Electricity.’  Ground is everything around it…the context in which the figure sits.  It seems simple enough…Electricity…it comes from various places, it powers our electronics and appliances, it passes through wires.  Easy!

But the ground, or context, is sometimes very hard to see in its entirety.  The best way to do so is to take away the figure…and see what is effected.

Take the 2003 blackout.  The ‘Electricity’ was gone!  The ‘figure’ eliminated, so now we can see the context…what is different, what is effected.  Obviously our TVs didn’t work, the lights were off, but something else interesting happened.  Kids were playing in the streets.  People gathered together at bars under candlelight.  ‘Society’ in the context of electricity is altered.

I bring this up because I’ve noticed (kind of a broken record, but it came to mind) how much of society, culture, technology, and ‘everything’ was changed by Steve Jobs.  Because…you see, the figure was gone.  And when you take him away from the corporation (it’s easy to get pissed off at ‘Mac’ if you’re an Android user, or a Windows user, because you’re pissed off at the business) you can step back and see that ‘everything’ was changed by one man.

But that’s not where I wanted to go with this blog.

As a thought experiment, one of the best ways to figure out the ‘context’ of music, or the ‘context’ of the music industry is to take bits and pieces of it away.

One thing Eric McLuhan asked us to do was imagine that ‘recorded music’ was taken away.  If we can’t record music or voice, how does the world change?  For one thing, live music would be ever present, broadcast would be done live.  I pictured a live band in every mall, being piped through all the stores.  I imagined a LOT more written word to transfer news and information since there was no other way to ‘put things down.’

Take away ‘money’ from the lives of musicians.  Imagine money didn’t exist in society.  How does that change things?

Or technology?  Like autotune.

What kind of music industry would we have if we looked at the context?  Anything come to mind?


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