What Computer Music
I know I said I wasn't going to do any more posts for a couple of weeks but Matt replied to my second computer music post. Of course he did so in his usual thoughtful manner but I really have to take issue with much of what he said - hence this post. Let's take a look at some of Matt's comments on analogue-versus-digital electronica and see how these comments they apply to my theories and music.
"Looking into synths I've come to appreciate the difference between computer sonic synthesis, the "Rompler" style of synthesiser (essentially manipulating samples to create sound) and the older "Analogue" synthesisers."
I'm not sure these categories apply to what I - or the majority of contemporary computer music producers - do. Perhaps the more relevant categories would be "granular synthesis" (manipulating samples by breaking them down to a molecular level and moving the particles around) and "virtual analogue synthesis" (computer-modeled oscillators and envelopes).
"With Analogue synths one is actively shaping the sonic envelope generated by oscillators. It's the difference between carving a statue out of stone and I dunno, ordering a sculpture off a website."
From my point of view, the difference between analogue synthesis and granular synthesis is the difference between playing an acoustic guitar and playing with psycho-acoustic space.
"There's always something very physical and tactile, very "of-human-dimension" about Analogue electronic music that I find appealing too."
Funny how old synth music that probably sounded impossibly alien and robotic at the time now strikes our ears as specifically human.
Actually, there's something incredibly tactile about granular synthesis - the ability to take any sound, bust it up into atoms and twist it inside out, in real-time. In my experience, nothing in conventional musical practice or instrumentation comes close to allowing this kind of hands-on sonic manipulation.
I've also always tried to include a more literally tactile element in my computer music practice. My Max patches are entirely around a Behringer BCR 2000 MIDI controller (as pictured at the top of this post). Basically the whole set up is designed to act as a virtual version of the Behringer or - to put it more accurately - I use Max/MSP to turn the Behringer into a kind of granular synthesis hardware instrument. The Behringer has, I think, 32 knobs and 16 buttons, which effectively means that I can do most of what I need to in a live performance without even touching my laptop's track-pad.
"Recently I've tended to find Electronic music made on computers flat, "
Surely, then, Matt is simply hearing the wrong computer music. I guess I'll have to send him copies of my glitch classics and new electronic underground mixes. I'll also use this opportunity to link to my series of posts on a few random masterworks of more-or-less recent glitchy and/or software-based electronica, all of which are highly recommended.
Frank Bretschneider - Curve
Ultra Milkmaids - Disko 2K
Autopoises - La Vie a Noir Remixes and Random Inc - Walking in Jerusalem
Oren Ambarchi - Suspension
Gas - Pop
General Magic - Frantz
On the other hand, why not just go out and buy the most recent Alog album, which should be proof enough for anyone that computer music can be a joyous, multi-dimensional experience.
"I think, and it's not a wholly original point-of-view, that people tend to make very un-dynamic, unphysical music on computers."
Yes, this is most certainly the common wisdom among serious music fans. Indeed not a day goes by when someone doesn't accost me in the street to tell my "your music and all the music you love the most is appallingly un-dynamic and unphysical" before spitting in my face and leaving me to trudge home dejectedly.
Seriously, though, I'd have to plead guilty as charged on this one - dynamics and physicality are probably the musical values that mean the least to me. I tend to prefer disembodied music structured mainly around stasis.
"The MPC for instance, it's not a word-processor it's this big chunky hand-triggered drum-machine. As for its interface, you're not layering tracks on top of one other as is the dominant visual paradigm in Pro Tools, Logic or Ableton Live, you're building music out of stabs. "
Interestingly, there is a MIDI controller modelled on the Aika MPC, so it is actually possible to play computer music MPC style. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that the MPC itself has a MIDI-out port, which would allow one to use it to play other hardware and software instruments.
In addition to all this, a couple of people have actually built Max patches that simulate the MPC! I bring this up mainly because I think it's funny, rather than because I think it proves that anything you can do, I can do virtually.
"By definition the music is built on gaps of silence as much as of noise (and don't you know half music is silence!) Computer music to my ears these days, of whatever kind, sounds very much like a endless, unpunctuated, obsessively-tweaked, spelling-corrected trickle. "
Again, this surely has to be a result of hearing the wrong records. That Alog record, for instance, sounds more like a hilarious typo-ridden gush of wonder. My personal taste is not for electronica of the obsessively tweaked kind - I tend to prefer it glitchy and spontaneous.
As for aural punctuation, why not try some Raster Noton releases, like the ones K-Punk wrote about about so eloquently in The Wire last month? The Raster crew are absolute masters of rhythm and silence. Doesn't the term "raster" even refer to the space between pixels on a computer screen?
And there's always Rafael Toral's awe-inspiring Space - an album that combines virtual analogue synthesis and DSP with analogue synthesis and custom MIDI interfaces to create copious amounts of silence plus some extremely extremely dramatic, beautiful music.
Anyway, I've had my say (again). For those of you who want to hear me back my bullshit up with some actual music of my own, head over to the connect_icut website and have a listen to some MP3s. Trickle or gush? You decide.