One of the more interesting things I did in the past year was to follow an online course on a subject called Big History. It takes the 200 years of modern human society and puts them in the perspective of several different timelines – among others the 200.000 years of the human species, the 3.5 billion years of life on earth, the 4.5 billion years of planet Earth and the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang. It explores the dynamics of this evolution and pulls on research in many different scientific branches like nuclear physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology and genetics to tell a coherent story of the universe and human existence in it. Pretty mind boggling stuff. It is humbling to see how microscopic the history of human civilisation is in this perspective, yet surprising to discover how immensely complex it is compared to anything else going on in the universe as we know it.
While there are several ways to access the field of Big History, I found the most fascinating to be the long version: 48 half hour lectures on The Great Courses. However, as an introduction, the 17 minute version below is pretty efficient. It a TED talk by David Christian, one of the pioneers of looking at history in this extreme perspective.
I’ve been privileged to be associated with Clavia, the makers of the various, red Nord Keyboards, since 2006. But I’ve been using their gear since long before that, and would be today even if I weren’t associated with them. Many things are more complicated in the music business today compared to the heyday of the CD and Vinyl ages, when people actually bought music and the industry generated enormous amounts of money. Not so much anymore. Alternatives ways of generating income for artists and the business are emerging, but as the latest debate about Spotify and other streaming sites demonstrates, we’re still far off target.
However, one of the real privileges of being an active musician today is that we have accessible, light-weight, reliable, amazing sounding gear. Being a keyboard player up until very recently was probably the worst seat on the bandstand. Heavy, unreliable, expensive, complicated gear, with Kafkaesque user interfaces. I asked my friend, the extraordinary keyboardist Brad Cole, who’s been in the business since the 70’s, about working with gear in the 70’s and 80’s:
“Ah, cassette backups. How could I ever forget those palpitations I used to get backing up the Prophet 5 and hoping that the data would be usable when I needed it. Other warm and fuzzy memories: Sequencers that did not have random access (if you made a mistake, you had to start over), FSK sync tones (before there was SMPTE sync for the prosumer), Akai’s first sampler (had an astounding 512kb memory), Eprom burners for drum machines…”
And that’s not counting the weight of the Hammond, the Rhodes, the Leslie, the CP-70 etc. When you think about what you can do today with a Nord Stage 2, that weighs just 16 kg, it’s pretty difficult to be nostalgic about the good old days. This trend is true for many other instrument groups, but I think keyboard players are particularly blessed. And in my mind Clavia is really the company that stands out, and leads the way. It’s an honour to be associated with the best, and starting today I even have a small space on their website: click here.