Friday, May 13, 2011

Pedals, Patches And A Composer

I’ve got nothing for today. Nothing at all. Not a thing.


I know it’s Friday, but I’ve been so zonked out of my mind from allergies this week that I can’t believe I put up any posts at all. I remember doing everything, writing things, playing guitar, putting up images, all in a kind of haze.

But I’ve just sort of run out.

But for the last couple of days I’ve been feeling a little better. These kind of awful allergy attacks have hit me before and they usually clear up in about a week. So I believe next week will be better here at the blog.


I’m just going to do two other things today.

First, I’m going to talk about a topic that I’ll be getting into more next week or the week after.

For the last couple of months I’ve been focusing a lot on keyboard playing. And I’ve been talking to some people in real life and looking around at various forums on the net. I’ve noticed something that took me completely by surprise. That is, I noticed a strange similarity between contemporary keyboard players and contemporary guitarists that I never would have expected to see.

A long time ago I ridiculed a stupid trend among contemporary guitarists that is generally called, chasing tone. The chasing tone idea is that a guitarist should create a unique “sound” that is cool and is distinctly his or hers and that tone, that sound, will make the audience love the guitar player’s music.

And music corporations are happy because they sell endless “pedals,” little boxes that guitarists plug into that modify the signal between the guitar and amplifier. Some guitar players have a half dozen—or more—pedals at their feet to manipulate their sound, to chase particular tones.

A couple of generations ago musicians took it for granted that they had to develop a style of playing that was unique. They had to develop a level of musicianship that would let them play music that would make the audience love them. (In an interview once, Steve Vai even mentioned how as a young man he met Brian May and May tried out Vai’s guitar and Vai was intrigued to hear, suddenly, Brian May getting “Brian May music” from Vai’s own guitar.)

Obviously I’m a person who believes music is in the music itself, not the tone, not the sound of the music.

Anyway, as I’ve been looking around the keyboard world, I see the same kind of thing, but instead of “chasing tone” like guitarists, keyboard players run around “duplicating patches.” (A “patch” is a particular setting on a synthesizer.) And since every keyboard or synthesizer has its own arrangement of oscillators and effects, every device has to be set a little differently to get a particular sound. Some keyboard players spend days, or weeks, almost randomly changing parameters trying to match the sound of some YouTube performance.

And keyboard signals can be manipulated with effects similar to the pedals guitar players use. The new Korg Kronos in fact will display some effects on its screen using actual images of popular effects pedals. (The Kronos also will have a fan and run Linux like a computer, but that’s a whole different complaint.)

The whole music world has stopped being about music and now is about sound. Chasing tone.

I’ll have more to say about this when I’m feeling better.

The final thing for today is some good music.

As I’m typing this I’m listening to music—music, not just cool tones!—written by a film composer from a few decades ago named Bernard Herrmann.

Now some people think he was overly melodramatic and kind of simplistic. But his music is so cool—and almost instantly recognizable as Bernard Herrmann music regardless of what instruments you hear playing it—that I’ve read comments over at Amazon where people have said they heard his music as a kid and that’s what made them become professional musicians or composers themselves. I’ve wondered if that kind of thing happens today.

So, anyway, here’s what I’m listening to. Now I’m going to go take some Benadryl and fall asleep watching the movie this music was written for.

This YouTube clip is about eight minutes long. The “Prelude”—that is, the movie credit sequence—is only about a minute and a half long. But it’s so cool! It’s just a minute and a half of music and it’s better than a lot of movies are nowadays.

Okay. I’m done for the week. Listen at least to the first minute and a half of this. It’s great stuff. Here’s Bernard Herrmann:

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