I just mentioned Elliptical, our (Mike Crooker, me) electronic music project. The parallels between music-creation software and blogging are unmistakable: both enable “ordinary people” to enter into areas of creativity and, equally important, distribution, that were only previously available to select professionals: those who were allowed to pass through the portals of either the press or the record labels by the guardians at the gates.
By enabling a large number of people to engage in these activities, both technologies are democratizing their respective fields and battering the barriers between “creator” and “consumer” in both directions.
You know how blogs work, but Acid Pro (and similar looping software), combined with Cool Edit (or other editing software) allow one to “sample” – to digitally copy – any snippet of any piece of recorded audio for use however one sees fit, then manipulate these snippets in any number of ways, including changing the pitch, the speed, the “color,” etc. And the real breakthrough is that the software syncronizes all of these samples automatically for you. Acid Pro affords unlimited tracks (I’ve used as many as 50) so that these samples can be mixed and matched in virtually any combination.
A digital music-maker is only limited by access to recorded audio – and with the advent of MP3’s and other various audio file applications available on the Internet, you have almost unlimited access to raw material – and by your imagination. I still find the sound quality of compressed formats like MP3 to be substandard, so I use my own recorded media only. I have a huge advantage over most home recorders in that I have almost 20,000 records and CD’s, so that my personal limitation is really just that of imagination.
Another important factor with software-based recording is computer noise. Glenn Reynolds mentioned the point here:
- When recording music into the old computer, I threw a comforter over it, which worked pretty well when coupled with pointing the microphone so as to pick up as little as possible. One thing that Eric [Raymond] touches on that is absolutely right is that volume is only part of the issue: the pitch of the noise is also important. Best: “white noise” from rushing air. Worse: multiple discordant pitches from different cooling fans, drives, etc. The intrusiveness (in recording) and fatigue level (in just working) from different kinds of noise varies much more than the volume.
I don’t think designers of computers — or other noisy products — give this much thought, but they should. Noise is a qualitative matter as much as a quantitative one.
and Eric Raymond discussed the issue in general here:
- I have studio-engineer ears and sensitive musician fingers. I took before-and-after measurements with those, too, listening to the sound tambre and feeling for case resonance.
My ears tell me that the box is only slightly quieter, but the noise spectrum has changed. The proportion of high-frequency noise has dropped; more of what I’m hearing is white noise due to turbulant airflow, less is bearing noise. This is a good change even if total emission hasn’t dropped much.
My fingers tell me that the amount of case resonance has dropped quite dramatically, especially on the side panels.
Was it worth doing? I am not sure. There would probably be more benefit on a system emitting more bearing noise from 10K or 15Krpm drives. On this one, I think the power supply is emitting most of the noise, and acoustic lining can’t do much against that.
In fact, my clearest take-away from this is that the big gains in noise reduction on conventional PCs are likely to come from obsessing about power-supply engineering — including details like whether the fan blows through a slotted grille or a cutout with a wire-basket finger guard (the latter will generate less turbulence noise).
This is a crucial matter for music-making because a good hum (whirr, whine, squeal, etc) can pollute everything you touch and ruin all of your best efforts. The noise source can be your computer, your audio inputs (CD player, turntable, direct instrument input, etc.), your wires, or other electrical equipment – even from outside the room. My studio is in my parent’s house, and the room is just above the garage. Every freaking time the electric garage door opens or closes, the computer pops and this pop is recorded by the software. I have to unplug the opener when I am recording seriously. We finally eliminated a persistent hum that was coming from a refrigerator three rooms away – it can be a nightmare.
With noise under control, you can concentrate on putting your ideas into musical form. My process is something like this: I use Cool Edit to record samples from records, CDs, “real sounds” (fans, air filters, musical instruments, toys, whatever). The snippet can be as long or short as you wish, but since this sample will then be typically “looped” – i.e. repeated over and over again – the shorter the sample, the easier it will be to work with. I have built a library of hundreds of samples (DJ Spooky reportedly has a library of 30,000 samples), but I tend to use them up as I go, and I have a personal policy of avoiding the reuse of samples.
When I have sampled for a while, I go back and listen to the samples until something catches my ear, and then I start putting samples together by creating “tracks” in Acid Pro. I build a song by adding one track on top of another until I have something that takes on a life of its own, and at best, the individual samples meld together into something new and “organic.”
When I am finished with this process, I can then take the whole song and pop it back into Cool Edit and manipulate the song as an entire entity: slow it down, speed it up, change the key; add reverb, echo; fade in, fade out; etc.
Another source of sample material is canned packages available from any number of sources including the software companies themselves, but I avoid these as a matter of aesthetics and of policy: as anyone can buy samples, but only I can make my own. And only you can make your own.
Back to the parallels between blogging and computer music making: they should be rather obvious now in the process as well as the result. Samples parallel news stories, which the blogger then comments or elaborates upon, or simply passes on whole. You always have the option of creating all-new material, but the structure of the softwares make it easier to borrow from others and then manipulate and combine this “borrowed” material in both blogging and music-making.
I imagine it is these parallels that make the activities somewhat interchangeable in my, and I’m guessing Glenn’s, mind; and since we have both been blogging like madmen, have allowed blogging to substitute for music-making. They are similar but not identical activities providing similar but not identical rewards. I need to find a way to combine the activities in my daily routine so as to neglect neither. Sounds like Glenn would like to do the same thing.
If you can blog, you can make electronic music and vice versa. I am not trying to create competition for myself in either field, but I don’t mind removing the mystique from either activity either. Have fun – express yourself.