MUSIC conjures spaces : churches, theaters, roadhouses arenas, pubs, dance halls, living rooms, festival tents, and all sorts of clubs, from tenement basements to cabarets to giant warehouses.

Those are social spaces where musicians perform together and audiences gather to share the sounds -and to flirt, dance, get high, along. Try somehow to connect.

On live recordings those spaces may have been real with studio recordings, they have long been a crafty, inviting illusion.

Yet through the 2010s, many of the pop's sonic spaces grew more isolated, barren and claustrophobic. They were places where a moan or a whisper was all a singer choose to project.

Where the idea of a stable, long - running band has been all but supplanted by song writing, gig economy of temporary hookups - how many hits ''feature'' someone the lead singer hasn't actually met?

Music in implied spaces have shrunk to the size of a bedroom, or a pair of laptop speakers, or a set of earbuds. Those are private places, intimate places, often lonely places.

In the Internet era, they are also places that can be solitary workshops for sounds and images. There are cameras and microphones in those digital bunkers, and musical starter kits online; antisocial collaborators don't have to interact at all.

And SoundCloud and YouTube are wide open to the results : the loner's laptop can be both a recording studio and a broadcast booth.

Atomized, solitary music-making reflects broader cultural currents : a ruthlessly individualistic winners-take all economy; the troll onslaught of social media; siloed and tribalized politics.

It's no wonder so many singers and rappers sound mournful, defensive or belligerent, even when they're boasting. Pop has hollwed itself out, responding to both artistic instincts and more prosaic incentives.

As the decade ends, countless songs boil down to a little more than a singer, a programmed beat and just one more instrument, which might itself come from a  sample library - no personal interaction required.

The all conquering hot song of 2019, ''Old Town Road'' by Lil Nas X, was first released in 2018 but gathered plays, remises and assorted collaborators throughout the year. Behind Lil Nas X's singing voice, the backup switches from a handful of plucked notes taken from a Nine Inch Nails songs to a slouchy base line and the ratchety twitch of a drum machine and little more.

Barebones songs suit a pop-economy increasingly defined by lean recording budgets and music that's streamed rather than purchased.

Streaming rewards instant legibility, the details that might reward s more committed listener are irrelevant, and maybe counterproductive. Who has time to pursue the dense layers of musical and verbal illusions that went into peak 1990s hip-hop?

And who needs the the rich overtones of a well-recorded drum kit - live or sampled - when the standardized ticks and thumps of the Roland TR-808 drum machines familiar and functional enough?

Streaming algorithms maybe narrowing the sonic palette further, as automated playlists steer listeners toward similar - sounding tracks.

Even international phenomenon like Puerto Rican reggaeton, Jamaican dembow, Nigerian Afrobeats, pan-Carribean urbano and Latin trap feature the same tinny, limited drum machine tones.

Streaming- era blockbusters can sound like flat-digital blueprints of what their music might have been. At a time when vastly more sounds - acoustic, electric, synthetic, processed - are available than at any time in history, such a narrow palette feels like a musical hunger strike.

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research on pop music and society, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Jon Pareles.


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