June 12, 2006

A Little Too Perfect?

by Chris Randall

My wife and I took a break from computers yesterday in search of a source of vitamin D besides the glow of LCD monitors and drove to the Oregon coast for the day. When we go on road trips of any length, we tune our XM radio to Fred (XM44), which is the one station we can both (mostly) agree on. If you're not an XM user, Fred is a station that plays "the history of alternative music." While you are pretty much guaranteed a heavy dose of shitty 80s synth pop, they also play a lot of shit we really like, including a generous slice of deep cuts which you'll not normally hear anywhere. (When was the last time you heard the Eno version of "Third Uncle," followed by Thomas Dolby's cover of the Dan Hicks classic "I Scare Myself" on the radio? I'm gonna guess "never" is the answer to that.)

Anyways, during the course of one power play of late 70s post-punk, we got to talking about why we like some of this music now (e.g. Joy Division) when we didn't particularly care for it when we were younger and it was new. After some discussion, we agreed that we like the fact that it is so raw. The timing drifts, and the recording methods are a long, long ways from state of the art, even for the time, never mind today.

So, my question is thus: is today's music too perfect to be pleasant? Is the relentless use of audio quantization and AutoTune not only removing the need for playing skill, but actually making music unlistenable? I never liked the Who; I generally avoid classic rock like the plague that it is, having toured far too much to like any rock from the 70s any more. But now, when I hear something like "Who Are You" it's such a fucking relief, especially when placed against the ProTooled Perfection of what passes for rock in today's market.



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Jun.12.2006 @ 12:13 PM
penzoil washington
Overperfection in recordings is just one symptom of the shit-eating desire to please, when one's only vision is that of a lucrative career. In the old days the musicians led the industry more than the other way around. Maybe that's why even crap like the Who can sound decent today.

Jun.12.2006 @ 12:24 PM
I agree... the music nowadays is a bit too overproduced sometimes. I wish that people who do something along the lines of live improvised jazz, but with electronic instruments and not nessicarily following all those (now) jazz cliches... something a bit more experimental. Thats what I would like to do, but personally my skills are just not good enough to perform everything without some sort of sequencing, or recording and then looping, or "cheating" somehow.

A question about XM... have you used it in Canada? I am interested in getting XM, but I want to get the U.S. version for use here in Canada (because I don't need half my stations being francophone, and the other 25% being the CBC). I am just wondering if there is any sort of way geography effects content, or if it is all the same signal and if you have the U.S. decoder and therefore you get U.S. content.


Jun.12.2006 @ 12:28 PM
Chris Randall
I dunno 'bout all that. What I _do_ know is that if you're North of the 45th Parallel, you're gonna have trouble receiving the US stations. Even here in Oregon (which is a long ways from being the most Northerly portion of the lower 48) we lose the signal when there's a lot of trees on the South side of the road.

Quite frankly, I think you're unlikely to be able to receive the US signal very well, unless you live somewhere with no trees or hills. I think the US XM signal is largely designed for the Southern US, where it works incredibly well, even in tunnels and shit.



Jun.12.2006 @ 1:56 PM
My band Ohler records improvised, electronic and non-jazz cliche recordings. Our SO is that we prep for a session by putting together some sounds and samples, but nothing too elaborate and then we record. We both use powerbooks running live and some outboard grear and then we record into a desktop also running live. The whole thing is tempo syncronized so that we can cleanly cut the resulting session any way that we want.

We typically try to record an idea for 20-40 minutes with the intention of making a 5-10 minute track from the best bit.

But it is all improvised with no editing in post save to make the crop for the song lenth. We *do* play around a lot with eq, comp fx and all that, however... which is a lot of fun.

Anyway. Most of our stuff (almost 5 years work) is free to download here: link [leemonn.com]">link [leemonn.com]


Jun.12.2006 @ 3:27 PM
that is my EXACT problem w/ electronic music. and why i have been stuck in this damn vortex of a sordid moral obligation for a live performance to be more than merely clicking the (again) damn space bar. or play CD's. perfection is a PITA. the fusing of the electronic and organic (human) is just _AH!



Jun.12.2006 @ 3:30 PM
The best rock shows I've ever seen were far from perfect performances, more like crisis management. I'll never forget watching the Pixies teeter on the edge of imploding through an entire set.

For something to go really well, there has to be the potential for things to go really bad.


Jun.12.2006 @ 3:45 PM
Chris Randall
I fully agree with you there.

I've seen live electronic acts that could pull it off. Mouse On Mars comes to mind. I can't stand the Flaming Lips, like _really_ can't stand them. Like, I want to punch that smarmy motherfucker right in his adam's apple. However, I've seen them several times (and had to clean all that fucking confetti out of my lights) and, at least in their early days, they pulled it off, too.

So, it's possible. I find the whole "bending over a laptop playing Live" schtick to be quite boring, though.



Jun.12.2006 @ 3:50 PM
I'd have to say that it's no so much the fact that AutoTune and Beat Detective exist as tools as much as it's the engineer/musician that chooses to use these tools in excess when they don't NEED it. I'll be the first to admit that I use Pro Tools, have fixed drums with Beat Detective, and own a copy of Antares AutoTune. I use them in the most sparing way and only if it's DIRE need.
Say I recorded a drummer that missed a pause or a fill or sped up to much on one section and he's now out of the country and can't re-track the part. I will use the tools at hand to get the job done, but some people use AutoTune always even when it's not needed. I think it's as much of a problem on the judgement of the producer or engineer or the lack of musicianship on the players part. I like that I can turn a first take into the take with the use of pitching half a dozen notes throughout an entire 7 minute song. The performance of the vocal is just as important as the pitch and timing of that vocal and when it sounds perfect it looses the humanistic vibe that it once had.

Jun.12.2006 @ 3:57 PM
I think the problem, in the case of timing, is "acurate to what?"

a grid of 16ths is hardly ever what you want to hear, so lets apply a "groove map" which is taken from our perfect logical idea of what the song requires in terms od 'swing' and apply it instead of straight 16ths.

but the problem is:
this relies on someone's logical decision to apply 8th note swing or "stubblefield preset"
How that decision is made is not the same way that musical timing decisions are made. Musical timing decisions are made intuitively, DAW timing decisions are made logically and laboriously. Our logical side is not historically where our musical juju resides.

I propose a midi seat, which affects groove and tempo by how hard and fast the engineers chair rocks.

or not.


Jun.12.2006 @ 4:05 PM
three words hombres,

the bad plus.


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