Sunday, November 4, 2012

Are Computer Generated Albums Worthy?

If an artist generates an album of music completely through a computer or through a computer program (even Garage Band) could that album be A) worthy of consideration for musical greatness, B) worthy of listening to by you, and C) ever be taken seriously, i.e. given the same credit as, say, a live band?

I know of several extremely talented composers who have chosen to render their compositions virtually, through a computer, rather than seek, find, hire a band to perform the parts on tracks, with engineers, sound rooms, and all the expenses associated with studio recording. If they are then not considered equal to studio recorded artists, does this mean that their music is less worthy of greatness? Would you be one of those who would snubb Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, during his lifetime, because he painted quickly, simply, with eccentric style and color? Or because he was not a pedigreed product of certain teachers, managers, or gallery representatives--or from a famous school or salon?

Like Vincent, one of the computer-aided musician/composers I refer to is homeless. She has a damaged steel string acoustic guitar and a laptop computer with a music-generating program (through which she performs, composes, and records her music by playing her guitar while using MIDI technology to "change" the guitar play into other instruments). Her jazz fusion music is superb--on a par with STEVE TIBBETS, PAT METHENY, ALLAN HOLDSWORTH, and JOHN McLAUGHLIN. But, because she is an unsigned, unrepresented, self-taught, self-published, self-marketing artist she is having trouble being heard, being taken seriously.

Another musician/composer I've become 'friends' with is a world renowned classical composer. It is very likely that some of his works are being played in multiple places across the globe as you read this. Recently he decided to attempt a return to his progressive/art/"classic" rock roots (prompted by a challenge from his son during an at-home jam session) and has since produced three computer-assisted albums on which he has "played" most of the instruments and vocals. His computer has probably assisted with pitch and time synchronization--especially with the drumming--but his albums are masterpieces of prog composition, technical wizardry, emotional content, and are all very memorable albums of music.

As we all know, many, many other artists are using timing-synchronization and pitch-correcting technologies to put out 'perfect' music. While I agree that having bands perform all of their instruments live, or mixed into the master on their own untampered-with tracks, is much more admirable, much more risky and, therefore, laudable, I will argue that this does not necessarily make for better music--for music that will necessarily be more cherished and valued ten or fifty years down the road than the "classics" from the "pioneers" of the 60s and 70s.

The Mellotron, Boss effects foot pedals, Linn drum machine, looping and sampling, the Fairlight CMI computer, Simmons drums, Synclavier, MIDI, and many other "advances" in electronics and recording/producing technologies have certainly allowed music to be made--and published--by more people, by less virtuosic musicians (i.e. anyone with an idea and a melody or a catchy lyric can create something that might become popular), but are we the prog fan, the loyal fans of the prog founders, able to let go of our attachment to the compositional innovations of the 60s and 70s and give credit and value to the creative uses of the technological advances of the 70s, 80s, 90s and 21st Century?

This line of inquiry then leads us to the next pertinent question:  Could the prog music of the last forty years survive in a post-petroleum world--i.e. a world in which electricity may become scarce and easy transportation difficult, or, put another way:  Whose music--whose concerts--could survive being "unplugged"--going all-acoustic?

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