Thursday, November 06, 2008


SCHRÖDINGER'S MAC [aka alan stewart]

I have found two BIG problems with using a computer as the center of my creative process.


Yes, I run a music software store, and the above declaration does sound like a crack dealer advising clients to just say no. But hear me out. This is my process, and everybody goes about his or her business differently. Don’t worry, I’ve found a way to have my crack and smoke it too, and so can you!

Now back to the two BIG problems...

My first problem with a computer-centric musical approach is that there are too many options. The age of the virtual instrument has provided me with a never-ending gluttonous feast of sounds and textures. Way too much! Yet hasn’t that always been the goal of computer music; to break the boundaries of real-world physics, to create an infinite palette of sounds? Am I Un-American? Isn’t more ALWAYS better? In fact for me the opposite has proven true. For my process, infinite choices make for infinite decision-making. Everything grinds to a halt, and with every decision I make a small amount of second-guessing is injected into the mix. Doubt seeps in.

My second problem is that Audio and MIDI editing software make it way too easy to go back in time and clean up my stupid mess. Again, on the surface this seems to be a good thing: A note is early, go back and fix it. Sharp? Bring it down a quarter tone. But where should I draw the line? At what point are my mistakes within acceptable limits? What are the acceptable limits? It takes courage to display faults, but it is equally difficult to be objective. So mistakes get over-corrected. My results become a sanitized version of the original intent. The passion gets quantized, pitch corrected, and lost. I am imperfect. Music is imperfect. Let’s all make mistakes.

So it is with these realizations that I have recently changed, or rather reverted-to, my original music making process. I pick up my first love, my acoustic guitar. Here is an instrument with a stringent set of rules. Within those rules, I am liberated from the computer’s timbral decision-making demands. I am free to concentrate on the song. After the song, then the recording. No pushing notes about, just playing it through. Now the computer derived embellishments that follow are added to serve the song. The textural decisions become easy. They serve the song. The rhythms and textures bend and make room for the original performance, but the chaos of fingers on vibrating strings on frets on resonant wood remains unchanged, frozen in time for the hearing.

Donate Your Body to Silence is one of a number of tunes I am currently working on using this approach, a set of similar ideas I hope will become an album soon. Maybe a space-rock-tri-fold concept album! One can only hope. Please enjoy responsibly.