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Player Against the Machine - Creating Realistic Instrument Tracks
Written by Rusty Cutchin - © 2005, PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc. Reprinted with Permission.
Now that musicians can find a loop to fit any style, and have access to programs that can break down loops to their component parts for endless manipulation, it's more tempting than ever to let the computer do the work of the composer — as well as the arranger, conductor, and performer. The amount of work the computer does usually depends, however, on what kind of music is being made. Hardcore dance styles demand that the computer be a recognizable “player.” Injecting too much realism into a techno track with the use of the “humanizing” features on a sequencer can detract from the hypnotic waves and seamless pulse that most groove artists are trying to create.

At the other end of the style spectrum, songwriters or commercial composers working in traditional genres such as R&B, jazz, and classic rock still need to create the feeling of a live performance. Those are the types of projects that make the best use of features such as groove quantizing of MIDI data. Yet players working in those styles know that old-school music needs the human touch — literally. Just because you can order your sequencer data around like a sloppily dressed drummer at a society-wedding gig doesn't mean it's always productive to do so. Quantizing is a wonderful thing, but drum tracks, horn ensembles, and other musical performances associated with real people can benefit from the “flaws” in your own performance skills.

Groove This
For more than 20 years, MIDI has been making life easier for recordists who wanted to work without the hassles of miking a drum kit, hiring a string ensemble, or developing the chops of Oscar Peterson. MIDI also took a lot of the guesswork out of groove creation: set a tempo, punch Play on the drum machine, and say good-bye to arguments with drummers.

As MIDI sequencing developed, however, a backlash developed against the robotic evenness of the drum machine. The power to quantize data had led to rhythmic abuses not heard since the Monkees tried to perform without studio musicians. Along with the extra power of sequencing applications for computers came refinements that could provide a compromise between the unrelenting symmetry of the drum pattern quantized to 16th notes and the ham-fisted performances of guitar-players-cum-MIDI-keyboardists. This is an excerpt from the following article: Player Against the Machine.


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