Musicianship and electronic music

Discussions about anything analog, digital, MIDI, synth technology, techniques, theories and more.
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ZeeOne
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Musicianship and electronic music

Post by ZeeOne » Mon Jun 08, 2020 10:48 pm

I won't deny the usefulness of MIDI, but one thing I don't like is that it's given synth makers an excuse to skip having a keyboard. I get that having a keyboard adds expense and for people with smaller studios, takes up space, but I feel it's allowed electronic musicians to get away from musicianship. It seems like much of modern electronic music is based around latching the arpeggiator/sequencer and twisting knobs, or making music using interfaces that are just rows of assignable buttons like Abelton Push.

Now, I'm not saying we should go back to the Rick Wakeman archetype (I never really liked that anyway), or that there's any kind of hard and fast rule that synthesizers should have piano-style keyboards (Don Buchla certainly didn't think so), but having that kind of setup encourages musicianship, while pad setups...I won't say they discourage it, but I sometimes get the sense of things being "dumbed down".

I might be biased, being first and foremost a guitarist who dabbles in electronic music as an occasional change of pace, although I've never been drawn to music focused around musicianship; I got into music largely because of punk rock, after all. It just feels like having a lack of emphasis on musicianship versus beatmaking/soundscaping just adds to the "divide" between electric (rock/metal) and electronic music, and I've always seen division a something to overcome.

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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by Z » Tue Jun 09, 2020 1:13 pm

Yup, every time I see photos of peoples' rigs and they lack a keyboard (just sequencers and groove boxes), it makes me cringe.

I'm no virtuoso, but I can hold my own (with practice).
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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by meatballfulton » Tue Jun 09, 2020 2:36 pm

You might be surprised how many younger people interested in electronic music do not think of it in the same way as other kinds of music. Timbre and strict rhythm (esp. 4 on the floor kicks) is all important, melody and harmony are secondary if not totally unneccessary. To them, a keyboard is of zero use. Step sequencing and finger drumming is the way they create. On the other hand, there has been a huge growth of tools that can auto-generate consonant music..."correct" chord progressions, scales, etc. because at some point they realize something is missing.

I'm now a retired senior citizen. I had music education as early as first grade when every classroom had a piano (think about it). I learned to read music when I was about 10, studying (although not for long) the clarinet, organ and finally bass (both bass guitar and string bass). I started performing as a bassist in college and started gigging with professionals (although I was never one myself) in the early 1980s. So my experience is radically different than most people who are 30 years old or younger.
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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by clubbedtodeath » Tue Jun 09, 2020 5:58 pm

Having come from a similar musical background myself (but not retired.. quite yet!), studying/playing music at home and school meant developing technique, but also an understanding of melody, harmony, counterpoint and most importantly structure.

That said, it took a long time for me to reapply what I had learned from traditional keyboard music (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Joplin, Fat Waller -- anything non-pop) to electronic music. It does require a rather different skillset: sound design and production are almost on par with composition.

What I despair of, is that clearly talented musicians, through lack of knowledge of Ye Olde Wurlde musical skills, make repeated, glaring mistakes, and don't stretch themselves, when they are clearly capable of producing something so much better. I feel the four-on-the-floor is a kind of safety blanket: few feel confident or daring enough to try complex time signatures (although there are many examples to the contrary).

As for keyboards: as long as I have one decent full-sized controller keyboard that's easily switchable between synths, I'm ambivalent about them. And pattern based sequencers do free up your hands to work the synth rather than just the keyboard, as well as create subtle variations in the pattern. It really is a different way of playing.

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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by desmond » Tue Jun 09, 2020 6:34 pm

I feel a bit lost without a keyboard, because everything then becomes very tedious to do, but then I can play (well enough for my needs) but plenty of people can't and aren't even interested in that kind of music.

I remember going round to a guy's studio, probably in the mid-2000s. This guy did great, beat-based music, quite inventive and really well-constructed. While figuring out a few routing things, I picked up the little USB controller keyboard that was stashed down the side of his desk and played a few notes on a softsynth to generate some audio...

He looks at me, with quiet awe and some reverence, and goes: "Oh! So you're a *player*, eh..?"

Music to me has *always* been done by playing (sure, and editing, and programming, but mostly from playing) and it would do my nut it to write songs by painting in note to a DAW by mouse, or being restricted to simple looping sequences going on and on and on... but we're all different, and there are people making music in many non-traditional ways which is excellent.

And of course, there are plenty of people who are hopeless musicians but just enjoy noodling around on synths making crazy noises. Hey, that's not my bag, but if you enjoy yourselves, have at it..! :lol:

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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by madtheory » Tue Jun 09, 2020 7:52 pm

ZeeOne wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 10:48 pm
one thing I don't like is that it's given synth makers an excuse to skip having a keyboard.
I see this differently. My preference is to have one decent weighted keyboard for actual playing. You can spend money on a good action that you like, and not wastefully duplicate it for every synth. I like the tidiness of having a few rack synths, a computer full of soft synths, and one master keyboard. That said besides the master keyboard I have 4 other keyboards, A Roli Seaboard and two pianos... so there's that theory out the window :lol:

I do think it's cool that there are new/ non-traditional ways to make music. But actually being musical means that you can sing. Actually internalise the vibrations and feel them as well as hear them. And music theory gives us a language to help us learn music, and communicate it so that it becomes a social experience rather than exclusively solo like it seems to be now. I see students just clicking the notes in with the mouse, and it takes them forever and they lose sight of their intent and produce dull predictable stuff. The ones that learn even a little bit of keyboard technique and some theory- just basic diatonic harmony, blues scales, a little orchestration, time signatures, tempo etc. are much better able to create.

I really don't get the Ableton Push. People go mad for it. It's just a weirdly limited keyboard. OK, someone can give you a bunch of stuff mapped on it but invariably it is mapped according to very traditional diatonic harmony. So hit any set of pads and you'll get a thing that sounds like music. That's just painting by numbers IMO.

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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by ZeeOne » Tue Jun 09, 2020 11:39 pm

madtheory wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 7:52 pm
ZeeOne wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 10:48 pm
one thing I don't like is that it's given synth makers an excuse to skip having a keyboard.
I see this differently. My preference is to have one decent weighted keyboard for actual playing. You can spend money on a good action that you like, and not wastefully duplicate it for every synth. I like the tidiness of having a few rack synths, a computer full of soft synths, and one master keyboard. That said besides the master keyboard I have 4 other keyboards, A Roli Seaboard and two pianos... so there's that theory out the window :lol:
I guess I'd just prefer that more gear be designed around the philosophy that keyboard/synths aren't necessarily your main instrument and buying an extra controller keyboard is an unnecessary additional expense. Or perhap I just like things to be self-contained.

My goal is to have no more than 2 keyboards; one good poly that can double as a MIDI controller for virtual instrument plugins, and one good mono.
I really don't get the Ableton Push. People go mad for it. It's just a weirdly limited keyboard. OK, someone can give you a bunch of stuff mapped on it but invariably it is mapped according to very traditional diatonic harmony. So hit any set of pads and you'll get a thing that sounds like music. That's just painting by numbers IMO.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about that.

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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by Logan 5 » Wed Jun 10, 2020 3:32 pm

I started learning about synths and using them in the early 80s.

I still play everything myself,have hardly ever used MIDI and never a computer and am alone amongst my musician friends in this respect,but that is just the way I prefer to work and compose.

I would not say that I am a wonderfully proficient player,but I did study music when I was younger and also really like spontaneity-some of my best work I think has come from just sitting down at the keyboard,pressing "record" on my 8-track digital recorder and playing live,whatever comes into my head.
There is room for all kinds of course-this is just my own personal approach.
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Re: Musicianship and electronic music

Post by meatballfulton » Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:19 pm

Until I gave up hardware, I always had a workstation synth to use as both master keyboard and sequencer. With only a couple of exceptions, every other synth or sampler I owned was a keyboard-less module that could be played via MIDI. That's the most basic application of MIDI and I drank the Kool-Aid long ago.
I listened to Hatfield and the North at Rainbow. They were very wonderful and they made my heart a prisoner.

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