Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Hidden Agenda

As many of the music therapists who follow me know, I am always trying to encourage you to use synthesizers in your therapy. There are a few reasons why. First, I respect what music therapists do and I feel that music can have as much healing power as medicine does just in a different way. The second reason is that friends always share what they love. Before I was in high school I stumbled across a Morton Subotnick album "Sidewinder". At that time I did not have the slightest idea what the difference between a Moog and a Buchla was but years latter I can talk about models and modules with barely a thought. I know the difference between music box and mini Moog and many other sonic tid bits. I have knowledge that I want to share not only with other electronic artists who understand all the technical details of what I am talking about but to those who may be new to electronic music and synthesizers. I love to teach and share what I know. The third reason, and perhaps the most important is that I really do believe that synthesis has a lot to bring to music therapy for reasons that I will discuss. It is also my hope that my attempts are not annoying. I am not trying to be pushy (well, maybe a little) but it's only in the interest of trying to show some friends something new and perhaps helpful. Up until know you have been silent on my electronic music tweets but things can change right?

So why use synthesizers when there are drums, pianos and guitars (which from what I have observed are the tools of the music therapy trade)? Well, first, they are more flexible. I know that some of music therapists use what I would call arranger keyboards which are small versions of the old home organs. These can be nice but there are a whole universe of more powerful synthesizers that can open up a sonic universe to the listener and musician.

I realize that the first limitation might be price. I can understand that but a piano is not cheap nor a guitar (at least a good one) There are also software synthesizers that are sometimes only 1/10 of the price of a hardware synthesizer. I have some hardware synths but for a specific reason. For a starter synth for those who already own a laptop a soft synth might be a better chooice. I use soft synths as well. Other than a Kurzweil K2000 which I sold, my first softsynth was Native Instrument Absynth (an amazing synth by the way but perhaps not a good starter synth). I notice that MTs seem to be into laptops. A low cost audio interface and what is called a DAW is the price of admission into the soft synth world. Some MTs also use garage band (a low costs DAW - digital audio workstation - which comes with Macs for free). That will get you started and before long you will be using Ableton Live :) Sort of an inside joke but many electronic artists including myself use it for reasons that are way to complicated to explain in a short post. If you are really interested some of my Twitter friends have great web sites with demos you might want to watch. Just ask and I will introduce you.

I would also suggest to you that there are a lot of free synths and effects out there. Absynth is not one of them but a freeware synths can be a good introduction into synthesis. Start with subtractive if you are interested. Most synths in fact do some form of subtrative synthesis.

I also would add as a caveat that mobility is an issue. I almost got a hernia moving an 88 key Korg M3 up a flight of stairs. It's a great keyboard and has piano like action but not mobile. For those who don't have roadies, size can be an issue with hard synths although there are some nice small ones that are a lot easier to deal with. There are also a wide variety of cheap controller keyboards out there. And when you ready, Ableton controllers :) MTs should just let me know and I can recommend some of them.

Soft synths weigh nothing and install onto your laptop. Interfaces are small and a low watt amp is loud enough to use in most applications is enough to go mobile. You can put it all in a backpack.

So you might still ask why? Simple, synthesizers are much more flexible than real instruments. They can make an incredibly wide variety of sounds which may open up new avenues when working with a client. For example, I have boomwhacker samples so if I want to play boomwhackers I can do that on my keyboard using a form of synthesis called sampling. Thee are also a wide variety of drum samples from diffferent countries that will literally turn you keyboard into a drum kit.

There has also been an explosion of new controllers which could be used to open up a musical universe to those with limited mobility which I see as a major advantage. Body movement and even brain waves to mention just a few can be used to control a synth. Products like Percussa Audio Cubes provide multi-sensory feedback (see, I am learning your vocabulary). The Cubes glow and are easy to move and create music with.

I also think that various minimalistic music forms might help autistic patients. The repeating yet changing patterns of a sequencer might give them something to focus on.

So that is my agenda. I don't want it to be hidden but if I am annoying at times trying to get you to cross the streams. My version of advocacy :)

I wish all my music therapist friends the best of success in your carriers and God bless you efforts to help people with the gift of music. If you are interested in following the rabbit into a vast landscape of new sounds, let me know and I can get you started. Where it goes from there is up to you.

P.S. - There is an Electro Music festival in Heugenot NY. A good time is had by all. It's lots of fun and lots of great people and perhaps a way to follow that rabbit. Warning however, once you get hooked on synths well, there is no helping you after that so take heed :) Us EM types are already addicted so it does not matter to us :)