Saturday, June 03, 2006

Post Musical

The time is coming when machines will supersede musicians. Once sampling technology is capable of quantifying all the criteria that characterise performance we’ll have no further need of professional practitioners. Such a time is getting closer and closer... The better sample libraries have already amassed gigabytes of samples that codify attack, duration, decay and release. Even slurred liaisons between notes are captured and enshrined: each with every possible type of articulation. All the user has to do is bolt all the bits together in a convincing fashion.

Quite obviously, that’ll take a bit of practice – somewhere around 20 years would be usual if professional musicians are to be believed, but fortunately it’s now possible to buy the New Performance Tool Tutorial DVD-ROM (for a only $39 – which is nothing, when you’ve already spent close on $5K for the big box of audio Meccano) in which Paul Steinbauer

"deliver[s] the expert knowledge you need to maximize your investment in the Symphonic Library. "

But on the other hand, it’ll become increasingly difficult for musicians to maximise their investment, but we’re going to need people who are able to drive this machinery. And without knowing how, when, and why a particular attack follows a particular decay, it’ll be impossible to compose, construct, or even re-construct any convincing performances at all! I’m sure Mr Steinbauer and his counterparts have got this angle covered too, but nevertheless, it’ll be a tricky procedure - at least until they’ve analysed and codified the almost infinite number of variables in this sphere too!

So perhaps there will be some work here for musicians after all. While the boffins are busy quantifying everything from sympathetic secondary resonance to individual characteristic head resonance, we’ll need someone to operate the increasingly complex software – and who better than musicians? After all, they’re already equipped with the expertise: they won’t even need to read the manuals. They might however, need to do a bit of practice from time to time, just to remind themselves how the old instruments actually worked; how gesture translates into sound and how other similar niceties added character to performance. In fact, with such vastly complex sample libraries I can imagine that they might even prefer playing their old acoustic instruments to activating the increasingly complex if perfectly cultivated samples.

Musicians might even be persuaded to endorse personalized sample libraries so that it’d be possible not only to replicate the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, but also to build one’s own unique orchestra of rising stars.

One small difficulty springs to mind though. Once today’s rising stars have peaked and waned, and the erratic, imperfect performances of our past no longer appeal to what will be the contemporary taste for the uniformity of stylised perfection – there won’t be any performers left for us to imitate, replicate and sample!


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