Percy Rush’s Sounding Off column in the June issue of Sound On Sound really resonated with me, as I too feel that some sections of the music industry are stuck in a bit of a rut, both in terms of ideas and the way technology is being used to create the music. I guess I’m as guilty as most, as my idea of the ideal rock guitar sound is probably pretty close to what it was in the 1970s. But as I’ve ranted before, and as was affirmed by Percy’s Sounding Off, what we put under the catch-all umbrella of EDM has, in the main, been shaped by the sounds of antique gear, much of it from Roland, and the feature sets of MIDI sequencers, specifically the quantise button. Dance music would be very different if rhythm quantisation had never been invented. Without that ubiquitous sequencer grid it is unlikely that dance music would have adopted such a rigid rhythmic structure, while pieces of kit you couldn’t get arrested with when they were new are changing hands for silly money, simply because they’re considered essential for making music that inhabits a specific genre.
Sometimes a new piece of technology comes along and is pounced upon to be added to the EDM arsenal, Auto-Tune and stutter editing being very obvious examples, but the underlying foundation seems overly familiar to my ears. Surely we should be inventing new genres rather than simply creating subdivisions of a genre that has been with us since before I joined Sound On Sound 25 years ago? And we should certainly be attaching less reverence to some of these old pieces of kit. Perhaps an electronic equivalent of punk is needed to sweep away the chaff and let us get on with something fresh?
Looking back to the days of tape, I think what has really changed is nothing to do with ‘all-analogue black magic’, but rather the way people approach making music. The tape recorder simply recorded what you played into it so the music had to be largely thought out and crafted before you hit the Record button. Since the mid 1980s, MIDI sequencer (and subsequently DAW) technology has become part of the songwriting process, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, there’s always the risk that you’ll be tempted to take the course of least resistance, which tends to bind the music to what the available technology makes easy rather than to your own open-ended ideas. Maybe it is time to experiment with a more Eno-esque approach, for example, turning off the click track and working with a limited sound set that hasn’t been used before, while burning a few bridges along the way. Maybe something new and exciting will emerge from the ashes of those bridges?
Paul White Editor In Chief