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WRONG NOTES: a blog of ear reverence

Wrong Notes collects posts on music, art, culture and fun stuff. Also included: news about the Ear Reverends.

Physical music making in the virtual age

I finally received my Mackie Control Universal, which I'd ordered several months ago but which Mackie had some problems getting out the door to my local gear dealer of choice, Computers and Music. I also picked up a copy of the Minimoog V software instrument, which I instantly gel'd with.

As I've been reflecting on the physical "symbol" of CDs in the age of MP3s, this new gear has me reflecting on the symbol of physical instruments (interfaces) in the age of software instruments (including the virtual studio).

The simplest thing to say and to note is: having physical instruments around affects how I make music. At the very least, they remind me of ways I want to make music, and goad me to make music.

I find it interesting to imagine music before music recording: music must have been much synonymous with physical locations and their peoples. Japanese music wasn't something one picked up anywhere: it was something heard in Japan, or coming out of physically present Japanese people.

So, music recordings disconnected music from the physical geographic provinces and their people. (I also think this is interesting in light of how North American regional music styles started to disappear and / or blend together after the 1930s—this Interview with Terry Zwigoff about his being a collector of 78s from the 1920s has relevant stuff.)

Now, with digital music, music is being further disconnected from the physical. One need not have a physical object (e.g., an LP or CD) that represents the music. We no longer have to associate the music with specific physical devices, media, people or places.

But, we are physical beings, and the emotion of music registers in us physically—we have physical associations with music, and we remember music in terms of the space and time of our lives. Also, we relate to our musical experience through senses other than hearing—even with albums, besides seeing them, we enjoy the way the LP or CD feels in our hands, and even may relate to the smell of the CD booklets or LP liner notes.

So, I relate to the physical music making instruments I have around me through all these physical associations that have a kind of "weight" in my life. They give me a physical extension of my physical experiences: they give me a physical way to translate those experiences into music.

But, I think most importantly, these instruments have little utility for anything other than making music! That's their weight—they are there for music. I think we need physical things in our life that are for music, even if we could use other things to make / play music.

(So, I'm not saying that we need the CD to stay or be replaced by some other physical medium. But, I'll say more about this specifically in my next post.)


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