Saturday, November 21, 2009

Technology and Music

I don't know what it is lately but every time I see a video of some new technology that is touted as the next revolution in music, I find myself shaking my head. It would seem that these videos are dominated by those more interested in cool technology than music. Ultimately, music technology has to be about music and not technology. Each artist must decide what tools they need to produce their art. Even banging two rocks together can be done in a musical way and while I would not suggest that people create a new genre of music doing this (although it might be better than h... ...), my bad, I would suggest that music technology can also make some terrible music.

I recently watched a video demo of Buchla's lightening with some idiot looking more like he was being attacked by a killer fly than a musican and the music, if that is what one wants to call it, reflects that. You would think that Buchla would want to make a great video that demos their product in a positive way but the one video I saw, although not from Buchla, was absolutely horrible and probably some tech Geek more impressed by the technology and not very interested in the music.

I also point the finger at myself here. I wonder how much time I dedicate to technology and how much to improving my music of knowledge and my ability to play an instrument. Sadly, the technology that can be so desirable can also be a trap and a hindrance to developing musically.

I hope I can avoid this trap more in the future than I have at times in the past.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Adriane Lakes's "Morning Glow" - A Breath of Fresh Air

I have been wanting to write a review of Adriane Lake's "Morning Glow" for a while now. I have been listening to a lot of Tangerine Dream for the last several weeks with a little Pink Floyd thrown in and this album was a refreshing and welcome change on the lighter side of synthesis. I write experimental music so listening to "Morning Glow" was a bit of a gear change for me but I think trying to expand one's musical horizons is always a good thing and I like to support artists like Adriane who clearly are not just playing follow the leader and making an album that sounds like everything else. This copy cat mentality fostered by record companies is a disease that has plagued much of commercial music.

I found "Morning Glow" to have a light, fresh and at times whimsical style that I found refreshing and yet, at the same time, I found musical and technical elements that are well worth commenting on. Adriane's voice is also light, clear and pure but also full of expression.

"Morning Glow" is an interesting mix of synthesizers and vocals. I was impressed by the bass lines although as I will comment on some of the songs I would have used something more like a fretless bass. The last song "The Fullness of Life" showcases a bit of Adriane's synthesizer talents but I would like to see her explore her experimental/ambient side a bit more. OK, that's my bias, I admit that but my recommendation to her is to sit down one night with some headphones and Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" and see how to produce music without drum tracks. At times I found the drum tracks a bit to prominent and at times redundant from song to song. Perhaps more variation and different types of percussive instruments might work.

Here is a review of the individual songs:

So Beautiful

I liked this song. It's simple but very pleasant. It made me smile and that is always a good thing in life so thanks to Adriane for that. I also noticed a great deal of variation in the rhythm track along with background vocals and synths which was a nice tapestry of sounds that stand in somewhat stark contrast to the mechanized tracks of a lot of pop music I hear these days.

Jacques Cousteau

I don't think I can say I have heard an accordion being mixed with synthesizers before. It clearly makes this album unique but also illustrates nicely Adriane's lack of fear of being different and of trying new sounds and combinations of instruments.

Perhaps, a shuti box:

Who Are the People in My Life

I really like this song from the perspective of the melody. Adriane's vocals also shine on this song. It reminded me a bit of "Swing Out Sister" for some reason. I would love to hear Adriane experiment with jazz or perhaps a jazz standard. It might be a way to expand into something different.

Lost Umbrellas

I hear Adriane's clear background in classical music on this track combined with a quirky rhythm track. I would love to hear more of it on other tracks. However, this is also a track in which I found the rhythm track a bit to prominent in the mix. Perhaps moving the slider down a bit and adding some reverb to the piano might soften the mix a bit. It would make the song a bit darker but again, add some variation to the overall style of the album.

Only a Fantasy

The bass here is really interesting. A fretless bass would work great here. Adriane's sense of bass is different and unique and certainly adds a very personal stamp to all of the songs on this album.

Cadillac Cat

This is certainly one of the more whimsical of the songs but I really like the rhythm and bass lines here. This is one of my favorite songs on the album. A fretless bass might work well with this song.

This reminded me a bit of Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius playing "The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines"

Seven Again

This song is nice but it would be helped by some change in instrumentation. I would back of the rhythm track on this one as well. The piano might sound better if it where more bell like or almost toy piano like (i..e. the title).

Just for some ideas:

Blanket of Love

This song also has a nice bass lines. There is also some nice harmony on this song. The pads here are also very nice.

The Fullness of Life

I was impressed by Adriane's synthesizers here. This song clearly showcases her more ambient side. Come over to the ambient side Adriane.

Concluding Remarks

Adriane is a promising artist with an ingredient that is much needed in today's pop music, integrity. I don't sense that Adriane is trying to sound like anyone else and that's great to hear. I would love to see further development and expansion on her rhythm tracks although certainly "Cadillac Cat" and even "So Beautiful" showcase Adriane's capacity to use some interesting syncopation's. As I also stated here elsewhere, I would love to hear more from the synthesizers on the side of experimentation.

Thanks to Adriane for a very enjoyable listening experience and many wishes for a bright recording future.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Going to Extremes

I sometimes wonder if making life easy is always a good thing. I have to admit that while I purchased not one but two hardware synthesizers and a whole host of software synths on the desire to program them, I have sadly not done much programming and have looked to presets to give me an easy way to get the right sound. Technology is a wonderful thing but I sometimes wonder that is musical ease has made us lazy.

I find myself wondering if anyone in this century or the past has produced works as great as Bach's or Mozart's or other great composers. I suspect not but I also believe that it was the limitations imposed on these composers that made them great. Bach may not have had the instruments that I do today. Consider the harpsichord which does not even have the dynamics of a piano but for which Bach wrote many works. Such composers put everything they had into the notes themselves and finding cleaver and innovative ways to create something new within those limitations. Even the genre of their time was more limiting than the wide open spaces that define music today yet I would suggest that these limitations did not limit but enhanced creativity.

In the same way I look to the electronic composers of the past such as Karlheintz Stockhausen who did not have modern synthesizers, but perhaps did more to further the development of electronic music than any modern artist with 21st century tools. Stockhausen though more about sound because my having to work hard to discover various aspects of sound he spent more time listening and finding new ways within the confines of his technology which today we would find very limiting.

Music should always be about exploring new territory. All to often technology has trapped us in narrow boxes because it helps the commercial music machine to crank out album after album and consider how much more prolific were Bach and Mozart for example then many artists today.

So am I going to throw out my synthesizers today and get a good piano or guitar? No, and I already have access to a good piano and I have a good electric guitar but I do think that I perhaps need to spend more time thinking about the subtleties of my music rather simply relying on the technology to do my work. I admit that I am often musicaly lazy finding a certain preset "good enough" without trying to explore and refine a sound. So I guess I rededicate myself to respecting the music of the past and perhaps realizing that despite our marvelous tools, there is something to be said for working with less and not more (and this comes from a gear adict hopefull reformed).