When I hear the term "digital music," I'm first reminded of the music stored in iTunes or on my iPhone. But it's a term that means much more than just mp3s and white-corded headphones.
Enter Tristan Shone, the subject of this week's episode of "The Future is Now." Tristan is part of a new wave of musicians. While they might not play traditional instruments like guitars or pianos, they know good music. And they're using modern technology and digital tools to create music in ways we've never heard before.
If this story were just about Tristan's day job, it'd be fascinating. He's responsible for restoring and upgrading massive, million-dollar microscopes. It's ironic, machines this huge that are designed to help us see objects that are so small. In the lab, Tristan uses advanced Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to design and fabricate components for these microscopes. It's a job that puts his high-level mechanical engineering skills to the test. And it's also where Tristan hones the skills necessary to create his unique take on music, his own special brand of doom metal.
I'll be the first to admit the mere name of the musical genre "doom metal" is a bit scary. It's basically a version of extreme heavy metal, something you might typically associate with a lot of really loud electric guitars. Author & Punisher - Tristan's stage name — is certainly a long way from warm and fuzzy popular acts like Taylor Swift or Lady Antebellum. But to dismiss what Tristan's creating would be to miss out on an example of musical genius at work.
Bottom line, what Tristan is doing is unique. His version of doom metal doesn't overdose on guitar riffs, tight leather pants and hairspray. Instead, he relies on the kind of high level technology perfected while maintaining microscopes for a living. Applying the same CAD technology he uses in the lab, Tristan manufactures his own instruments. Sometimes he uses random metal components. Or he'll even mechanically sculpt new ones from scratch.
Then, using off-the-shelf electronic components, he programs them to interface with his laptop. Through that interface, he's able to modulate sounds in vastly different ways to create his one-of-a-kind songs.
[Make sure to share your reaction to Tristan's music in in our weekly TFIN poll, and check out our TFIN bonus content to learn more about Tristan's self-made instruments.]
What's most impressive when watching Tristan is that he combines so many different aspects of technology to feed his passion of making homemade music. There's the mechanical engineering side that understands how metals function and how components work together. Then there's the software side that is capable of programming these components to make music. And just as importantly, Tristan's artistic side works to create a symphony of sound that until recently would've required massive computers or full-scale orchestras.
Meeting Tristan opened up a whole new world of music for me. I've spent recent weeks seeking out other artists who, like Tristan, are using technology to revolutionize the world of music. As we saw with recent Grammy nominations for electronic artists like Deadmau5 and Skrillex, the literal one-man-band is here to stay. And it's all possible because of today's technology. Tristan helped remind me that what makes music connect might not be dependent upon which genre it's created in. Rather, it's also important to see where the artist is coming from, what he or she is trying convey, and what ground they're breaking as they create. With that perspective, I now realize I've got whole new worlds of music to explore. So if you'll excuse me, it's time to update my iTunes library with an entirely new kind of digital music.
Video produced by Charity Elder, Will Lerner and Jennie Josephson. Production by Mario Framingheddu, Dave McFarland, Adam Young and Jason Bell. Editor: Nolan Cooper. Sound editor: John Adams. Graphics by Todd Tanner and Howard Kim for Yahoo! Studios.