IASPM day 3: Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse Method: Technology as Shared Creativity. Roberto Bolelli


7.3. Musicians Revisited. Chair: Rob Bowman

Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse Method: Technology as Shared Creativity. Roberto Bolelli (Independent scholar)

Pete Townshend (The Who), after Tommy (1969), begins to work on the Lifehouse project: it preconizes the internet era and provides for the use of sophisticated technologies, but it will be brought to light only in 1999. Lawrence Ball, David Snowdon and Townshend elaborated the Lifehouse Method, launched on the net in 2007: the method’s software creates a musical ‘portrait’, from some data inserted by the participants. The site’s notes axplained that the 5 minutes of music, in case of any use, should be credited to Townshend-Ball, plus the realizer of the portrait. The site generated over 10,000 portraits and some examples were published on the website. One year later the page was shut down and the project was discontinued. Finally, in 2012 Ball publishes the double CD Method Music, in wich the composer develops the tests conducted some years before. This paper, after the description of the Lifehouse project and the Method, underlines how technology modifies the connection between production and fruition of music: the Lifehouse Method is an extreme example of that modification, illustrating the sense of ‘property’ of music in the internet era, although the aim of establishing a kind of ‘shared creativity’ is not took off.

Roberto begins with a description of the Lifehouse Project’s long history, starting in 1971 with the two ‘surviving’ tracks (Baba O’Reilly and Won’t Get Fooled Again) that ended up on the album Who’s Next. His first audio example is the famous synthesiser backing track from Baba O’Reilly. More technical information (based on Townshend interviews) is provided about the specific keyboards/synthesisers and editing methods used. The next musical example is from 1999, taken from the 1999 CD box set LH Chronicles. It’s a minimalist electronic piece, which sounds not unlike the BOR intro but does not lead into a song. Various other related works involving Townshend are cited, including Psychoderelict (1993), The boy who heard music (2007) and Endless Wire (2006).

The ‘Lifehouse Method’ software/website was, Roberto tells us, developed by composer Lawrence Ball and software developer David Snowdon.  The analysis of the Lifehouse project notes that its website specified (in 2007) that all contributions from others should be credited to Townshend-Ball. The site was shut down after only one year, but the project resurfaced in 2012 on Ball’s CD Method Music. Roberto concludes that technology modified the relationship between composer, collaborator and producer. Its intention – to beget a kind of ‘shared creativity’ – was not achieved, but as Roberto notes, it was a brave attempt.

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