20 Aug , 2014   Video

Did you happen upon that ‘drummers are actually really clever’ meme that’s been doing the rounds of late? Apparently, playing in time is a form of problem solving, indicating a modicum of intelligence. Am I the only person that feels this is the scientific equivalent of a headline confirmation of earth’s non-flatness?
Excruciating axioms aside, I’ve been reflecting this week on what problem solving means in a time of enormous, cheap computing power.
I know that statement will age faster than Mark Hamill but stay with me, if you can operate in non-real time, cloud resources mean you’re unlikely to run out of cpu cycles or memory addresses any time soon.
Musical composition is an activity where you get to both find and solve problems and it can also happen in non-real time (in the computing sense). Prior to modernism, the virtues of composing ‘away from the piano’ were widely promoted, it’s easy to imagine your favorite composer of yore adding the odd note to the score between coffees to create the meisterwerk.
As I’ve previously claimed on these pages, for music, the methods are not important, the results must speak for themselves.
Still, I’m getting a real kick from trying to solve the following problem: How much music can I create in the moment with a discreet synth, drum and dsp set up? Am not interested in samples or deterministic sequences, so my computer is relegated to elevated tape machine / mixer status.
Apart from upping my fun quotient there are tangible benefits to this approach.
First up, integration. Having to perform the track in its entirety means the process has a definitive beginning, middle and end. There’s no twiddling the virtual buttons to an infinite degree; I have an idea, I play with the idea, then I perform / record the idea. All of this happens in given time frames; if I have 30 minutes to record, that’s what I have, it’ll either get captured or it won’t.
Secondly, having been on a massive Arthur Baker bender this past fortnight, I’ve been reminded of the power of the electronic music of my youth, much of which was made under pretty constrained technological conditions. The temptation to try and copy this music, even (especially?) subconsciously would surface far easier if my ‘tabula rasa’ were a blank sequencer screen rather than some cheap synths and funky old drum set.
I don’t believe that I’m alone in this. The computing omnipotence referred to earlier has given us plenty of rope with which to hang our notions of musical originality.
I’m finding that doing less computer is leading to more me in the music. Whether or not this is, objectively, a ‘good thing’, I shall leave to your discernment..

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