Thursday, June 30, 2011

the tyranny of gear, cables and process...

(a repost from a journal I wrote in September of 2009)

So this is what happens. As a musician - and I'm sure, most any artist - one goes through phases of methodology and equipment. One changes, progresses (hopefully) and one's tools change as well. We acquire new things and abandon others based on whims, techniques and/or technologies. Each new toy/instrument invites new ways to work, think and approach our goals. Budget factors in there, somewhere.

When I was sixteen or so, I had a small studio setup. One synth, a piano, and a digital delay. Three cables, roughly. This expanded. A four track recorder, speakers, my own amplifier/stereo, a two track, etc. More things are acquired. A drum machine, a computer, more effects... more cables.

Then another synth, a mixer, more effects, etc. WAY more cables. This is phase II... perhaps. How does one quantify? Computer adds MIDI. Different flavors of cable.

College. Music program. Another synth or two - more effects, more cables. Live performances necessitate more cables - and longer ones at that. One must be prepared for variables in PA accessibility. Microphones for vocals (another band project - now I'm the singer as well). A rack-mount synth - and another... and another.

Now my synths have more polyphony - and more outputs. I'm using nearly all the channels on my 16 track mixer now - sometimes more. A sub-mixer is added. Small effects boxes. More drum machines - individual outs - multiprocessing... everything stereo - or more.

No computer anymore - not for music at least. It's all discrete boxes with multi-outs and effects. Nearly everything has it's own sequencer and clock. All machines must be synced via MIDI and/or DIN sync. More cables - more boxes - more channels - digital and analog. And more live performances.

Because there's no way to back my work (no computer/MIDI) it must all be recorded - right to two track. Live takes - in realtime. Whomever says electronic music is not live knows nothing about it. Every track is a live take. One takes the high points with the lows and strives for the best take. Now I'm writing and recording one... two... three tracks - per night! I have no choice - if I get an idea I must record it before the spark is lost. I'm obsessed. I come home from work and record from 10p-6am. This is my oxygen.

I borrow synthesizers and drum machines I can't afford - a Multi-Moog, Arp 2600, TB303, Microsynth, TR909. Some I get to perform with. I use machines at friend's studios - a Wave, Moog Modular, MKS80, Buchla 200. Learn them all - even if I never use them again.

You become an expert at quickly making checklists for performances/gear. Packing, being one's own roadie, setup, performing, and breakdown... with setup again upon getting home at 5am. It's joy, thrill, headache, and obsession.

Things change again. Too many boxes, too many cables. Too much stuff - this crap is heavy! Other solutions - must simplify. An MC-505. All in one box - 2 or 4 outputs. Sequencer, synthesizer, drum machine, multi-effects processor - performance interface. One learns to work around it's limitations... the mono-surface - it's lack of modularity. But its' one box and a few cables. Several years of learning, performing and recording on one machine. Several albums worth of tracks - and countless more experiments no one will ever hear. I learn to use it to control/sequence other studio gear for variety - interesting results. Every interface enforces a new approach to composition. Much like every brush or chisel. A tool's a tool's a tool.

Projects at home demand more studio time. Remixes, sound design, audio editing. More computer centric. A new phase. Machines age... buttons don't respond - digital OSs gets buggy. It happens. Onto the new. MIDI control surfaces, new software - new methodologies and approaches.

I get my first laptop. Sleek, and fast. I've sold much of my discrete gear - even the 808 (never shoulda done THAT!!). Too much space, too many cables. Onto the new.

So here I am. All these damn cables in bins and boxes. Taking up space... collecting dust. So now I must sort... and hopefully find new homes. And that's what I've been up to lately. Sorting, measuring, taking stock.

I dream of the age of wireless-ness - often.

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