Over the past few years, we have seen computer software achieve what had previously been considered to be impossible. Cedar's Retouch made it possible to remove noises such as creaks and door slams from the middle of complex audio recordings while, more recently, Celemony's Melodyne DNA technology gave us the opportunity to change notes within an audio recording almost as easily as we used to do for synths using a MIDI grid editor. When I first started in this business in the mid-'80s, I was told by several development engineers that we would never have enough computing power available to 'sample' real reverberant spaces, yet here we are with convolution reverbs that take up only a fraction of the processing power our computers possess. We were also told back then that hard drives would always be too expensive, and probably too small, to use for audio recording in place of tape!
If so many 'impossible' things have already been achieved, what can we expect next? Nobody knows for sure, but taking the technology behind Melodyne DNA to its logical conclusion, it may eventually be possible to extract good-quality solo parts from a mixed recording — the program's current abilities hint at this even now. Remixing may never be the same again! Or how about being able to extract a vocal line, process it to sound like a different singer, complete with their trademark inflections, then drop it back into the same mix? Again, there have been attempts at this, but I think there's still a long way to go before the results are actually useful.
In the future, we may be able to quantise sloppy timing within a complex mix as easily as we do with MIDI, and I wouldn't be surprised to see software that can automatically EQ and balance the various tracks in a mix to give you a starting point where most of the hard work has already been done. But there are sure to be things around the corner that none of us can anticipate, and that's what really excites me.
However, the majority of these new inventions and developments, convolution reverb excepted, are aimed at fixing problems that could be avoided in the first place, or at replacing human artistic skills. Recording music is, after all, about capturing a performance based on the interaction between musicians, and as the quantise button has already shown us, the more you try to perfect the pitching and timing of a recording, the more of the human element tends to get lost. Used sensibly, all these wonderful repair tools can save an otherwise flawed recording, but if you want to capture a true musical performance, rather than assembling music from loops and rigidly quantised phrases (which is entirely appropriate for some genres), maybe it would be best to proceed as though none of these tools existed? That way we could use them only as a last resort when something went wrong that couldn't be fixed faster and more musically by simply playing the part again.
Paul White Editor In Chief