October 30th, 2009

abstract butterfly

on technology and creativity

"[T]here was such an implicit and tacit belief that virtuosity was the sine qua non of music and there was no other way of approaching it. And that seemed to be so transparently false in terms of rock music in particular. I thought that it was well worth saying, 'Whatever I'm doing, it's not that,' and I thought the best way to say that was to say, Look, I'm a nonmusician. If you like what I do, it stands in defiance to that"--from the Lester Bangs interview of Brian Eno.

A musical friend of mine wrote me the other day how he wished to simplify his compositions. Field recorded samples, mixed in Audacity, the freeware audio editor. To the inventors of musique concrete, a resource like Audacity, a free personal computer recording studio, would have seemed like a fathomless and unfathomable luxury, an incredible liberation for a music of sounds and manipulation. Imagine what a change from manipulating tape recordings.

I remember trying to remix songs in a friend's four track cassette recorder just a few years ago. I found it
unimaginably tricky. So much needless lining up of timing and levels. It was like using a huge kindergarten number 1 pencil, with soft lead, to write out a 50,000 word nanowrimo novel on a series of blank boxtops.
Now I can mix sounds and samples with a few mouse clicks.

I respect those who fear the easy way out. If everyone can take a point-and-shoot picture, the theory goes, what is the point? I see the world entirely differently. For me, tools for personal expression which help people share ideas and creativity are wonderful things--things of meaning in and of themselves. A software synthesizer will never supplant a virtuoso cellist. Yet the liberation for a sound synthesist to be able to sequence a cello sample into a song is palpable and culture-changing.

This weekend I must do a remix of another artist's work, in a "secret mixter' thing akin to a secret Santa remix exchange. I hope to do it all in my Magix music studio program, drawing the notes and sequencing them
in the digital audio workstation itself, without a preset sequencer. I don't use bpm matching software often, and I have to calculate in my head or in a little calculator about the length of notes and the like. But when it works, I imagine this approach may be as fun as musique concrete. But this is the side virtue, after all, of working "in Audacity". If it turns out to be a hassle, just click on another piece of software, and start anew.

The streets are littered with the righteous and sadly spilled blood of creative geniuses hampered by human limitation. Yet i still treasure bloodless technology, and the way it helps discover lost souls, trapped in inexpertise, and bring them up to the light.