One of the most clichéd pieces of advice given to someone who is starting a new business is “don’t reinvent the wheel”. This is so obviously true that it is not a very useful suggestion. While I don’t know much about wheels, I have worked with the tire industry for a long time, as a supplier and advisor to research and quality control labs. Tires are products that in the 21rst century we tend to not think of much. The reason we don’t think of them much however, is that even in recent years the tire has been reinvented. Billions of dollars are spent every year for research in order to make tires more efficient, cheaper, higher quality and more environmentally friendly. Much of this research has been successful, or at least in the process of succeeding, as most of us drive long distances without ever worrying about flat tires. At the same time, while better, there are still issues with tires, especially with the environmental impact of them. So research continues, and without most of us knowing, the tire will be reinvented.
Last night we went with friends to a Baroque concert which was a part of the Saintes festival near Cognac in France. The friends who invited us I respect very much for their taste in music, so despite the fact that it was very old music, in a very old Romanesque abbey, I looked forward to it. This old Church was completely packed, people having bought tickets over a year in advance. All of this was in a small town, to see and hear a lute player, and conter tenor perform songs of the 16th century. As soon as the concert started I forgot that what I was listening to was such an old creation. By the time the performance was over my immediate thought was “this was beautiful”. Why do we keep re-inventing the wheel by trying to create new music?” I don’t believe this of course, but I am know there are certainly many people who would still say the Bach achieved a perfection that has not been rivaled to this day.
I have spent much of my life in music in the same way I have with tire labs. I sometimes participate in a small way to improve things, and in most cases I happily and curiously observe others doing it. Music of course is subjective and creative in a way that industry is not. It will always be disputable whether John Cage is as important of a figure as Schoenberg, or Beethoven as Mozart. Still, when I listened to the Baroque performance I realized that the change is much more subtle, especially consider the hundreds of years that separate the music I was hearing from the music we now create, that I do think reinvention happens not as a grand revolution, but quietly in the labs of composers.