Thursday, August 19, 2010

Outthinking Obsolescence

It's almost dizzying to look back even at the past ten years to see how much the tools we use to make electronic music have changed. The wealth of technology has given us more tools to create with than ever before, but it's created something else, too - an almost endless cycle of trying to keep up with the latest and greatest. Even those of us who have been doing this long enough to know better have probably found ourselves ogling some shiny, new piece of gear thinking to ourselves, "Man, if I just had THAT, I'd have everything I needed." Of course, that's completely false and there's always that "just one more" piece of gear we'll find ourselves lusting after just months later.

But does that mean there's anything wrong with the gear we already have on hand? After all, it too was once that latest and greatest piece of gear. So is there really anything wrong with our old gear? Of course not. We just need to take a different approach to using it.

Consider, for example, how you can use some of the great freeware plug-ins out there to contemporize your instruments. Back in the 70's and 80's, musicians and producers were much more dependent on effects to make their synths sound more impressive. Take the time to see how you can use effects more - um - effectively to "modernize" the sound of your over-the-hill gear. Glitch it, gate it, sidechain it... Don't forget guitar stomp pedals or synthesizers with external inputs as other ways you can mangle your signal.

Don't stop there, though. Render a recording of your old gear to disk and get out the scissor tool, or a slicing program like ReCycle. Chop up your synth parts and retrigger those parts in creative ways. You can even go totally overboard and put each slice on its own track and process each one in drastically different ways. Even the lowliest gear can sound cutting edge and interesting through the use of some clever editing and processing.

Try sampling your old gear and seeing how you can manipulate the original sound with the facilities onboard your sampler of choice. Try extreme time-stretching, filtering, layering... and if you have something like Native Instruments Kontakt, Absynth, or Camel Audio's Alchemy, try out granular processing for some interesting ways to abuse sound.

Obsolescence only truly happens if we allow it to. Resisting that concept will encourage you to learn to push the gear you already have to do what you want, and your results will likely be a lot more unique if you do.


Hannes Pasqualini said...

Everything you say is, as usual true and well thought out. I would like to add one thought to it as well: some old stuff still outshines more modern solutions in terms of sound quality, and what I would call sound personality. My Lexicon hardware reverb still sounds better than most software reverbs, the warmth of an analogue synth can only partially be rivaled by modern digital solutions, and the unpredictable results you get by tweaking the C64 filter are just beyond anything virtual... so old gear still has it's place. But as you say, to keep it alive one needs to find new ways of interacting with it. I think we should all learn (and I'm certainly the first in line) to dig deeper into out instruments, get the most out of them, instead of buying new ones and just keeping on scratching the surface

Psychepoppet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Psychepoppet said...

Listen to what Tom says kids.

I've dropped many thousands of dollars this year on gear I lusted for. I have some really cool kit, but no music.

Now I have to hand out free samples as sacrifice to appease the Vintage Synth Godess. If I don't, all my capacitors will meet their ionic maker.

Anonymous said...

Our biggest problem is not fully using any of the tools we already have, whether old or new.