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Computer Musician

Computer Musician

Suffering Lack of Creativity - a Doctor writes.


So there I was, two-finger stabbing away on my BBC Micro word processor, when suddenly the screen displayed the curt error message 'Disk fault 08 at 00/01' and the drive made apathetic scrunching sound. Rapidly coming to the bitter realisation that the best part of a couple of days' work was doomed to the great data bin in the sky, I considered my next course of action...

Now, word processors are addictive beasts, and if you're momentarily starved of their output, it s a bit like having some essential part of your anatomy lopped off. Not surprisingly, this releases all manner of aggressive behaviour patterns, and at the moment under discussion, I picked up the disk drive and slammed it against the wall. And the result of that hasty action? Well, a new error message ('Drive fault 18 at 00/00') and a bill for £11.50. But did I regret it? Not a bit of it - it felt great to put technology firmly in its place!

Given a more relaxed frame of mind, I suppose I'd have retreated, tail between legs, to the other side of the room where the typewriter sits smugly, daring me to do battle with its 12 year-old, battle-scarred keys and idiosyncratic non-returning carriage, but this time, something snapped: I'd reached the end-point of endurance of technology that was limiting my creativity.

Two factors probably played a part in bringing home this feeling. Back in the dim, distant past, I used to play the harp professionally - orchestras, sessions, all that sort of thing - but decided to ditch it all in favour of studio work. That meant selling my harp and buying multitrack gear. Five years on, however, and with the shocking realisation that the harp I once had is now worth four times its original purchase price (£2200), I've decided to resurrect that side of my musical life. So, come March, I'll be the proud owner of a nice, new harp - not a sampled harp, a DX7 harp, or any other extremely vague technological representation of a harp.

Which brings me to the other element in this honest tale of truth - a new LP called Digital Moonscapes by none other than Wendy Carlos. Well, I should say at the outset that I've admired the work of this man/woman ever since the days of Switched-on Bach, and that fact, plus her well-publicised use of and admiration for the Crumar General Development System, led me to hold certain expectations for Digital Moonscapes.

But sad to say, I'm disappointed. Wendy Carlos talks in her sleeve notes about creating digital replicas of orchestral instruments (the harp included) that are '70-95% successful' in recreating the sound of the real thing. Furthermore, the limited bandwidth of the GDS and Synergy hardware produces a mushy sort of sound that lacks all the clarity and vitality of the orchestra she's trying to emulate, and I'm at a complete loss to understand how she can talk about a 'scrim-free orchestral transparency on the digitally mastered recording'. But besides the dubiousness of using technology merely to produce pale imitations of the real thing, there's the curious stylistic no man's land her music seems to inhabit - somewhere between out-takes for Tron and Matinee Musicale on a wet Monday afternoon.

The curious fact of life is that the quality of most of the music being turned out by both classical and pop electronic music studios hasn't grown with the technology that's being used to produce it. When I want to be refreshed by electronic music, I tend to go to a Philips boxed set of pieces from various European studios from the sixties for a reminder of what creative imaginations did before computers came on the scene.

And how about Stockhausen's music as a prime example of this?

Certainly, Jean-Michel Jarre's Fairlight extravaganza, Zoolook, no matter how painstakingly constructed, hardly stands comparison with that masterpiece of analogue synthesis techniques, Gesang der Junglige.

So, is it the Crumar GDS that's constraining the creative abilities of Wendy Carlos, or vice versa?



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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Electronics & Music Maker - Feb 1985

Donated & scanned by: Stewart Lawler

Computer Musician

Editorial by David Ellis

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