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Music vs. sound? Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 31st March 2010
  #1
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Music vs. sound?

Not only did J. S. Bach write some of the greatest music ever, but his music, as interpreted by Wendy (originally Walter) Carlos, sparked much of the subsequent interest in synthesizers as musical instruments. As a result, I am particularly fascinated by how much of today's electronic music has become virtually the opposite of Bach's ideal.

Every time I listen to Bach's music, I realize again that he cared more than anything else about what notes his instruments were playing. He rarely wrote chords as such; instead, what one might hear as a chord usually came about as a fleeting combination of several otherwise independent voices. On several occasions he took music that he had written for one instrument and reused it for another. Sometimes he did not even indicate what instrument or instruments he intended.

Most of the electronic music I hear today approaches its art from the opposite direction: Sound design comes first, then rhythm, and then the actual choice of notes. Rhythm and texture matter much more than melody or harmony.

At this point, some people might rant about how much better things were in the old days. Not me--I think that such things are a matter of taste, and you can't argue about taste. Well, you can, but such arguments are usually impossible to settle so there's not much point.

However, there is a question that I think is important, and that is why. What is it about the use of electronic instruments that has made the ideas of melody and harmony so much less important than they once were? Is it just that electronic instruments are so much more sonically flexible than acoustic ones that it impels people to use them? Is it that it is easier to mash fragments together if they are mostly rhythmic rather than melodic? Is there some other reason that I am missing?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Last edited by ark; 1st April 2010 at 01:36 AM.. Reason: Fixed a spelling error probably due to caffeine deficiency during original post.
Old 31st March 2010
  #2
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I think you hit on alot of good topics.

I general my "observations" have been that most of the folks creating electronic music are using tools (keyboards) that are already chocked full of someone else's ideas. You can be creative and make them your own, but the fact is that a very big part of the creative process has already been handed to you by giving you tens of thousands of sounds to mash together and create something with. COOL! ... . . sorta.

I'll let everyone else get down on the other topics, but if you think about HOW sounds were created early on BEFORE keyboards, you'll see that the creative process/thinking/conceptual sound design HAD to come independantly from each person...... there was the originality.

It almost makes we weep in joy to think about how beautiful these early sounds were, and how they were created by recording a lampshade flutter, hitting a wooden table with a spoon, tearing a piece of papper, the human voice...... all these sounds were recorded to tape and then spliced together to create 1 sound, a sound. Then the tape speeds were speed up or down to change the pitch to get different notes, then spaced apart to play melodies, or the tape was reversed to get creative sounds...
yada yada yada . .. .

But like you said, it's all a matter of taste too. But to me, there has never been more enjoyable sounds made from a synth than from the first early sound designers splicing tape with sounds created/invented by them with real room ambienence and the fluctuations that came from the imperfect working conditions and process..... the human element.

The theme to "DR. WHO" is a great example of this.


cheers
steely
Old 31st March 2010
  #3
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I wish it were sound. Todays music seems to be all about production gimmicks, in other words how many FX, glitches, automation you can cram into a track in the computer.

Sound is important. Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" as cell phone ringtone or wait loop using a basic waveform still lets the outstanding achievement it is shine through, but only barely.

To me music that doesn't sound good as well isn't much fun to listen to, really. I could care less for the gimmicks though.



Oh, and as for your question, I think many people making electronic music aren't musicians per se. And we're more and more forced to focus on the non-melody part. But yes, without great melodies and harmonies I think the sound itself isn't going to carry far.
Old 31st March 2010
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ark View Post
However, there is a question that I think is important, and that is why. What is it about the use of electronic instruments that has made the ideas of melody and harmony so much less important than they once were? Is it just that electronic instruments are so much more sonically flexibal than acoustic ones that it impels people to use them? Is it that it is easier to mash fragments together if they are mostly rhythmic rather than melodic? Is there some other reason that I am missing?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

When Luis and Bebe Baron , pretty much started electronic music , they had no luxury of melody cause the synths that they made (all their synthesizers were hand made because at the time there were no synethesizer companies) had no easy means of being controled melodically and second because once they stop functioning there was no way to recreat them exactly and thus the sound was completely lost.

Luis and Bebe went in 1950 to create the first Electronic Soundtrack for a movie and then their legacy was slowly lost cause synthesizer became replicatable and controlable thus considered more like a musical instruments.

But in the core synthesizers will always keep the legacy of Luis and Bebe Baron in heart where chaos and unpredictability will play a vital role , where the rawness of sound will surface first.

Nowdays we can talk about, trance , electro, dance, industrial, house and ala the other genres that are much more tamed than the avant gard of Luis and Bebe Baron. But I think that no electronic artist can deny the fact that synthesizer are foremost all about the sound and not the music.

Proudly, I am dealing with a genre like , its not extreme sound design like avant garde electonic music but its flirting alot with it, its called ambient.

For me sound will always come first and then will be music. Because that is what I enjoy most, not the macroworld of music but the microworld of sound. Sound can sends us to far more exotic places than music will ever do . And because music is a creation of human, sound is a creation of nature and thus alot more complex and interesting, at least to me.

And Studying nature, has always intrigued me.

Respect to your Bach, but he does not inspire me.
Old 31st March 2010
  #5
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A man that speaks of Bach, is a man after my own heart!



Most if not all Western music is based upon Bach's contribution to it.
Noise art is fun, and interesting, but is fleeting to say the least.

Bach did things not simply for music but for much 'Higher' reasons.
Old 31st March 2010
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by ark View Post
What is it about the use of electronic instruments that has made the ideas of melody and harmony so much less important than they once were?
Synths have been consumer-level electronics for 30+ years now. Cheap guitars have been available for even longer than that. The tools of the trade are so affordable now that anyone can compose music and throw it up on a website if they so desire. I would guess that only a very small percentage of those people have actually studied music theory. Add that to the Punk movement, which is founded on the idea that basically "hey, anyone can play music".

During the Baroque period, music compisition was probably viewed as skilled trade, one that required study.
Old 31st March 2010
  #7
i'm sure he'd be less into notes/melody and more into sound design if he had the tools.

i know the dada movement did some pretty impressive stuff with a piano, but back in Bach's day he was limited by the instruments and conventions of the time was he not?

and so its only natural that he was into 'notes' as he couldn't have been into much else....
Old 31st March 2010
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by golden beers View Post
i'm sure he'd be less into notes/melody and more into sound design if he had the tools.

i know the dada movement did some pretty impressive stuff with a piano, but back in Bach's day he was limited by the instruments and conventions of the time was he not?

and so its only natural that he was into 'notes' as he couldn't have been into much else....
Please. Many of us, who have the tools for sound design, are still more into notes. For me, personally, music IS the notes. One can write a piece of music and various instruments can play it. Regardless of the instrument it's still the same MUSIC. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ellington all knew and did this. They wrote for the notes as well as the instrument. But the instrument could be substituted and the integrity of the music would not likely be harmed.

It's ALL about the notes for me.
Old 31st March 2010
  #9
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My favorite melodies have been written by a bedroom musician with a synthesizer fetish. Richard D. James
Old 31st March 2010
  #10
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[QUOTE]
Quote:
Originally Posted by kilon View Post
Baron in heart where chaos and unpredictability will play a vital role , where the rawness of sound will surface first.
Agreed. The amazing power of simply the quality of a "sound" in general is way overlooked, but also given too much priority too! As in folks creating wonderful sounds, but not using them to create anything with emotional content or using them to convey a message...... in short, using them to create music. However, I do appreciate subtlety of pleasant sounds taking their time to get there......if there is a "there".

Music and the quality of the sounds created to perform it for me need to co-exist and work together, otherwise neat sounds are floating around and perculating doing nothing, or a great song has been put together with only average sounds. .. just seems incomplete.

When the two decide that both need each , that's when the fireworks go off for me.
Old 31st March 2010
  #11
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I play guitar. But, to my detriment, I am sure, I never pay too much attention to tone. A little. I know the tone I want and generally nail it, or am satisfied with the ballpark. As a matter of fact, it's a little strange for me, because in my head I don't even generally hear a guitar. I don't know exactly what it is, but it's like a piano/saxophone/guitar. The lines I play, I don't generally hear other guitar players playing them -- I hear tenor players and piano players doing similar lines.

So for me, it's never been about the sounds. I hear notes in my head. Sound is a very important component part of music. Music is the conscious and creative manipulation of tones, sound and time that communicates on a personal emotional, aesthetic and intellectual level. So yeah, sound is very important, just for me it's a little less important than some of the other elements.
Old 31st March 2010
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
I play guitar. But, to my detriment, I am sure, I never pay too much attention to tone. A little.
Sometimes your writing almost reads like poetry.

-Andrews
Old 31st March 2010
  #13
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I sense a nostalgic note in this thread. Have we lost something? If anything, the tools available today allow the experimentation and creativity characteristic of the pioneer days even more and for much less money.

No later than this month I was banging scissors against my metal keyboard stand in order to create some eerie, low, reverberating rumble that I needed and I couldn't be bothered to spend hours on the web looking for the perfect sample. Freeware programmes allow me to do things achievable by tape manipulation in the old days.

I agree that music should be independent from the instruments. Of course, the instrument is a great part of it, but creating a situation where a unique instrument is irreplaceable seems plain wrong to me and very limiting.
Old 31st March 2010
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
Please. Many of us, who have the tools for sound design, are still more into notes. For me, personally, music IS the notes. One can write a piece of music and various instruments can play it. Regardless of the instrument it's still the same MUSIC. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ellington all knew and did this. They wrote for the notes as well as the instrument. But the instrument could be substituted and the integrity of the music would not likely be harmed.

It's ALL about the notes for me.
i should concede that there's no reason he'd be less into notes... bad golden beers. not that i meant that he would turn his back on melody.. anyway prolly wouldve been simpler if i left that part out. i meant it in % terms really. but it didnt come across like that at all.,...

but you're more into sound design than you would be if the tools didnt exist right?
Old 31st March 2010
  #15
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Thinking about it some more , Bill Evan's solo piano work comes to mind.

Talk about the complete package.

His piano sound, the chords he plays, the notes he plays over them and how the spaces where the notes fall create ALOT of feeling, how he plays around a melody and then finally lets you hear it. The spaces created by the recordings with the type of music..... just SO MUCH to contribute, everything has been accounted for.

His music would be amazing even with an average piano sound, but the fact that his tone and sound is there, it pushes everything to a higher level being that the sentiment of his tone (his sounds) match his "music" so well that it's really quite astonishing.

The idea of making: rythym , melody , harmony , sound design , etc. all part of the equation is one thing, but when the importance of these roles change from piece to piece from one artist, that's when you know that the level of conveying a message is at it's highest pinnacle because the artist message comes from complete understanding, and not from building music up from a strong or weak point, but totaly realized feeling.
Old 31st March 2010
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by golden beers View Post
but you're more into sound design than you would be if the tools didnt exist right?
No, I don't think so. Maybe, sure, I guess. I hate wasting time looking for or creating sounds, most of the time! I'm too busy trying to find all the right notes!

Thanks Halo!
Old 31st March 2010
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ark View Post
What is it about music education in public schools that has made the ideas of melody and harmony so much less important than they once were?
fixed!

also re piano example: how many master jp8 artisans are there? Electronic music is a baby compared to instruments with hundreds of years of study behind them. There is a lady down the street who plays violin, her husband plays the harp. My son plays the piano.

The instrument class is fixed--there are no andromeda players, no jp8 players--no Johnny Smiths who are famous for their exquisite jp8 skills, no OBX concerts. Electronic music is the melding of composer and player, and is still finding its way a bit. When electronic musicians hear a skilled piece, they can't go out to barnes and noble and buy a book about the composer and study the score to learn. Just have to listen pretty damn close and wonder sometimes, how the f did that guy do that. Not that I am a musician, not by any stretch at all.
Old 31st March 2010
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
Please. Many of us, who have the tools for sound design, are still more into notes. For me, personally, music IS the notes. One can write a piece of music and various instruments can play it. Regardless of the instrument it's still the same MUSIC. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ellington all knew and did this. They wrote for the notes as well as the instrument. But the instrument could be substituted and the integrity of the music would not likely be harmed.

It's ALL about the notes for me.

Henry, I keep tabs on stuff you say, and I think I have a hard time disagreeing with you on many things, this included.

Regardless, I'd say all the great composers (if they where alive today) would still not utilize the 'traditional' mediums they had at their disposal but use all of it to make music. In my humble opinion (I've been wrong more time than I can count) it still would always be music first, everything else second.
Old 31st March 2010
  #19
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alot of the misconception i think comes from that some of todays electronic music(good stuff that is) plays the role of "art", in a sense, the sound designers/artists are using and manipulating sound to create a "sound painting", as an abstract modern art painting would..the use of color-texture, , paint strokes through automation, shapes and so forth...this is different then in a traditional setting where pitch sets the tone by a musician. Abstract art never had a point or really a reference, it was about technique and process hence impressionism, surrealism...to some this maybe insufficient , but as much as i admire beautiful use of notes and scale, i also admire sound art with its undetermined scales, textures, micro rhythms, grains, efx... why does " music" have to be something that is easily labeled or identified? All music is art, its just a different way of seeing/hearing things, whether how it effects you or not is really up to the listeners open mindedness.
Old 31st March 2010
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peter_martin View Post
Henry, I keep tabs on stuff you say, and I think I have a hard time disagreeing with you on many things, this included.

Regardless, I'd say all the great composers (if they where alive today) would still not utilize the 'traditional' mediums they had at their disposal but use all of it to make music. In my humble opinion (I've been wrong more time than I can count) it still would always be music first, everything else second.
Thanks! Clearly they'd use the tools at hand: Finale, Sibelius would start. Sure they'd use samples and virtual instruments. Of course! It's cheaper than hiring an orchestra, to at least be able to hear the pieces. But a lot of these guys don't NEED to hear it. They know how it sounds.

But a lot of these guys would STILL rather spend their time composing, pencil to virtual paper, than searching for sounds and tweedling with DAWs. That is unless genius dude is a virtuoso pianist.
Old 31st March 2010
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maks View Post
alot of the misconception i think comes from that some of todays electronic music(good stuff that is) plays the role of "art", in a sense, the sound designers/artists are using and manipulating sound to create a "sound painting", as an abstract modern art painting would..the use of color-texture, , paint strokes through automation, shapes and so forth...this is different then in a traditional setting where pitch sets the tone by a musician. Abstract art never had a point or really a reference, it was about technique and process hence impressionism, surrealism...to some this maybe insufficient , but as much as i admire beautiful use of notes and scale, i also admire sound art with its undetermined scales, textures, micro rhythms, grains, efx... why does " music" have to be something that is easily labeled or identified? All music is art, its just a different way of seeing/hearing things, whether how it effects you or not is really up to the listeners open mindedness.
Good point! My only gripe comes when you throw the baby out with the bath water. Most of the Impressionists, and Abstract artists could still draw and understood lines and shade and perspective. Today you have a lot of people who have no clue about harmony.
Old 31st March 2010
  #22
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in many ways, electronic music is still in its infancy(30+- yrs old?) and exploratory phases, there's much more coming down the line, and certainly will serve those seeking more emotional contentment, theres plenty of room for everyone to use whatever means necessary to create music and be happy
Old 31st March 2010
  #23
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Good point! My only gripe comes when you throw the baby out with the bath water. Most of the Impressionists, and Abstract artists could still draw and understood lines and shade and perspective. Today you have a lot of people who have no clue about harmony.

well as with anything, this sets the pro's apart from the amatuers
Old 31st March 2010
  #24
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But not limiting it to electronic music alone, there's a lack of musical intelligence and education, which dove tails into the problem I've been talking about.

Johnny doesn't know how to read, so invent elaborate picture books - may not be the best, most optimal solution. He may eventually want to "write" novels but can only draw stick figures. Very cool stick figures that seem to point to a plot with no dialogue, but he's missing the experience writing the great works. And he's very defensive about it and discounts the need to read. OK, but he's the one who's missing out, as well as society. As usual, you don't know what you don't know.
Old 31st March 2010
  #25
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Maks I agree with you completely...Musical instrumentation in popular music has been gravitating towards the electronic field since the first days of electric guitars, and possibly even earlier. I feel that in today's musical climate utilizing electronic textures and production techniques is a way of making the process of creating music more accessible to those that have not taken the time to study music theory or do not have the intellectual capacity to wrap their heads around the subject. Regardless, great music is being made by those that do and do not understand why certain notes go together or what makes a great melody and I think this is a good thing. By allowing those without a "traditional" understanding of our western music culture we are opening avenues for much greater artistic creation. We're all just using a new paint brush to convey our emotions through music
Old 31st March 2010
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ark View Post
What is it about the use of electronic instruments that has made the ideas of melody and harmony so much less important than they once were? Is it just that electronic instruments are so much more sonically flexibal than acoustic ones that it impels people to use them? Is it that it is easier to mash fragments together if they are mostly rhythmic rather than melodic? Is there some other reason that I am missing?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.
A couple of thoughts here:

1- there are other roots of electronic music that have always implied sonic collage: Musique Concrete. That, along with an emphasis on functionality of rhythm for dance music has created a focus on bits and pieces. Short, tight and percussive elements while remaining interesting just works in the forum of loud dance music, which is where a lot of electronic music's focus has been for the last 2 decades. That, and the fact that we live in hyper media saturated times that breed overstimulated, short attention spans. I offer the idea that short, tight bits of information collaged together fits the zeitgeist of these times.

2- Electronic instruments very clearly suggest the last frontier of exploration
for music: Timbre. With all the tonal possibilities, and the interest in this culture to make tone shift radically, something else needs to be stable and simplified in the music in order for it to sound clear rather than ultra jumbled and muddled, so harmonic structure takes a back seat to Timbre and Rhythm.
Additionally, a lot of the people who come to make electronic music,-- in fact, many of it's seminal artists-- are not classically trained in theory and harmony, and therefore don't have many ideas or access to thinking in a more traditional (read: Bach) way about harmony. I also think that there's a need to reconnect with the primal nature of the body and the earth that textured rhythm speaks to-- harmony tends to pull the brain into thought and emotion Not that that's a bad thing, it's just more about where music is at as a whole, and what society as a large mass needs. I mean, look at how much more harmonically simple rock music is now compared to the 60's and 70's. Things are getting harmonically simpler, and rhythmically and texturally more complex.


That is why, IMO.
Old 31st March 2010
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by soundxplorer View Post
During the Baroque period, music compisition was probably viewed as skilled trade, one that required study.
Of course it was. If you wouldn't have a patron of sorts, you'd starve. You didn't till the fields, you didn't receive tithes, and you didn't own land? Better come up with something -really- good.
Old 31st March 2010
  #28
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good post Metaphor, but i would suggest that Timbre is by far not the last frontier to be explored in/with music.
Old 31st March 2010
  #29
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[QUOTE]
Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
But not limiting it to electronic music alone, there's a lack of musical intelligence and education, which dove tails into the problem I've been talking about.
And also dovetails out into some of the most creatively wonderful music ever created by people who never knew the rules or even guidelines and started off creating purely on the basis of wanting to
create/express something without the education , but out of the pure desire to create.

This goes back to the COBRA thing again.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COBRA_(...garde_movement)


Great post Henry, and great example.
Old 31st March 2010
  #30
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while i agree with Henry about the lack of certain fundamental education atleast, you gotta give some credit for those willing to read through the 900 page manuals for DAW's, learning plug-ins, drivers, etc etc and other tedious technical s**t, and finally coming up with something after years of twiddling around, LOL heh
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