July 03, 2007

What Begets What?

One of my recent musical projects has been playing with Reason, a piece of software that gives you a virtual rack (literally, check out the screenshots) of electronic instruments to configure and combine at will. The interface is both charming and infuriating (how do you use a mouse to turn a dial exactly?), but its real-life-ness makes for a pretty minimal learning curve. All those knobs are pretty easy to turn when you've got a decent MIDI controller, anyway.

Finding new tools and instruments is usually a source of creative stimulation. They give you a new way of conceptualizing music/sound. Since Reason is tied to the metaphor of recorded music (you usually want to pipe all of your virtual instruments through a virtual mixer), it encourages you to think of music spatially (balance and positioning) and timbrally (you can record a track and alter the instrument independently of the notes in the sequencer). Since I tend to think of my notated acoustic music in similar ways, Reason has fit in very well with my workflow.

Live music (at least performed by others) is honestly an infrequent experience for me. I think it's fair to say that most people in my generation largely experience music through recordings. This attitude occasionally reveals itself through the scores of people my age. Dynamic markings are usually used to indicate relative volume levels, not variations in tone. I've even heard people talk about ensemble blend in terms of a "mix." Because of how people tend to conceptualize music now, I wonder if more young composers would do well to try out some form of electronic music.

For another take on the relationship between instruments and the music they're used to make, check out Bassline Baseline, a documentary on the TB-303.


David Toub said...

I've been using Reason for over a year now, and while I was pretty skeptical at first, since the sounds aren't always first-rate and the software's orientation is more towards hip-hop than it is new music, have made it work for me pretty well. It runs great on my iBook G4, interfaces well with my old synth, and does an adequate job as a basic sequencer. It's not a high-end sequencer or even something at the level of Tracktion, but there's something to be said about having a virtual rack.

Hucbald said...

I was a Synclavier owner/programer back in the 80's, so what's different for me is the NOTATION now. I have that in the bag finally, but I miss the sounds I used to be able to create. FM8 looks like just the solution though: A MacBook Pro can run 8 simultaneous iterations of it for a virtual TX-816 (Yeah, yeah: Slow on the patch changes with all of those windows open).

Reason is a toy comparted to the real deals from "the day." Good path to more serious stuff, though.