May 8, 2011

Medium != Message...

by Chris Randall

One thing I've often said, when confronted with the type of person that gets in to the minutia of the recording process, perhaps at the expense of the big picture, is that a good song will survive any production process, while a bad song can't be saved by the most sophisticated gear and recording techniques available.

This sort of idea is anathema to the Gear Queer, who is always certain that there is that one more piece of kit sitting out there, just beyond grasp, that will push things over the edge and make all the difference. We're each of us guilty of this behavior, of course. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, etc. But the simple fact of the matter is that the work of art exists already, as a wave function, and whatever you need to collapse that bitch and bring shit out in to the cold light of day is what you need. There are records that wouldn't exist without a massive, and relatively expensive, modular synth and a fairly detail-oriented production approach (see: A Funneled Stone), and others that would sound fucking retarded if they were anything but a guitar and a vocal. (See: Robert Johnson's entire ouvre. Happy 100th b'day to Mr. Johnson, btw.)

Now, this entire approach could be perceived as my own way of justifying my several rather ridiculous recording habits, the which you're all perfectly aware of. I approach photography and music-making in the same way, trying to squeeze something interesting out of a device not really meant to do what I'm asking of it, largely via a trial-and-error approach rather than any cohesive planning on my part. My general philosophy with respect to photography is the Shakespeare/Monkey method: if you take enough pictures, some of them are bound to be interesting, and quantity has a quality all its own. No particular reason this can't be applied to music. (See: Wesley Willis.)

I guess what I'm trying to say, when it comes down to it, is this: I am of the firm opinion that there is interesting shit hiding in my brain. All I have to do is figure out how to get it out. While a new piece of The Shiny might make certain aspects of that chore easier, at the end of the day, the song lives in my brain, not in the gear. The medium is the messenger, not the message itself.


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May.09.2011 @ 10:52 PM
Early Little Richard, you can hear him topping out the mic - but he's fucking on fire. Better recording?....

May.10.2011 @ 5:47 AM
What you said about the quantity and the quality about photography is very interesting. Maybe this is the same thing with music ? This is somehow my way of thinking. When you want to make a recording which kicks the ass, I think you have to use a lot of ideas you had before, and not only new ideas. I also think that the best way to improve you music creation skills is to make a lot of music.

May.10.2011 @ 6:58 AM
I agree that making a lot of music is the best way to improve your skills. The more you work on it, the more techniques you learn and the larger the pallate to work from. I'm relatively new to the electronic music world and I notice a huge difference in my work over the last year or two. I think a lot of it has to do with me incorporating some external instruments and effects as opposed to staying in the box the whole time. It causes me to make decisions right then and there and (usually) yeilds better results.

May.10.2011 @ 11:11 AM
I think one sounds like him/herself on every instrument, there's something that comes across, not neccesarily tied to technical prowes or tech used.

And, in my case, good composition or whatever piece of music I make and I'm satisfied with, makes me happier for quite longer than a new piece of gear.

That said, I need that 50s Precision Bass reissue NOW.

May.10.2011 @ 1:05 PM
@klemen: While everyone can have their own sound just based on their personal preferences, influences, etc, there is still a lot of music out there that sounds the same. I think your skills and the gear you use have the biggest impact on your sonic signature.

May.10.2011 @ 3:50 PM
im split right down the middle on this one.
on one hand, if we all believed this, we would all be sitting behind pianos and writing songs and then transferring them to our own studios. (i believe this)
on the other hand the juggle is that since i dont sit behind a piano and write (but i have done that) i would get bored, just like i do with all the gear--which i once lusted over-- ive got now.
i wish that i would more often limit myself intentionally like those that put wonderful youtube videos up of songs (although mostly covers for some reason) done wholly on one single synth and nothing else. i have recently begun putting 8 or 9 synths in the closet, out of sight, to pull out later and make noise with.
i dont do any of that often enough. now do i?

May.10.2011 @ 3:51 PM
@msouthard: dunno. i tend to think that your influences have the biggest impact on your sonic signature, or a median/mean thereof.

May.10.2011 @ 6:31 PM
@soundsubs: how about 40% skill, 30% influences, 30% gear

May.11.2011 @ 3:26 AM
Maybe I'm missing the point here, but I'm thinking that lots of people, more than ever, make 'electronic music' these days, on everything from their iPhones to their budget modulars (small number, granted). Ways of doing it have simply never been more accessible, and it just keeps getting 'easier'. Not everyone also picks up a guitar, writes a tune and sings some lyrics (that's hard!). However, 99.9999% of these people exist totally outside of the musical mainstream, especially in this country. Most people who listen to them on soundcloud or whatever are themselves creators of electronic music and then probably very much into the 'trees' too, as opposed to your typical music consumer who probably reacts to music more exclusively on less cerebral levels.

May.11.2011 @ 11:32 AM
beauty pill
I have a lot of thoughts on this topic --- come on, you knew I would --- but I'll spare you and continue to munch this popcorn.

No joke. I'm actually munching popcorn right now. I cook it in olive oil and top it off with sea salt. I recommend it.

- c

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