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Communication Breakdown

Article from Music Technology, March 1992

According to Laurie Anderson, language is a virus from outer space. Tim Goodyer examines the problems with and the justifications for technical jargon.

Jargon - love it or hate it, you can't escape it. It's tempting to associate "exclusive terminology" with Second World War RAF types, spotty computer whizzes or be-anoraked train spotters, but none of us can really claim to avoid it. So why is it that we love to talk about certain subjects in terms nobody else can understand? Is it simply a case of defining an elite group to which we belong or is there something more to it?

Although jargon can lend itself to the definition of a social group, it serves another, more important and rather obvious purpose: it facilitates communication of ideas and information where general language does not. Unless you have already defined the terminology associated with certain areas of a science (for want of a better term), it is impossible to apply it, make advances in understanding it, or further awareness of it. So what are we talking about here: quantum mechanics? Non-linear mathematics? Genetic engineering? How about electronic musical instruments?

It's easy to single out the people who revel in the terminology surrounding MIDI and studio gear for its own sake. But it's impossible not to use that terminology yourself - if you're going to read manuals, follow synth operating architecture, explain your requirements to a studio engineer, or understand the solution to your MIDI problem when a manufacturer explains it to you. Terminology is, in fact, an essential part of any field of understanding. And the more complex the considerations, the more important it is that the terminology functions accurately and efficiently.

If we're going to get the best from the technology involved in music, we have to accept and assimilate the terminology that accompanies it. This applies equally to everyone from the novice bedroom musician to the R&D team working on the latest hi-tech musical marvel - and certainly includes a magazine like MT and its readers. To a novice, the terminology may appear daunting but you can rest assured that MT's writing team actively try to keep the jargon in perspective. Take my word for it, a little perseverance when you encounter new terms for the first time can go a long, long way.

While it makes comfortable reading to avoid technicalities, it severely limits the usefulness of an article. The most profitable way of dealing with most subjects is to take onboard enough of the technicalities to allow a practical understanding of what's going on. And that's exactly what MT's editorial aims to give you.

Right now we're entering an era of digital music technology - complete with its talk of error rates and logic levels. You can choose to try to ignore the background to the technology and deal only with its applications or to deal with the technology largely on its own terms. Without suggesting we all enrol in a doctorate course in digital electronics, I'd suggest we try to confront the gear and the terminology. In this I hope you'll find MT responsible as well as informative. But don't expect any of us to be able to escape talking jargon.

On an entirely different note, you'll doubtless have noticed that MT's cover price has been increased to the princely sum of £1.75 this month. We will, however, be holding subscription rates at their present level until the end of March. You'll find a special discount form elsewhere in this issue, so fill it in and save yourself some cash - and ensure yourself of regular delivery of the world's premier hi-tech music monthly. We can't say we're happy having to pass some of our increased production costs on to our readers, but we think you'll find that it leaves MT not just the best read in its field, but the best buy too.

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Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Mar 1992

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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