During the digitalisation of musical equipement one thing that happened was to model the analog stuff into digital. And I love this. I am a guitar player. And it is great to be able to get that tube sound in digital.
It’s great for synths and other instruments too, to have these available in software. But I also notice an innovation drawback over the years. Roland is reintroducing their old equipment, their old drummachines and bass machines. And these are judged by how truthfully they are being reproduced. Kinda weird. The 808 bass drum for example is a sine wave and can easily be created by almost any synth but yet most people are trying it to sound like the old analog version. Although most people will not be able to tell the difference… It’s like trying to find that 1%.
I get the feeling that music has stopped innovating. Have we reached the end of sound colors? Maybe any types of noise, color, sound have already been produced? And musically dance music is like going back to more rhythmic based music. But harmonically, since jazz and modern classical everything is also discovered.
Retro music is popular, singer songwriters, analog synthracks and things like that. But what is new? Mixing music with other types of art? Yes. Improvisation? Maybe, but these are still harmonically very limited and more rhythm based. Even live coding, although super cool, doesn’t generate new music.
Things have evolved fast since the 50s. Have we reached an end? But more important: what’s next?
I feel really conflicted about this Roland situation
Hearing a roland rep dramatically state their “future…redefined” tagline before his demo of the tr09 had me suppressing my gag reflex. Who are they fooling? Dont get me wrong. Plenty of folks will manage to squeeze music out of the new gear (heck I posted a track recently made with this and the tr09 cant possibly be worse) but does anyone really think this stuff is inherently futuristic?
Hard to say. I grew up in the southern USA during the late 80s and 90s and recall 808 synthesis sound/fx being the default in most music. More than default. It was sacred. My brothers and I were geeking out when Outkast repeatedly name dropped the machine even though we’d never seen or used one in our lives (and still havent). Some of these tools have their own mythology that goes beyond circuits and the materials they’re built with…
But…is it the tools we should care about most? Is the industry the source of innovation or the artist? Can we ignore how implications of widespread methods (sampling/pirating software/ internet distro) have affected sound art?
I mean compare these three tracks and form opinions about whether it matters what tool produced the drums. To my knowledge only one used a physical 808
Tools has changed the sound of music. I think the invention on the guitar, the synth, recording equipment, these things have changed and shaped music. But what new tools are developed which do something that couldn’t be done before? Pads?
Sampling is rather interesting. Also from a copyright point of view (imo the industry killed orginal hiphop because of copyfight) but from an artistic point of view it is not that deep. If you sample a beat, it’s not so much different than drumming yourself. Rapping is interesting I should say. Not singing. A musical development.
This list for me is how music evolved:
live music only, no music was being recorded
invention of electric instruments
invention of electronic instruments
invention of recorded music
invention of multi-tracks (music became virtual, recording a live performance was no longer key)
invention of machines like drum-machines and sequencers
digital sampling, making photocopies of recording and reshape and change them
(dramastic changing the human voice, artificial voices?)
Maybe the real innovation will be: anyone capable of producing and changing music. Videomakers who will soon be using a tool which helps them generate music. For music you no longer need musicians. You don’t need technical people. You only need someone who can make judgenents. “you like this melody line?” “no, make it more sad sounding” etc.
In this age we found out that music is not about the ego of the musician. Music is just virtual and who creates it doesn’t bother us. Generative music can be done. But somehow all the tools we are using right now are somehow retro.
Maybe musicians have to find new ways to make new music because the tools will try to reproduce it. The tools have turned into retro tools. Recreating something from the past. And the sampler is probably the best and last example. We sample the past.
I don’t think I am right though. Makes a bit of sense maybe… still thinking about what comes next…
In relation to innovation in music equipment. The big companies like Roland stopped producing interesting stuff back in the 80’s early 90’s. Even at that, what they produced were derivatives of what had come before, they just had the marketing & production power to make it huge. They made it look way more innovative at the time. It’s much harder to do that these days with the near infinite access to information.
It’s all the small independent companies these days making the interesting stuff. It’s just harder to find the “innovative” stuff amidst all the noise.
For the music itself, I think it’s similar. There is so much new music available it’s hard work to dig through all the noise to find what you feel is interesting and ‘innovative’
Dance music gets a lot of mileage out of familiarity. People tend to respond more strongly to a song they recognize. Pop music doesn’t retread itself continuously only out of a lack of creativity. The much larger motivation for doing such a thing is that it sells.
And I’m not going to disparage that, either. It’s quite an art to be able to take something that has been done thousands of times before and twist into just enough of a “new” shape that people find their enthusiasm for it all over again. It requires a deep and intimate knowledge of what it is about the familiar thing that people are responding to, and what space might be left in it to explore.
Just because the (very) basic math of music theory is well understood, doesn’t mean every harmonic possibility has been exhausted in performance with an audience. We’ve got thousands of years to go before that happens, and we’re already moving beyond to add new variables to the equation.
The most innovative recent music has a strong focus on timbre as a primary source of compositional variation. Before widespread adoption of synthesis (especially modular synthesis) it was not so easy to have expressive control over timbre in music. You needed an entire orchestra to play in that realm. Today you can do such things in any bedroom if you are so inclined.
So the variables available for new compositional combinatorials have multiplied vastly in recent years. Any lack of innovation you feel you are witnessing is either coming from specific artists who are intentionally pursuing familiarity/nostalgia, or just a general lack of creativity or apprehension of the creative possibilities.
Go make some weird noises. If you can’t get the ones you want out of our plethora of available electronic instruments, chuck them all and go stick a contact mic on weird objects in your kitchen. Then run that through a granular synth. Modulate the grains with a generative algorithm. Pair up with a jazz drummer. And a ballet dancer. And a poet. And a painter. Maybe you’ll make something that Merce Cunningham and John Cage thought of decades ago, but I bet it will be new to you. Keep trying.
We’ve seen tremendous innovation in our instruments since the escape from purely acoustic means, and it went hand in hand with innovation in thinking about what music can be compositionally, and in its performance. And I’m sure like many of you, I have been enthralled with this innovation and expansion since I encountered it. I still see tons of innovation in these musical areas, with (thanks to the Internet) wider reach than it ever has had historically, albeit still far less than mainstream.
But what about non-innovation?
I’m sure we all agree that playing a folk song on an acoustic guitar can be sublime, even if neither the playing technique, the composition, nor the instrument embody any innovation in decades. And while the piano hasn’t seen major innovation in almost two centuries, the myriad of evolutionary improvements, and the time for music to come to terms with it, has created an instrument that can support pop tunes in bars and masters of classical music.
I see the Roland releases in this light: The rapid innovations of the 70s that led to the drum machines of the 80s and 90s created an instrument that is perhaps now worthy of recreation and mastery - It doesn’t need to be constantly innovated to be musically valuable. Over decades of small refinements, and many copies, maybe what will emerge will be an instrument as versatile and capable of mastery as a fine guitar.
Meanwhile, these days I’m often thinking I should take a step back from all my constant desire to have new equipment and write new music, and spend some time with the instrument and music I do have - work toward being a better musician with the innovations I already love.