Re: MUSIC ( not vs) Techno and Prog ?

From: James Rogers (
Date: Wed Jan 12 2000 - 18:09:21 MST

On Wed, 12 Jan 2000, Emlyn wrote:
> > One of the greatest blessings of modern synths is the depth of the sonic
> > possibilities, but very few artists take the time to learn to program new
> > sounds. The amazing sounds these machines can make is what attracts me to
> > them in the first place. I cringe when I hear popular music where the
> > sounds are so obvious that I can name the machine and patch number. What
> > is the point of using a synth if you aren't going to add something to the
> > soundscape?
> I agree, and it goes for traditional instruments too. How many times have I
> heard Ben Fold's Five playing, for instance, and thought to myself "jeez,
> that's just a plain old piano he's playing. How mediocre".

Actually, yes, and some instruments are more limited than others. The
piano, to use your example, is quite limited. One of the things that
caused me to stray from the piano (which I have been playing since I was a
wee tot) was that if you wanted to create any substantial change in the
sound of the piano you had to find a different piano. Guitars are
actually much more versatile in this regard.

Ben Fold's Five may be very nice piano playing, but the composition is
awfully ordinary. Perhaps my listening goals are different than yours.

> > I am generally in complete agreement with you. The sounds themselves
can't > > carry a well-written piece, particularly if the sounds are
canned. The > > ability to build deep and interesting musical constructs
from its basic > > components is still an essential skill for making great
music; to > > integrate carefully designed sounds just adds to the
experience. > > Unfortunately, modern technology lets a person with
mediocre skills "pass" > > for having talent, by letting the machine do
all the work (basically > > utilizing the creativity of the person who
programmed the machine at the > > factory).
> I'd say the opposite to the above; the sounds themselves can't carry a
> poorly written piece, and don't have to carry a well written one.

Uhh...that is what I stated above. I don't think we are actually in
disagreement on this part. Good composition is essential. Good sound
design makes a good composition even better. Music by someone who uses the
same instrument with the same sound over and over and over gets boring for

> With the
> argument above, all music written earlier than last year is crap by
> definition, because the sounds are so "canned" compared to now. Listened to
> the Beatles lately? Cruddy production, hackneyed electric guitar/bass/drums
> arrangement. How'd they get a recording contract?

Even "old" sounds can be fresh if worked into a new setting or revitalized
with new and creative processing and production techniques. Moreover,
some older compositions sound best when used with the original
instrumentation. Some old sounds are unique because of changes in
production equipment and technique. You've over-simplified it. It would
be difficult to replicate the sound of the Beatles because the overall
sound is a combination of a lot of factors, some of which (such as the
exact equipment in the signal path) would be difficult to reconstruct.
But the fact is, while some of the production techniques on the Beatles
albums were considered innovative in their time, some have proven to be
very poor ideas with 30 years of hindsight. There are some aspects to
Beatle recordings that are unique because no sound engineer would ever use
those techniques today.

"Cruddy production" is relative. Have you heard what passes for
modern production in a country such as India? Tracks drenched in tinny
reverb with the frequency response of an AM radio, even on relatively
clean mediums such as CD. There is no accounting for taste, I suppose.

Actually a disturbing production trend in popular American music is poor
mastering. There is an arms race to put the hottest signal possible down,
which has made distortion and compression artifacts increasingly
common for a lot of popular genres. Sacrificing audio quality for
loudness probably is an indication of something...

> Good sounds are very cool (I'll be trying to get myself the hardware for
> really nice sounds ASAP). But they absolutely play second (or third or
> fourth) fiddle to good composition. I'd rather hear Bach on a vic chip than
> plenty of the more mediocre modern stuff that uses the most expensive
> equipment.

I am not a huge proponent of buying the latest, greatest synth technology.
You get far more mileage by learning how to really use an older synth than
by blowing money on the next hot machine to come off the assembly line. A
master programmer using an old Oberheim will almost always do something
more interesting than Joe Preset with the latest mass market Roland box.

Interestingly, I used to sequence Bach concerto's (which usually have 10
or 12 parts) into my computer and then mess around with the voicing and
arrangement. Virtually all the voices were composed with such tight
tolerances that I had to be very careful with choosing and tweaking new
voicings or the concerto's would completely unravel. It gave me a new
appreciation of how carefully those concertos had been constructed. Very
few musicians can weave such a tight and detailed composition. It is
interesting how much the composition tolerances differ for different

> Actually, for good sounds, what I really want to get my hands on is an
> orchestra...

Orchestras provide a very rich sonic environment. So many oscillators...

-James Rogers

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