Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Digitization of Music

There has been much discussion in the musical world lately of analog vs. digital. A recall a recent issue of "Sound on Sound" magazine highlighted the virtual explosion of modular synthesizers out there. Moog Music has also had great success in making analog guitar pedals called Moogerfoogers, a remake of the Minimoog (The Voyager), a theremin, a remake of the Taurus bass pedals and the "Little Phatty" not to mention the Moog guitar.

Now there are those who would argue that analog just sounds better. I would agree with that to some extent although I am not a purist. To me music is about, well, music. I use the tools that I have to create the music I want to create. If that means that I use a combination of analog and digital gear and yes, even a the dreaded computer, then that is what I am going to do.

Take computers, ok, they have a tendency to crash and in a live environment that can create a nightmare. I do my music creation in a home studio but if I played live gigs I think I would have a reluctance to use a computer. My latest setup (in progress) is to distribute a lot of sounds and some processing across keyboards and gear. In this way the CPU load can be kept low but yes, a Macbook Pro will have a place in my studio.

On the positive side of computers, lets face it, they have a lot more power than analog gear. I have recently been looking for a sequencer for example. Numerology beats anything analog out there by leaps and bounds. There are a variety of analog step sequencers out there but why use them? With MIDI (or MIDI to CV) its possible to do everything an analogue sequencer would do. Now some might say that they like the knobs and I get that, I really do but products like the Lemur allow a more tactile feel to controlling synths.

Now if you consider sound, that is another ballpark entirely. Granted, you can sample anything from frogs to Melotrons. Without getting into the argument about sampling rates/ect., sure, lets face it, samples sound pretty close the the real thing. The problem is that there are an almost infinite variety of settings for an analog synth. Samples can only represent a small (abliet select) portion of those sounds. I also think analog emulations, while solving the problems of a limited number of sounds, are not the real thing. Yes, there is a difference in the sound. I really like the way my Moog Voyager and my Moogerfoogers sound. I would not have spent a whole lot of money on them if I did not think there was something almost magical about the sound, something almost living. So sure, any computer/digitally based representation of analog is going to fall short.

The digital world also lacks CVs. Here is where I think analog has it all over digital. Sure, there are products like Native Instruments Reaktor that can provide modular connectivity but CVs are much more flexible and they operate at the speed of light. My foogers also can't crash. I am sure that as computers become faster, something like CVs could be introduced into the digital world but at the moment, analog beats digital hands down.

So there you have it. OK, so I am not a purist. Here is my take on the whole argument. If you are talking about sequencing/triggers/gates/ect., why not use computers. There is no difference other than the computer can crash in a live environment. Certainly in the studio, computers can be very effective for this. For sounds, it really depends on what you are looking for. If I want complex, layered instrumental sounds, I would go with my Korg M3 but for raw analog fat goodness, I want my Voyager and foogers. For experimentation with CVs, well, thats something as I said, digital just can't touch analog on.

I think its frankly silly to let music suffer to be a purist. Computers and digital gear have their place. I don't see one being better than the other just different and we live in a wonderful time when we can have both and join them together to make great music.

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