Among the more pleasant aspects of the Frankfurt Music Show is the fact that it is genuinely international in flavour and the range of instruments on show is as broad as the impressive list of manufacturers vying for your attention.
Many times, as you stride purposefully past the displays of traditional instruments on your way to one of the hi-tech manufacturers, there is a great temptation to stop a while and pluck, tap or blow - and for a brief moment or two, be caught up in the sheer pleasure of playing a 'real' instrument.
Indeed, as a representative of the hi-tech side of the music industry, one sometimes feels like the poor relation at these events - at least from an aesthetic point of view. As comforting as it is to know that the latest sample-based sound module is capable of highly creditable reproduction of probably half the instruments at the Show, when set against the exotic woods and polished metals from the traditional manufacturers it's easy to forget that it too is a musical instrument, capable of expression and nuance and indeed, considerably more timbral diversity.
It's easy, too, to understand why young musicians, faced with racks of push-buttons and LCDs, have, in many cases, opted for the more certain ground offered by guitars, drums and the like. They're cheaper to buy, easier to understand - and, of course, they also happen to be the instruments behind which poses can be struck.
The problem is compounded by the fact that more and more people are opting for rackmount equipment in preference to keyboard alternatives. There's a certain inevitability about this; with one decent keyboard in your set-up and MIDI on your side, what need is there to go on purchasing further keyboard-based synths or samplers? Clearly none. But each time a rackmount is sold in favour of a keyboard, that most enduring of musical images - the black and white notes of the keyboard - is further eroded, and with it, the perception of the users as musicians rather than 'boffins'.
I well remember a 'discussion' I had with a manufacturer at a NAMM show a few years ago who reacted rather angrily to my comment that good as his percussion instrument was in software terms, the battleship grey boxes and foam rubber pads were likely to prove somewhat of a turn off to mallet players more used to polished rosewood and chromium steel. Once those musicians had been introduced to the incredible sonic diversity opened up by the instrument, they couldn't fail to be impressed. Getting them to that stage, however, was going to take an aesthetic leap which, It seemed to me, few of them would be prepared to make.
Without wishing to get embroiled in a discussion of form and function, we cannot simply ignore the fact that traditional instruments have a desirability about them which will always be favoured over matt black cabinets and multi-function buttons. It's time hi-tech manufacturers started showing their awareness of this with instruments that attract rather than repel potential new players.
Editorial by Nigel Lord
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