“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times…” – Brian Wilson
“Brian was right son, I wasn’t made for these times…” – My Dad
Technology is a strange thing. It moves at such a rapid pace that it can leave many people behind. It can be intimidating and isolating but can also be liberating and empowering. It can oppress or it can fuel revolutions.
My dad, for instance, tends to shy away from new tech. He finds it frustrating and it seems as soon as he gets used to a particular workflow something changes…Facebook changes their feed, Windows updates him to 10, his phone dies and has to get a new one…that sort of thing.
In the studio I use Ableton Live for recording. It’s as digital as it gets. But when I was younger I vowed never to give into CDs, much less utilize digital tech for recording and making music.
I still vividly remember when I finally surrendered and purchased a CD player. It was late one night in 1996…yep, 1996. I was listening to a cassette in my bedroom when all of the sudden the player ate the tape. The record player had already died and the radio had quit. The dual cassette player was the final component and I was livid.
Do you have any idea how many mix tapes I made on that thing?!
Anyway…in a manic angst-riddled blaze of energy, I grabbed my keys and drove to K-Mart, and then Target, and then Wal-Mart. All the shelf systems now had these damn CD turntables and gaudy, aggressive speakers with all sorts of super bass technology and NO record players!
I finally gave in and bought the most simple and “normal” looking shelf system I could find. I bought three CDs…begrudgingly. I got the Beatles Abbey Road, Smashing Pumpkins’ Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness and Bon Jovi’s These Days.
I went home, not like an excited kid on Christmas ready to open gifts but with a resentful submission. I didn’t WANT CDs. I liked vinyl and cassettes.
So I get home, I set the damn thing up and put in Abbey Road. I lie down in the dark to go to sleep and my god…I had never heard Abbey Road before…not like that anyway. I tore out of the room and said “pop, there’s a tambourine at the beginning of Here Comes the Sun!” haha…I had never heard it before…my copy of a copy of a copy of a ¼” cassette tape just couldn’t squeeze that detail into the mix.
I was sold.
Thus began a long battle with technology. Embrace it or rebuke it? The line always seems to move for me. I’ll buy CDs but I’ll never burn them to a computer. I’ll burn them to a computer but I’ll never stream them. Ok I’ll stream them but I still won’t use digital recording tools. Ok I’ll use digital recording tools but only to record analog instruments. I’ll get a smart phone but I won’t turn on the GPS. Ok I’ll turn on the GPS but only for maps…and so on and so on.
Where I’m at now is basically summed up like this: Embrace the technology but maintain an analog soul.
I have an Amazon Echo sitting on my kitchen counter. I have access to every instrument imaginable through the expansive library of samples included with Ableton and with a variety of MIDI keyboards and drums in the Cathedral. I carry a Surface Pro 3 and an LG G4.
All that said; I have one foot planted firmly in the mono/analog aesthetic and lifestyle of the pre-digital world I grew up in. I’m part of the last generation of people to remember life without the internet, without PCs.
I grew up with stories of Brian Wilson recording Pet Sounds on 4 track tape….of him arranging Good Vibrations using a dozen turntables and even more test pressings so he could play different sections in different order. There was no cut/paste/drop in/punch in/punch out.
The Beatles were the first to use 8-tracks and they put them to use with Sgt. Pepper…still tape. No samples, no MIDI…
So…for me…I want to utilize technology when it can make my life easier but I don’t want to lose the ambition, the creativity energy or spirit, or the effort that drives those things. For instance, while I use Ableton to record, I don’t utilize but maybe 2% of its features. I record in one take, I use an actual drum set to trigger the MIDI drum sounds and I don’t use loops. It might as well be a tape recorder but by using it I’m able to record more efficiently and create a smoother workflow.
When I was a kid samplers started showing up in Guitar Center and were priced for kids and amateurs my first band mates and I were looking at them. I turned to my guitarist and said, “man, there’s just no soul in these things. You just hit a button and it plays music…you don’t even have to know how to play an instrument. What’s the point?”
My bass player, who was into what was becoming known as techno/electronica agreed but with a caveat. He pointed at a higher end model and said “that one has knobs. You want soul, you gotta have knobs.”
It has never been summed up so perfectly. Haha
So embrace tech…embrace the new whatever…tech or otherwise…but never lose your love of tradition, your organic, natural spirit that drives everything. Enjoy everything technology brings you, be it in music or in life, but don’t forget to give those knobs a twist. You gotta keep your soul.