Music & Tech
I’ve been listening to Rick Wakeman all morning. Now “Are We To Believe” from the Starship Trooper album is playing. I started listening chronologically from the “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” Aside from diligently composed and performed genre defying music, I have witnessed the evolution of a composer through the evolution of technology. The most obviously audible leap is in his music in the 80’s when digital synths and drum machines were the common ground for music production. There is no argument that technology, as it evolves, has a great effect on creation of music and creativity in general. I will not go into this being bad or good. I got to thinking as I was listening the 1984 album. I remember most of those sounds because I had used those sounds when I was growing up to be a musician. The problem I encountered listening to Wakeman was, when this music was being written in the 80’s, because those sounds were new at the time, appealed to the listener mostly because of the new sound and the new “loopy” ways of composing got started to be utilized commonly. Towards the middle of the album it got to be a little boring, not because of the lack compositional variety but because of the sound repetition and tech based composition approach. Broadly I can say that the problem with tech based creativity gets old, mostly because technology gets outdated very quickly, and getting outdated quicker exponentially as it evolves. Well, for every problem that arises in my mind I tend to find an answer and a solution. I immediately jumped to Wakeman’s 2016 Starship Trooper album. Not to my surprise, there were live drums, bass guitar, electric guitar and live everything else. This was definitely relieving. To hear the human element in the performance definitely makes the music and the musical creativity open up. By “opening up” I mean turning into something into a living, breathing thing. And also, the compositional approach becomes more open to new possibilities.
So here are my few quick solutions to the problem of music and tech relationship. First of all technology, as it becomes an instrument, it also becomes the medium in music. For example, using soft synths, audio loops, guitar amp plugins, cutting and pasting on the DAW, becomes a method of delivery. The sound is the carrier of the music. I think this is where we hit a creative threshold. Obviously, we’d like to have all the available advanced tech ready to be utilized, but to our advancement in creativity rather than for the sake of sounding “new”, “modern”, “up to date”, “trendy” or whatever, because there are more things evolving besides the tech; the human collective perception, individual intellect, society and everything that comes with it, to name a few. Letting tech dictate the shaping of all these other things is a relevant but a different topic. I am only interested in the musical creation issue for today.
There is a very thin line between utilizing tech to support and advance creativity and performance, and having tech to dictate the shape of our creativity. It is a bit scary for me really to fall onto the wrong side of this tech/music relationship. During the process of composing, it is sometimes not very easy to tell if the composer is utilizing the tech or tech is dictating the composer. It is an issue of culture, really. It is technology shaping culture and human behavior versus evolving human culture advancing and utilizing technology for its own good. Giving in to the synthetic tech dictated human evolution is definitely the easier path to choose. Like every “easier path”, it leads us to destinations where we find ourselves to be lost, unfortunately in places where we can’t get out of following our own footsteps.
And to end this little morning thought trip , I would recommend sparing some free time to sit down and listen to “Starship Trooper” by Rick Wakeman as a whole album from start to end.