Function Follows Form

Form follows function is the gist of the functionalist philosophy of design. The concept is that you probably can't use a computer monitor as a fork and vice versa. So, the design of something should follow its form. Uber-architect Frank Lloyd Wright turned the concept into a religion and admonished, "Form follows function - that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union." Look around you. Our world is replete with examples of this fundamental construct.

There are so many examples of the functionalist design philosophy in so many areas of our lives, we sometime mistake things for what they seem to be as opposed to what they are.

For example: The first musical recordings were "recordings of performances." The form followed the function. Someone sang or played and someone else recorded the performance. The concept was astoundingly simple: Capture the performance for other people to hear. It was a logical extension of the way we consumed music from the beginning of time: one to one in a living room, one to a dozen in a wealthy patron's music room, one to 100 in a recital hall, one to 500 in a concert hall, one to 15,000 at Madison Square Garden, one to a zillion using the magic of recording technology.



Because the philosophy of the recorder was to capture the performance, a great deal of time and money was spent attempting to recreate the sensation and emotional power of attending a great live performance. Hi-Fi (High Fidelity) recordings, audiophile recordings, the technology curve was extreme and the goal was the always the same. Is it live? Or is it Memorex?

Somewhere on the road to this goal we (the industry) took a gigantic turn. With the advent of sound-on-sound recording and sound-with-sound recording (multi-track recording systems), musicians and producers started to "perform recordings."

They made recordings using equipment and technology to create sounds and performances that could not actually be performed by musicians (live, dead, or recorded) . This is not a semantic exercise, it is a fundamental change in the way music is created and realized. The term "recording artist" is one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in the business. Although everyone in the biz likes to call themselves recording artists, there actually is an entire school of modern-day recordings that can not exist outside of the recording studio or the form of digital audio workstations. In this case, the function follows form.

It's not just music. Look at old films of stage plays or ballets. The directors locked down the cameras and let the movement on stage do the work. In the post-MTV world of quick cuts and video effects, the editor and special effects directors are actually characters in many films and videos - so much so, that the storylines could not exist without their work.

These transitions are actually quite new from a historical perspective. About 45 years old for music and somewhat less for film and video. However, this unusual reverse design philosophy is popping up everywhere. I'd like to call it the "Formist School." Here function completely follows form. It's a DVD, it's a flash movie, it's a mash-up, it's a re-mix, it's a video stream, it's a rich media site... it simply can't exist in any other form.

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