Friday, August 5, 2011

Electronic Music vs. Acoustic Music

Re-blogged from, where it was originally posted

In my opinion, ever since the first electronic musical device was plugged in, there’s been a love/hate relationship between the acoustic and electronic crowds. This debate has permeated into every facet of the music world, and whole billion-dollar industries have been built on these electronic inventions. From electric guitars to auto-tune, the argument of pro vs. con has been a fierce back and forth. On one hand, electricity has shaped the face of music more than anything else in the past, let’s say, 100 years. It’s given us recording, amplification, the theremin, DAWs, synthesizers, and VSTs. On the other, as purists would argue, it has tainted the purity of true acoustic sound.  

I’m always trying to look back and read about classic performances and pieces written, and I can’t fathom how difficult it must have been before electricity to seek out and listen to new music. You really had to actively, everyday if you were serious, go out to concert halls and small venues to see live music. Budding composers and musicians couldn’t pick up an album from a store of iTunes and sample a large selection of music, they were stuck with what was local, or where they could travel. The closest they had to buying records was purchasing the newest sheet music which they would have to play on the piano, or get together into small chamber groups and local orchestras to try it out. Or else, they would have to venture outside to take part in parties and social events to learn the newest songs en vogue; music was not a bedroom affair. When is the last time you went out to hear a 100% un-amplified, pure set of acoustic music? No sound guy, no mixing board, no speakers, no microphones, but totally acoustic. Music where singers have to figure out how to cut through the instrumentation, and where musicians have to rise to the pinnacle of their musicianship to balance out the sound. In such performances, of course, the sonic quality is pristine; the sound waves travel direct from instrument to ear. To put it one way, the first time Freddie Green tried to plug in an amp, the rest of Count Basie’s band became extremely agitated. 

Yet, in today’s world, this is never the norm. Amplification becomes essential especially when you want to play small ensembles in a large hall. However, the “hating” on acoustic music comes more from the purists who were turned off when synthesis and the theremin showed up. Maybe they felt like someone was treading on their holy territory. I think it comes down to purity. Personally, I wouldn’t trade a real piano for anything. The feel, the way the keys move, the sounds it creates based on the natural vibrating of a string. However, I love synthesis and developing different sounds. Having said this, I can relate to purists when I’m forced to play a piano patch on a keyboard, or a piano sample in the studio- it’s trying. There is no vibration, no overtones created by the lower strings, no action to have a push and pull against. In these cases, I always try to pull out my Rhodes patch and sit on that, which is usually bearable. 

Things have become increasingly electronic. This is a good thing. Production in Hip-Hop (and especially R&B) seems, at least to me, to be moving from MPC, ASR-10 sample chopping to AU, VST synthesis and sample manipulation. This pushes the envelope. Even producers who would otherwise have just used an MPC, like Jim Jonsin, now use their MPC as a controller for Logic, and sometimes, like T-Pain, just nix the MPC all together in favor of a MIDI Keyboard/Laptop setup. Even live keyboardists, guitarists, drummers, and sometimes, horn players, are plugging in their instruments to their laptop to have greater flexibility over their sound. If any lasting good has come out of the fusion jazz era (which my friends and I refer to, jokingly, as the jazz dark ages. Though, not to say fusion itself was bad, acoustic jazz just went dark), it was the experimentation with new types of equipment in revolutionary ways, MIDI having been a very new invention in 1983. 

Hopefully, experimentation will continue; however, I also hope the beauty of “acousticism” won’t be lost on the upcoming generation (or this one!).  

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