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Apple Founder Wozniak On Music & Creativity

...joined NAMM President Joe Lamond for an interview before a packed house of NAMM attendees. Living up to his reputation as “The Great And Powerful Woz,” the original Apple engineer shared his thoughts on the common threads in music and technology—and the elements of fun, imagination, and even mischief that make breakthroughs possible. “The best engineers are like artists,” said Wozniak. “And almost all of them have music backgrounds.”

A longtime guitar player and music lover, Wozniak is perhaps Exhibit A for how creativity feeds invention. Recalling a youth spent tinkering with electronics, he compared the process to composing music: “Sometimes the most important thing is knowing what you want, and kind of having the end song in your mind.” At Apple, he said, the company’s impact had as much to do with an artistic grasp of beauty and simplicity as with technological knowhow. “I love simplicity,” said Wozniak, who briefly worked at Hewlett-Packard before starting Apple. “When HP wanted a problem solved with fewer parts, they called our department.” In his partnership with Steve Jobs, Wozniak described himself as the one who would have spent endless hours building electronics for fun, while Jobs was the one with the vision to build a company.

Wozniak went on to talk about emerging parallels in the evolution of computers and music making. As he pointed out, early computers could be used only by trained professionals who spoke the computer’s language—the opaque sequence of 1s and 0s called Binary Code. The gap between computers and everyday users was bridged when innovators (notably Apple) engineered computers to speak our language, interacting with users in a format accessible to the average human being. “We wanted computers to work in a human way rather than forcing humans to learn all these computer-ish things—as if we’re the slave and it’s the master,” Wozniak said. Has music making, especially electronic music making, followed a similar path? With the advent of user-friendly hardware/software packages that place a universe of tools at users’ fingertips, it’s not a stretch to say so. As Lamond said, “The music industry has evolved to where someone with very little training can have a hit record.”

Speaking as a lifelong prankster who once set up the world’s first “dial-a-joke” line, Wozniak also cheered the music world as one of the places where innovation still coexists with a spirit of irreverence and fun—or as Lamond concurred: “Sometimes we take the world too seriously. I think the music industry is [different because] it’s made up of arrested-development 20-year-olds who like jokes.” Wozniak, for his part, put it like this: “Music, in my mind, is like a magic dust for bringing love to people. It’s been such a huge presence in my life.”

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