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Re: [microsound] the tool has become the message

Very well written and though provoking!

I agree, that often people are more interested with 'the sound' of
their music than basic, down-to-earth songwriting and composition. You
can add all the bells and whistles that you'd like, but without a
solid framework, it's just a bunch of fluff.


On 2/14/07, Renick Bell <the3rd2nd@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
The tool is rarely the intended message. The resulting sound from an idiomatic
usage of the tool can become cliche. Poor usage of a tool can draw inordinate
attention to the tool.

Our tools largely make it possible for us to present a message. Anytime a new
tool or technique appears, there is the potential for many people to use it to
express the same message. For example, the wah-wah pedal made the idiomatic
"wikiwiki" sound that people associate with 70s funk and porn sound tracks
possible. Non-musicians have a vague idea, if any, about the tool that makes
that message possible. I think many, if not most, guitarists thing of the wah
pedal as a means rather than the purpose of their playing. However, the audible
message (the filter sweep) and its association to other non-musical ideas
(funk, sex, seediness) is very clear for most modern players and audiences.
This sound is threadbare, but composers can sometimes use it for effect because
of its strong association.

The trombone has historically had a message associated with it (the idea of the


In the 20th century, some people might argue that trombone glissandos became

Many people recognize the overwrought vibrato of some opera vocalists. It's a
classic instance of a technique's (tool's) usage gone wrong.

In an interview (Le Monde de la Musique #215, November 1997), Rinaldo
Alessandrini said (Google translation):


"What do you think of the use of the vibrato in the old vocal music? Is it
sufficiently justified? One regarded the vibrato as a disturbing element in the
old music. In fact, the problem does not come from the vibrato itself, but from
its use without understanding. In the polyphony, it is harmful: it masks the
intonation and deteriorates the resonance of the agreement. But in the vocal
music soloist, it is carrying the emotion; same manner; in the madrigal, the
singer will reach with the sublime one if it manages to distinguish in the line
the moment when it will be able to accentuate using the vibrato the feeling of
competition between the voices, typical of this form."

The problem in computer music is that cliched or poor tool-usage is prevalent,
as it is in any art form. I can myself easily be guilty of lack of creative
application of the tools at hand. While some artists may deliberately want to
draw attention to their particular usage of a tool, I don't think it's the
purpose of most computer musicians. I definitely think it's a relatively
uninteresting artistic direction with few exceptions. Excessive emphasis of our
tools leads to elitism and fetishism among musicians and distraction and
confusion for audiences and critics. I think that's the point Momus is making
when he concludes:

"Cheese straight from an unexpected cow is fresher and better than the
processed, packaged stuff stocked in our software menus."

Lynch's tool (juxtaposition? absurdity?) made possible a situation or message.
A critic, artist, or cynic might only see the technique, but the people on the
street likely got the message.


Renick Bell

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