0 How much imperfection should we allow in "perfect" music? Posted by Bill Ricci on September 12, 2010 at 11:43pm in The Art of Composition Just a simple question. With all of the software capabilities, music has evolved to a precision that, in my opinion, could go to far. What are your thoughts on this? Views: 10 You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments! Join Composers' Forum Email me when people reply – Follow
Software has given us the ability to listen to things in an exact way- a 13 note tuplet over 4 notes has never been more precise-and yet so boring. Because this is what makes a performance-the human behind it. Even for instruments easier to capture, for example drums, we crave for a real sample, a real drummer for example, because no matter how "perfect" he is, he is still human. No matter what we do, there can be no "perfect" rubato from a pc, right? Hell, there is no perfect rubato even when played by people!
There's a recording and then there's a score.
For a score I don't technology has had any impact on a composers ability to approach perfection in the documentation to give to a performer, only the tools of the trade have been modified.
To make a "perfect" recording would be to make something with absolute fidelity to the composers intentions, free of any technical flaw, free of anything except what was prescribed in the score. While that itself I don't find problematic it has the potential to lead us down a slippery slope in which say Bernsteins' recording of Beethoven 6 becomes the recording of Beethoven 6. The difference being that a score is open ended, it leaves room for a variety of choices in performance which a recording (at least with our current technology) must choose only one of those choices.
Humanizing music or Computerizing People?
Now, there seems to be this idea that music that comes from something other than a live human is robotic (which isn't wrong); however, because of this, composers who use this method (myself included) spend more time trying to humanize it when it's not necessary.
That is like saying: There's a human inside my computer or you put so much emphasis on trying to get one in there. (Placement/Dynamics and what not.)
Yet, I've never seen a human sound robotic when playing a piece. Speaking of which, since I'm in that "Ostinato Habit" thread, when humans do that, doesn't that make them sound robotic; yet, no one says anything! Why is this? Two pieces off the top of my head use this technique, but again, it works, so no one says a word!
This question also pointed out the use of Auto-Tune where humans do in fact sound robotic, but that is another discussion.
Don't get me wrong. I get how constant play/volume can wear on one's ear, but could you write a piece where every piece of it was different? You could, but wouldn't most say that it's all over the place? There's gotta be something the listener can go back to.
Again, I understand every bit of that, but trying to place humans inside the composition (however, you decide to compose - especially with a DAW), then why even compose?
This isn't talking about arranging which may include expansion or reduction for whatever instrument you chose. This is talking about writing a complicated part, then re-writing it because you think: "Oh, wait! It can't be done!"
For instance, two songs of mine, have an easy and not-so-easy harp parts. Granted, the harp plays alot. First off, I want it to because of the style of the song (arrangement); however, I don't want to confine myself to the guideline that it should play less because I'm not looking for the instrument to "surprise" anybody.
Secondly, I also will not re-write it's part because I feel the human behind it will get tired. However, I will compromise and rewrite for two harps because one harpist will probably get tired (and maybe the other one as well. I told you these parts aren't easy!) However, the parts themselves will remain in tact unless the harpists ask me to rewrite of course, but that is when the actual humans ask me - not ones that I imagine when writing the composition. IOW, when writing, don't ever put humans behind the virtual instruments or you will forever limit yourself!
Think of all the complicated pieces written way before software capabilities to illicit perfection and how perfect they sounded.
Moonlight Sonata for instance, without the RH part is nothing but Ostinato. Yes, it has alot of expression; however, why inside a sequencer, would you opt to write with expression, so it'll seem natural, when it'll seem natural anyway being played by a real human?
This is the same thing when asking what's preferred - recorded or live music? Most say live because for the most part the human element is attached in the form of actual instruments most often. Yet, most look down on recorded music because of that very thing of making everything perfect.
However, let me ask you this:
Take Kesha for instance! She uses a good amount of auto-tune, but uses her real voice as well, but isn't she using her real voice to begin with? You can't have a distorted guitar without the guitar, can you?
Or how about the traditional orchestra! They are the epitome of perfection if you think about it, but no one says a word! Because there are literal humans behind the instruments; however, how many of the big-time composers revised their pieces because they went: "The string section can't do this!" or the percussion section can't/shouldn't do that? Again, revising happens all the time, but not because some imaginary human said: "I can't do this!"
Understand that there are limits in the practical world and you must adapt; however, do so when real humans ask, not ones you conjure up! You want to be practical, but that doesn't mean that your composition has to suffer for it! (Like I said, I'm gonna need two harps probably; therefore, I'll rewrite for two; however, what's written will not suffer because I'm doing so)
Having said all of this, I believe as a composer - especially if done by a DAW - you should be open to imperfections happen as live music most often never sounds like recorded music anyway. If it did, why bother hearing something live? Of course, there's the orchestra, but again, no one dare says they're "fake or robotic" since it's the general rule for everything to be perfect. (Every note, dynamic, tempo, etc.)
How much of it should we allow? Obviously, you don't want the song completely dismantled; however, for me, I believe as long as the idea and concept is there, mistakes should be allowed. Besides, we can always go back to the recording if we're beyond displeased.
Adversely, I'd like to ask this question. If playing perfectly from beginning to end is fake, robotic, etc., then what is the purpose of practicing as most practice to ensure the performance has very few blemishes if any at all.
And that's something some folks don't get. Some think that you can just simply put notes on a page and you have a masterpiece and it can go straight to the orchestra with them instaneously being able to perform it. I don't think I've ever seen that happen. Sure, this is grasped easily when referring to human players, but what did I say earlier? Don't ever imagine a human playing your composition while writing it or even after it's written because you'll limit yourself severly!
The same thing is done with a DAW. Putting in notes and playing them back! Editing every which way (Dynamics, Durations, this, that and the other thing) Which should be done if you plan on real humans playing your piece; however, thinking about how it may not work because you wrote it this way as opposed to that way instead of thinking: Okay, how can I work around this while not sacrificing anything? Part hard for one harp? Write that same part for two! I've lost nothing.
If anything, perfection is only for the orchestra; however, don't they consist of humans? See the problem here?
Again, I think even with them imperfections are allowed (unless you have an uppity composer/conductor), but most often, they try to make whatever piece played flawless from beginning to end. I expect this with my pieces, but again, I can always just listen to the recording if I'm not satisfied. However, that's not being fair to them - especially since they would've worked so hard on it and the stage version (though nearly if not 100% identical) will sound better than what came from my speakers. I wouldn't be upset since that is my intention though.
I can't stress enough how putting humans behind the instruments before this is actually done, hurts the composition! Don't do this!!