Browsing through sound presets in soft synthesizers reminds us that sound designers
do not necessarily create sounds that are musical. (Are they musicians?)
Our ears relish relations and meaningful patterns in the music
more than (merely) attractive sounds.
It’s as if the busy hi hat patterns in contemporary hip hop are (desperately) trying to get free from the unchanging beats.
The predictive failure of Spotify’s “Related Artists” algorithm is to due to the fact that it relies on the supposed relevance of what others are listening to
as a way of categorizing music.
But our tastes don’t work this way.
The goal of editing music on a computer is the same as editing text:
you want to make what you have c l e a r e r.
Remember: the beat in beat-heavy music is making a statement
to guide how you’re supposed to interact with it.
Noise in music has clear points of diminishing returns,
beyond which the noise obliterates saying something.
“Against a rising tide of automation and increasing digital complexity, we are becoming further divorced from the very thing that defines us: we are makers, crafters of things. When our lives once comprised an almost unbroken chain of movements and actions as we interacted physically with the material requirements of our existence, today we stare at screens and we press buttons. When we made things, we accumulated a certain kind of knowledge, we had an awareness and an understanding of how materials worked and how the human form has evolved to create from them. With the severance of this ability we’re in danger of losing touch with a knowledge base that allows us to convert raw materials into useful objects, a hand-eye-head-heart-body co-ordination that furnishes us with a meaningful understanding of the materiality of our world. Some people call this knowledge know-how to distinguish it from formal knowledge, the knowledge of principles. But you could call it cræft.
It is a wisdom that furnishes the practitioner with a certain power.”
“We must never lose sight of the fact that the most intelligently designed, the most versatile and the most complex piece of kit we have at our disposal is our own body.”
– Deckle Edge, Cræft (2018), pp. 22, 24.
exactitude – not approximate in any way;
precise, from the Latin verb exigere – to thoroughly perform
The phrase the problem of exactitude occurs to me to describe a kind of left-field situation I encounter regularly when I’m working on music or writing about it. The situation can be described as a tension between my trying to be precise—to know where I’m going with a project, to make sense of the space I’m in—and the reality that I’m not so in control of all of the elements. The problem is this: trying to be precise about an artistic/aesthetic situation I don’t yet understand.
So working on a project becomes a process of precisely inhabiting a situation of inexactitude simply by responding to it. A John Cage quote from my blog comes to mind. “Doing something we don’t know how to do” he says. “No technique” (John Cage, Diary, p. 77). I like Cage’s no technique idea because it sounds nonchalant, but let’s refine it a little: there is technique, except that it’s not a musical technique. Instead it’s a conceptual move away from having the need for knowing—a misdirected precision—ruin the beauty of the still strange and not yet understood creative moment. In this left-field situation, the problem of exactitude suggests that I keep my precision, just aim it differently.
• Russell Hartenberger Steve Reich. This search brought you to my post on Hartenberger’s stellar book, Performance Practice in the Music Of Steve Reich. In my post I wrote:
“As I read Performance Practice I was struck by the similarities between its flow and the gradual unfolding of Reich’s music. The smooth surface of Hartenberger’s writing belies the layers of experiential, theoretical, and anecdotal analysis that lie underneath. Like the percussionist drumming out resultant patterns heard in the polyrhythm mix, one phrase at a time, Hartenberger makes a case for the ways in which music ‘with rhythm as one of its primary structural components can be spine-tingling and beautiful’ (239). Performance Practice is a systematic and nuanced unpacking of the thinking, structures, and playing techniques involved in Reich’s early works, leading us ‘beneath the surface of the music to the joy of rhythmic beauty’ (ibid.).”
• does the power of habit help musicians. This search brought you to my post on Charles Duhigg’s The Power Of Habit. In my post I wrote about applying lessons from the book to music (specifically to an ill-conceived but experimentally intentioned attempt to get into country music):
“Reading Duhigg’s book it struck me that as music listeners we often approach our favorite musics as kinds of habits with their own cues, routines, and rewards. Music can give us a kind of ‘fix’ of our favorite sound combinations. What’s more, it’s also excellent at creating desire within its own structures–setting up stimulus cues through melody, harmony, and rhythm and then prolonging our wait for the reward—like that huge chorus, the cathartic chord cadence, the infectious hook, or the massive beat.”
• michel bras. This search brought you to my post on a documentary about the (self-taught) French chef Michel Bras. In my post I wrote:
“As is the case with someone who experiences synesthesia (experiencing one sensory domain in terms of another–like hearing a chord and seeing the color purple, etc.), Bras is taking in something visual but funneling it through olfactory means: a sight becoming a taste (not to mention a texture, a set of relations and contrasts). It’s all about one of my favorite processes: transformation. And not only does Bras work cross-sensorially to transform elements from one sphere to another, he also gets deeply into the materials of his craft…”
Dilla used just a single instrument to make his tracks.
I noticed the sound while driving
flipping through radio stations
listening to new york’s hottest hip hop and r & b
not from back then
but from the edge of right now
a soundtrack to the road’s present
I keep pursuing over the horizon
I noticed the hi hats
chattering in double-time
sixteenth and thirty-second notes
dividing and slicing the beat
which was otherwise so spacious
so empty and slow
like my thoughts
cymbals telling a high frequency story
about music technology
to the “note repeat” button
to the “double time” function
that sounds cool.
let’s keep that.
those hats definitely make the beat better.