Music and Technology: A Very Short Introduction

Music and Technology: A Very Short Introduction © Oxford University Press 2022

Book author
  1. Mark Katz
Music and Technology

Mark Katz surveys the age-old interrelationship between music and technology, from prehistoric musical instruments to today's digital playback devices.

This Very Short Introduction takes an expansive and inclusive approach meant to broaden and challenge traditional views of music and technology. In its most common use, “music technology” tends to evoke images of twentieth and twenty-first century electronic devices: synthesizers, recording equipment, music notation software, and the like. This volume, however, treats all tools used to create, store, reproduce, and transmit music--new or old, electronic or not--as technologies worthy of investigation. All musical instruments can be considered technologies. The modern piano, for example, is a marvel of keys, hammers, strings, pedals, dampers, and jacks; just the sound-producing mechanism, or action, on a piano has more than 50 different parts.

In this broad view, technology in music encompasses instruments, whether acoustic, electric or electronic; engraving and printing; sound recording and playback; broadcasting; software; and much more. Mark Katz challenges the view that technology is unnatural, something external to music. It was sometimes said in the early twentieth century that so-called mechanical music (especially player pianos and phonographs) was a menace to “real” music; alternatively, technology can be freighted with utopian hopes and desires, as happens today with music streaming platforms like Spotify. Positive or negative, these views assume that technology is something that acts upon music; by contrast, this volume characterizes technology as an integral part of all musical activity and portrays traditional instruments and electronic machines as equally technological.


This book has been in progress much longer than I expected. My first thanks, then, must go to my wonderful and patient editor at Oxford University Press, Nancy Toff. Over the years that this book has been gestating, many others have provided support, whether by offering feedback, providing research assistance, serving as an accountability partner, sharing their work, inviting me to present lectures on the subject of the book, or simply talking with me about music and technology. These generous and thoughtful people include Tuomas Auvinen, Paul Berliner, Andrea Bohlman, Mark Evan Bonds, John Caldwell, Melissa Camp, Will Cheng, Allison DiBianca, ken tianyuan Ge, Kjetil Falkenberg Hansen, Joanna Helms, Aldwyn Hogg Jr., Eri Kakoki, Jj Kidder, Stella Li, Sarah Lindmark, Michael Levine, Áine Mangaoang, Alex Marsden, John Richardson, Eduardo Sato, Kelli Smith-Biwer, Jason Stanyek, Tim Sterner Miller, Matthew Thibeault, David VanderHamm, and the two sets of anonymous readers who wrote helpful reports on the manuscript (ten years apart!). Dozens of students in a variety of classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have also read parts of this book. Moreover, several graduate students (all named above) introduced me to some of the technologies and topics I discuss in this book. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is to have had so many smart students respond to my ideas and my writing; they have helped me make this a clearer, more interesting book, and I am deeply grateful. Above all, I owe my thanks to my wife, Beth Jakub, and my daughter, Anna Katz, who support me in every possible way and make everything better. This book is for them.
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