MIDI, Samples, or Live Sounds – Part III

Posted in Production, Recording on Juni 13th, 2011 by EO-Manager

After discussing MIDI and Samples we are going to enter part three: playing recording sessions „live“. Some say that it is the royal league of recording others argue it is a waste of time because it is not efficient and leads to endless recording sessions without any advancement. Well, if we are going back a littel into the history of recording – let’s say 70 or 80 years – this was the ONLY way to record. Even when you had Big Bands or Orchestras playing – the shellac time only had one possibility: either you got it right or you got it wrong. There was no way to record the singer five times in a row and take the best parts and cut them to a perfect one. Musicians had to be really good and concentrated because each mistake could not be redone – the simply was no multitracking in these days.

However, today there IS multitracking and it is possible for everyone so we can make mistakes as many and as long as we like. Back to the point: is it any better to record playing „live“? And if so, why? First of all, we have to define the word „live“ here, as it has multiple meanings. It can be  that you actually record musicians or bands „live“, meaning everybody plays  the same piece of music synchronously. The alternative is that everybody plays „live“ but NOT at the same time, in other words asynchronous. This is usually the case when you enter a studio with a band and do a demo, a record or whatever you want to present afterwards. This is also the case (forced of course) if you are the only musician of your „band“ and you have to have to play all instruments needed one after the other.

Whether you play „live“ or any hybrid model these days ist simply depending on two factors as far as I am concerned: the musical genre and style and the musicians personal abilities. If you are not a multi- instrumentalist it is very hard to play trombone or drums or any other instrument – simply because you can’t. Even if you are multi-instrumental it is not easy because you might not have all the different instruments at hand or they might be very difficult to record because you need too many microphones or external gear that you don’t own. In our days synths and samplers have become so darn good you can emulate anything and everything – or you simply take a construction kit cd and use the ready made sax solo, for example.

The reason why people don’t do all the time is quite obvious: no matter how good the emulation is, the most important part of music will still be missing – the human factor. Mathematically speaking there is literally an infinite number of possibilities how to play an instrument, let alone all the paramerters you would have to take care of even if it were possible to emaulate all of them. And if you take another musician and have a duo, the infinite possibilities even double. You surely get my point: music is an act of instant creativity, talent, decision and ability and probably another million of important factors that any (and I mean ANY) emulation sounds dead in comparison. Take a choir for example. You will never ever get even close to the real thing (that usually blows you away when you listen to it) on and in ready made vocal cds or synth presets. They might sound similar – but unfortunately stale and therefore boring very soon. And – apart from synth sounds, where the artificial sound IS the original – you will always hear it, feel it and will like the „real thing“ more. It is probably because music is not a machine thing (apart from a few genres maybe), it is truly human and warm and emotional and it only stays that way if performed by humans. We even forgive mistakes (if they don’t take over) because the beauty of music is beyond cold perfection …

I bet you knew it yourself, even if (as we all do) you live the musician’s compromise and use some sort of preset, sample or MIDI sequence in almost any peice of music (unless you don’t record and play unplugged flute or acoustic all the time). And there is nothing wrong with it, either. The vision is to be able to substitute all the presets and samples with REAL musicians once you are a superstar. Good luck and don’t forget to comment. End of this trilogy.

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Your personal cyber musician

Posted in Creativity, Inspiration, Opinion on April 29th, 2011 by EO-Manager

It seems that these days almost everything is possible when it comes to record music. Not only do you get most of the classical synths, guitar and bass sounds, drums and all the emulations of classic peripherals and fx – no, developers have gone further and even want to find the perfect emulation of a musician. Nowadays you will get various approaches of automated instruments and modules that promise to be as “human” as the old homo sapiens. Can that be true? Let’s have a closer look at it.

When you listen to humanized virtual instruments, first of all you are impressed. Well at least I am. You just hack in a couple of parameters like genre, timing, length etc and your virtual friend starts playing. Perfect, right? But then, after a couple of minutes your ear got used to whatever is played and you notice a couple of human imperfections missing. To be frank I haven’t heard any virtual “humanizing” instrument yet  that convinced me over a longer period of time (let’s even say: song)  – especially when used in a musical context. Why is this so and what exactly is missing here?

Obviously there is more to music than just simple rules. If you think, for example about a pianist’s way of interpretation, there a hundreds if not thousands of parameters that define his or her rules. Talking about drummers, you would still be able to distinguish one drummer from another, even if they played the same song (isn’t it right: you can almost instantly tell when drum machines are used?) Why? Because a program is only as good as its analytical abilities and the performing processor – in other words there is something very, very important missing: intuition and the possibility of deliberate and free decision. In other word: intelligence. Brains, mate! After all, a virtual this or that is still programmed. But how do you program deliberate choice? Part of a musical context is improvisation, interpretation and even deliberate “imperfection” (like being a tick before or after the 16th note) and feel.  Lots of your own “personality” goes in every song you write or play. You can call it “soul” or you call whatever. The question is: how do you program “personality” or “soul”?  It is intuition, nuances and experience we are talking about and the human ability to react on other humans  almost instantly. Every musician is able to vary his play in milliseconds according to a general musical “drift”. Can a program do that? I mean, really do that?

I don’t think so. Not in our days. It is a bit like cooking a meal. If you let the machines make the decision and the humans just do the work everything will taste like **insert your favorite global junk food provider here**. Yes it is ok once in a while, but otherwise it becomes stale and tasteless.

And even if people play the same music it just sounds differently. The complexity of our free will and the ability to decide within an almost infinite number of possibilities obviously makes the difference. I am not denying there are (basic) rules and guidelines you can program into a cybermusician – no more and no less. If this fits or exceeds your level of ability – hey, there is nothing wrong using it. It can help you getting better. But if you already are a good musician (especially with your own personal style) it won’t be good enough, yet.  Before you sack your bass player or pianists, though – think twice. Have you ever tried to have a beer and a good laugh with software?

Feel free to comment – or even better: feel free to name a program that already DOES the trick? And, err, no,sorry,  Jamstix does not, neither does Virtual Bass player nor Band in a box…

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