New Old New Music
January 3, 2010 | 10:34 pm

Why we compose.

Among the plethora of articles in the NY Times about the naught-decade, and the age to come, is a rhapsody on technology by music critic Jon Pareles “A World of Megabeats and Bytes.” I hadn’t realized that the iPod had only been around since 2001. I got my first iPod in 2003. I still have CDs but mostly for the liner notes – and I like the idea of being “legal” with my portable sound device. But the truth is, I rarely listen to the CDs – I just use my iPod, like it’s been around forever. (Actually, I’m on my third iPod – but who’s counting)

Then, about 6 months ago, I bought this digital turntable. I was going to copy some old – really old – records. Some of them were 78s most were LPs (remember “LPs"?). Well, I haven’t gotten around to my “archiving” project. It seems that it lacked a “counter-weight”. Who remembers counter-weights? I ordered one and it arrived about a month later, but it was the wrong kind and I still haven’t found the right kind, so the digital turntable sits in my office closet. The thing about the digital turntable and all those priceless albums waiting to be “converted” to 21st century technology is that all the albums are out of copyright. So, if and when I copy them, it will be completely legal. PLUS, I can use them for my own work… cut and paste and mash and quote and vary and … well, pretty much anything I want.

Says Mr. Pareles: “Rare is the cultural artifact — hit single, out-of-print imported album, old or new live performance (and for that matter, cult movie or TV show or fine-art masterpiece) — that isn’t accessible somewhere online, legally or not. Google a song, and you can probably listen to it whole within seconds….” New York Times, 01/03/2010.

He goes on, “Ease of consumption is paralleled by ease of production. The computer is the definitive 21st-century studio, now that do-it-yourself musicians can record professional-sounding tracks onto a laptop in a bedroom. The ubiquitous software ProTools offers endless overdubbing and can put errant musicians back on the beat or tune them up, though it’s not always an improvement when dull robot precision replaces individual quirks.

“The cut-and-mix, mashup procedures of hip-hop and disc-jockey culture have only accelerated. Beats from old vinyl discs were foundations of hip-hop back in the 1970s. Now no one needs to track down the physical disc because some aggregator or collector has probably put it online.”

So much for my brilliant idea. They warned us about this 30 years ago. They said that the day would come when computers would compose our music. I said, but I like to pick the notes. I’m happiest when I write music. They said, “Fine. Go ahead and write your music. But don’t expect to make a living at it.”

But it’s fun. And it makes me happy. And I think I’ve found a happy medium (forgive the pun) in this technological age. I think of mash-ups as orchestrating; I use Garageband and Sony ACID to create whole new compositions. I’m beginning to think that recording is a necessary part of performance, not that performance is necessary for recording.

I think of all sound as material… stuff to be used (thank you, John Cage). And yet, there is form; there is content; there is a compositional arch; there is voice-leading and rhythm and cadence - and the timbres: millions of colors! There is the thrill of creating something new, that others might like to listen to, and listen again and again… can there be any greater joy than that?



Broken_Soul's artist icon
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I wouldn't be able to make music if it weren't for my laptop
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Artist Page Send Message January 4, 2010 | 8:35 am

soulima's artist icon
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It is fun, and yes, voice leading does matter. I could well compose without a laptop or a computer. I did it in the 1980s and 1990s. I used score paper. Thing is, with the advent of the computer as compositional tool, the immediate feedback of the notes that we write is instantly available. Instant feedback, and with that instant feedback, we edit, we change, we hone and we fine tune the sounds that we create. These days, I can mix, and I can pan. Verily, I can create a damn symphony all with the use of my software. Pure joy indeed. Stravinsky, if he were alive would have used samples. Indeed samples are better than say, the Sante Fe Opera.

However, the idea and the 'gift' of creating original music doesn't predicate a century. A gift is a gift. Corelli is still a gifted composer. So too, is Mahler. It's just that technology allows us to fully spread our compositional wings. To answer your question, we compose because we simply must. The fact that we live in a century that fully allows composers to compose is just a bonus. Beethoven eat your heart out! However, I still pick the notes out.

It's always made me happy. It's just that these days, I have an audience and these days, I am master of my domain. I wonder if Beethoven, in his last days of deafness could proclaim such a thing. Yea well, he did write those last string quartets,eh? I am wallowing in Bedfarts, so what do I know?

So glad that you are here Mary-you make us all think!
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Latest Song: Barcarolle
Artist Page Send Message March 15, 2010 | 10:15 pm

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Musicians usurp technology as it comes along and use it to make or improve instruments: the bow string, the sliding piston valve, the personal computer... Computer composition tools such as Garage Band and Acid allow us the luxury of trying out our ideas and picking out and using the best ones and discarding the rest. The cost of this scenario is that pre cognition or audiation, is not necessary. The learning that is crucial to acquire this now apparently outmoded skill involves the mechanical theoretical foundations of music--including notation, rhythm, metre, conventions of melody, chord scales, voice leading, harmonic rhythm, analysis of repertoire, orchestration... I fear that the result will be a "dumbing down" of the art form whereby the trite becomes "profound" and cliche becomes the norm.
I have been proven wrong in the past: Drum machines, believed to be the harbingers of the end of the live percussionist, have turned out to be a means to extend the skills of drummers who are exposed to new and heretofore physically impossible rhythm sounds (get the sound in the head and someone will invent a double throw double kick pedal to make it happen). It is my hope that these new computerized instruments, tools of our trade, will continue to expand our musical horizons if we don't forsake the study of the art and folk music of the past.


Artist Page Send Message September 7, 2010 | 4:04 pm

mre's artist icon
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BTW I used a portable recorder to create MP3's of my favourite records hooked up to a tape out (or headphone out) using the line input of the recorder. that way you can use any old turntable that is still functioning hooked up to the old stereo...
Artist Page Send Message September 7, 2010 | 4:09 pm

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