Do you ever have days where you stop and think "Holy cow, we are living in some kind of futuristic utopia?" Because I often do. :-)
If you own a modern tablet computer and have Internet access, there is an almost unlimited amount of amazing free things at your finger tips, just waiting for you to explore. Things people a generation ago would have hardly imagined would be available, let alone free for anyone to use.
Here's a few I can think of off the top of my head:
#1. Real-time video chat with anyone around the globe, for FREE. #2. Virtual robot butlers who answer random questions and tasks for you (e.g., Siri). #3. FREE global position service that tells you where everything on the entire planet is and how to get there. #4. A near infinite amount of random videos to watch on every possible topic (aka, YouTube) - for FREE. #5. Magical custom radio stations that play only the music you like (including obscure stuff) and let you skip songs you hate! For FREE! #6. The entire collection of every public domain book ever written that still exists, at your finger tips to read whenever you want, for FREE. #7. A whole mini-studio of music production equipment, including synthesizers, drum machines, effects units, sequencers, virtual guitars, and more - for FREE. (e.g., GarageBand, TapleTop, etc.) #8. More free video games than you could attempt to play in your entire life, even if you devoted every waking second to playing them. #9. Countless free educational programs for little children, many of which are actually quite good and really teach them things. #10. Amazing Bible study tools in which you can do all kinds of interesting and complex searches that would have required much more painstaking time in the past. #11. FREE mathematical tools that can tell you things like how many sandwiches does it take to reach the moon, or how long it would take a Geo Metro to drive around the sun, all by simply asking it (aka, WolframAlpha). #12. Amazing astronomical programs that let you see the sky as it is in exacting detail for any day or time on any place on the planet. Pointing it at the sky tells you exactly what you are looking at. Oh, and FREE. #13. Free spreadsheets and word documents you can share between friends to collaborate together. #14. Magically know which restaurants in an area are good to eat at (e.g., Yelp). #15. Take unlimited number of photos, which you can instantly have "processed" without waiting or paying expensive fees, and then instantly share with all your relatives without having to buy stamps or anything at all. #16. Make home videos which you can edit, produce and publish to every one you know. #17. Read the latest news from around the world, for FREE - and see only the articles you're actually interested in. #18. Listen to radio stations from any place on the planet for FREE (e.g., TuneIn radio).
I'm almost certainly forgetting a number of other amazing free things you can do on today's devices. I know life is hardly perfect today, but when you think about all the things we can do for free (or relatively little money) today with our new technology, it is kind of mind blowing. People would have payed a small fortune in the past to do any one of these things, if it were even possible. Now we have it all at our finger tips, and many people don't even realize everything they are missing! :-)
While electronic dance music has never been anywhere near as big in the US as it is in the UK and Europe in general, ever since its conception there have been styles that emerged in the American public conscious as to what electronic dance music was popular. Here's my attempt to list out these "eras" as best as my memory sees it. :-)
Late 80's - Early 90's: House music In this era, house music was often mixed in with hip hop and electro. There was even a genre known as "hip house" that was the mix of the two. In addition to hits by dance producers like M/A/R/R/S, Black Box, Technotronic, etc, there was also a number of house inspired songs by pop artists such as Madonna, Pet Shop Boys and New Order.
Early 90's - Mid 90's: Eurodance Circa 1994, if somebody in America used the phrase "techno", this is almost certainly what they meant. There were some huge hits in these years by largely European music groups such as the Real McCoy, Ace of Base, LaBouche, etc. Anyone who ever went to a school dance or listened to top 40 radio during these years knows these songs all too well.
Mid 90's - Late 90's: "Electronica" (aka, Big Beat) For some reason, around 1996 and 1997, MTV decided it was going to market some of the edgier, more rock-friendly electronic dance artists out there to the post-grunge audience. And it worked. The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Apollo 440, Fat Boy Slim... these groups all gained large followings during this time. They weren't all the same in style, but virtually everyone had a strong break-beat emphasis to their music, and was not the minimal 4 beat thump that people had often associated with dance music in the US before this.
Late 90's - Early 2000's: Trance This was the era when raves finally became a "big thing" in the US. And the style of music that was trending was trance music. Especially "progressive trance" with its melodic leads and strong build ups. Related house genres also started to become popular, but it was trance (with its stronger melodies) that held the public's attention the best at this time. To a lot of the public in these years trance was almost synonymous with raves in the US.
Early 2000's - Late 2000's: "Indie dance" These years were kind of an odd time for electronic music in the US. Rave music genres had become completely splintered, and there were some people saying that there was nothing really new of interest going on. What was catching popular attention, though, were disco/funk revival groups like Daft Punk, MGMT as well as synthpop revival and electro-clash artists. There was an interest in these more "live band" oriented electronic music. They weren't usually producing dance records oriented towards DJs. This was more music aimed at the Pitchfork audience.
Late 2000's - Today: Dubstep (and Brostep and Electo House) The groups described by "indie dance" weren't really rave acts, and a new style emerged that began to be what people thought of when they though of when they thought of modern electronic dance music. Almost all this music gets classified as "dubstep", although technically speaking there are other genres involved as well. But the phrase dubstep tends to describe the movement in general, and in US the archetypal producer of this is Skryllex. Expect to continue to hear a lot of music in this vein for the next couple of years at least.
What's next? I have NO IDEA. I started getting interested in this music during the eurodance era. I was not expecting the "electronica" explosion at all, even though I was already familiar with The Prodigy before it happened. It was a lot darker and grittier than my tastes, so I was not a huge fan, although I appreciated the new found interest in electronic dance music. I also was not expecting the trance explosion either, as I never expected that style to really catch the popular attention, even after the success of Robert Miles' "Children" single (which I had always assumed was a total fluke). So it seems like this stuff can be really difficult to predict. The main thing is that whatever the "big new thing" is, seems to be coming totally from left field. So whatever is the next big electronic dance style in the US after dubstep is almost certainly going to be really different from it, whatever it may be.
As I'm getting closer and closer to finishing my thesis, I'm getting really excited at the prospect of using my new "free time" to start recording my own music again. And I'm almost certain it's going to be very electronic-oriented music this time.
I've finally started to dig more into what's the latest and greatest in both electronic instruments and dance music currently. One thing I've noticed from the music perspective is that almost everything sounds like it's 90%+ soft-synth based now. Most of the major electronic-dance producers are focusing very heavily on soft synths. They can potentially be a lot cheaper than using a lot of hardware, and once you sort of get setup for it, with the right controllers and everything, I think it ends up making for a very smooth music production process. The good producers still use some hardware synths in the mix too, but it now seems as much for some extra "character" as it is the standard basis for the music.
This movement to near 100% computer based music has lead to more complex produced music than in the past, as you can hear in modern dubstep and club dance music. A lot of intricate complex stuff is being done that is way easier to do when you're doing everything on a computer instead of old school sequencers and samplers. These producers are also focusing really hard on tiny little aspects of the songs, like little bits here and there that may only be a millisecond long. But since it's all laid out on their PC, they can zoom in and tweak things at the smallest of detail levels.
Another thing I've noticed about modern dance music it's definitely been following the "loudness war" pattern that popular music in general has been. You listen to 90's dance music, and it sounds very "soft" and mellow in comparison. The newer stuff is very highly compressed (and processed in general) to get a very loud, upfront sound. Another very intriguing part of this trend (for me) is that it has also meant the revival of FM synthesis. For those not familiar with it, FM synths (particularly the Yamaha DX7) were all the rage in the 80's, but quickly became out favor due to their "cold digital" sound, and difficulty to program. However, with the arrival of the FM7 and FM8 soft synths, it became much easier to make really cool and unusual FM synth sounds, that also had some of the analog flavor people love. The reason these synths are becoming so huge in music today, is that they can be piercingly loud in a mix. A lot of the Skryllex style sounds (both basses and leads) come from these new modern FM synthesis techniques. Even though the original FM sounds seem dated and silly, the new sounds are just the opposite.
Anyway, I'm pretty excited to start writing and recording my own music again. Look for a website of some sort from me in the not too distant future!
Helen and I were watching an episode of The Universe last night that decided to tackle the issue of the existence of God, and how that related to cosmology and physics. As you can expect, there was a lot of pretty sketchy argumentation on both sides, as (they ultimately have to admit) science really can't tell you if God does or does not exist, since it's about repeatable empirical experimentation, and there's no way to physically test if God exists or not. Likewise, the same problem confronts many atheistic explanations for the universe, such as an infinite multiverse.
This got me thinking about what the word "God" means to people. If we think of the word "God" meaning simply, the ultimate source of the cosmos, then everyone believes in God. Because everyone (who at least thinks about things logically) ultimately has to believe that something is the root cause and source of the universe. For some people the ultimate cause is simply the universe itself. For others, its the laws of physics. And others its an infinite multiverse. But logically speaking there is something that is at the root of existence, even if its some kind of esoteric circular time concept, in which case the circle of time itself becomes essentially "God".
But there are other ways to think of what God is. Another one is what we worship. Everyone (logically speaking) must have something they put before everything else. For some people its money, power, their family, pleasure, food, music, you name it. For some people it may not be consistent from day to day. But we all have things we prize the most. For Christians this is supposed to be God, although we admit we don't always worship God the most in our lives. But if this is the definition of "God" we are using, everyone ultimately has a "God" they worship.
Another meaning for "God" could also be the source of our notion of ethics. Who or what determines what is right and wrong? Virtually everyone has strong beliefs about what is right and wrong, but we don't all agree where this comes from (or what those values are, necessarily). If the word "God" is taken to mean the ultimate source of morality, we must all believe in something that is our God. For some people this might be family tradition, culture, government, or simply their own mind. Because there always must be some source to the values that dictate our lives.
So we all have various "Gods" in our lives. The real question isn't so much "Do you believe in God?" it's, "What kind of God(s) do you believe in?"