May 16, 2014
I consider my musical tastes to be fairly eclectic. My iTunes library features a broad spectrum of genres ranging from funk to R&B, pop to rock and roll, jazz to classical and a host of others too numerous to mention. While I confess to finding the appeal of some more contemporary artists a little mystifying—One Direction, was the world really waiting in breathless anticipation for another boy band—I try to keep an open mind about things, and if I hear a song I like, I buy it. Due to my affinity for all things melodic, you can imagine my surprise when I recently read an article describing a composer who is making music based on sounds he records inside data centers.
Apparently the desire to turn the ambient sounds of servers, fans and HVAC units into something suitable for your listening pleasure is some type of derivative of the techno music popular with younger folks nowadays. Although portrayed as a relative recent phenomenon, this recording, and repackaging, of “sounds” has origins extending back into the mid-70’s with records like Lou Reed’s infamous Metal Machine Music—an album consisting solely of guitar feedback that inspired one critic to deliver my favorite review of all time, “Boo, Lou”. Based on this evolutionary trend maybe it was inevitable that some budding musician would look to data centers as a muse. Personally, I think most musicians prefer their muses to be human, and preferably female. Eric Clapton, for example, wrote Layla for Patti Harrison, but if a blade server is what does it for you, so be it.
Since the boundaries for inspiration appear to be limitless, composer Matt Parker has been visiting data centers around Europe and records their hums, hisses and god knows what else and then turns those sounds into music. The article said that he is planning to include them in a series called Cities and Memories a project that is representative of physical places, so I guess it’s going to be some kind of a concept album. Like many of you, I’ve been in quite a few data centers in my life and have heard nothing that I would describe as vaguely rhythmic so I was quite anxious to listen to the brief cut of Parker’s yet untitled first composition that was also included in the article.
Now my marketing guy is always telling me that everyone is a critic, so I was determined to judge Mr. Parker’s data center opus purely on its merit. Sounding like something that my wife plays to drown out my snoring, the “song” is four minutes of pulsating white noise punctuated periodically with static to add a little intensity to the mix. I’m not sure if there is a market for the data center dirges, but I don’t think that the Muzak industry has anything to fear at this point in time. Perhaps Mr. Parker is just ahead of his time, early reviews of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue included adjectives like “formless” and “vapid” for instance, and data center concertos will be all the rage in the future, but for now I’d advise him not to quit his day job.
Personally, I applaud creativity in all its forms. Data center music may be stretching the bounds of the term, but it is certainly unique. Maybe, they could put it on those sound machines used by Mrs. Crosby. It will be interesting to see if data center sounds catches on and while it may not make it onto my personal playlist, in a world that views Justin Bieber as an “artist” can any of us argue that there is no accounting for taste?