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In Pursuit Of Perfection

As musical technology makes the process of writing, recording and performing music more precise, the question has to be asked: how perfect do we want our music?

BEFORE WE BEGIN, let's get one thing straight - I'm not trying to discourage anyone from doing their damnedest to do anything. And why should you think I'm trying to do such a wicked thing? Because the Pursuit of Perfection can have some unfortunate spin-offs and we're going to talk about them, that's why. And before you get the wrong end of another stick, you're not about to get an earful of the interminable "music and technique" argument either. Now we can be friends.

Instead, let's begin with computers. Perfection is such an easy concept for a computer to deal with - to a computer either something's right or it's not. That's how data checksums work, after all. Life can be made so simple when you're trading only in "1"s and "0"s as a computer does. Imprecise human beings persuade computers to apply their "1s & 0s" philosophy to all sorts of indeterminate human activities - like making music. Let me give you a couple of examples: having recorded the rhythm parts to a piece of music and thrown your sequencer into Record, you "go for a take" on a solo. You might even like to go for several takes as you would when recording onto tape. But then your sequencing software invites you to begin editing out all the mistakes and imperfection - and the human aspects? - from the performance.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to overcome the callous accuracy of the computer, the human beings responsible for its programming instruct it to chop a bar of music up into hundreds of tiny sections so that the imprecise musician can place his notes in a convincingly imprecise manner. What do the musical fraternity do but try to analyse their inaccuracies and turn them into rules that can be applied to "create feel" in a piece of music. The elements of chance and spontaneity - the very things that computer programmers are trying to restore to musicians using computers - are being used to formularise it.

IT WOULD BE easy to continue giving examples of our crusade as musicians to misinterpret what software writers and technology are offering us, but our Pursuit of Perfection is not confined to our attitude to modern instrumentation. Let's take a look at today's pop songs. To date there have been several generations of young musicians seeking a mythical pop-song formula with the conviction of the ancient alchemists when they sought to transmute one element into another. Somehow today's technology lends itself to this constant rearranging of music, almost implying that there is a "right" way to do it. But why should there be only one way to present a song? The host of late '80s "remixers" certainly wouldn't agree, nor would the sampling fraternity, nor would Frank Sinatra. Nor should they.

Too often it seems that where technology is able to liberate us musicians we use it to restrict or misguide ourselves. And we're still claiming that the developers of software and hardware aren't listening to our pleas.

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


Music Technology - Mar 1989

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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