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A Musician's Dilemma


(In Search Of My Muse #1.05)


I am often asked to give my opinion on the ideal analog gear set-up. As you know, there is no easy answer to that trivial question: it all depends on how you are going to use that equipment and the criteria of your own esthetic. 

Needless to say, analog synths are not created equal : they differ greatly in their performances and qualities. In general, most synths available on the market perform rather well in basic synthesis, but are often not adequate for treatment and processing of external audio signals and/or complex logic controls.

With that in mind, you should choose a synth where every function can be voltage-controlled and where every input/output points can be patched at-will.

A good way to understand how electronic circuits operate is to build your own modular synth, in a kit form : this will give you some basic knowledges of electronics and, if needed, learn how to debug a badly soldered circuit. Also, you will be forced to acquire basic soldering skills : this will help you to maintain your gear in good working conditions. 

So, choosing the right gear for you is an important decision to make: the kind of gear and the technology you'll use will enhance or hamper, in a significant way, your creativity and esthetics for the years to come...

Three Evolutionary stages

It is said, that artists/ musicians go through three evolutionary stages in their artistic career. The first, is the beginners stage: musicians in this stage of discovery will likely have a lot of creative ideas but, will unlikely have the knowledge, technique and adequate gear to realize their wildest sounds experimentations. 

With the advent of virtual-analog gear, many analog newbies believe that they have finally found the panacea to generate that "monstrous" multi-timbral sound they hear every night in their heads. Regretfully, most don't even take the time, beforehand, to learn the most basic sound synthesis theory... 



Stage 1

This impetuosity and lack of discipline often leads to a sense of frustration and to excessive analog gear lust : this is the beginning of the so-called "big is beautiful" syndrome : "If I only had a wall of Moog IIIC, I would make a better music".

Stage 2

The second, is the technical stage : musicians in this stage of evolution will be ebullient about their newly acquired knowledge and/or techniques: simplicity here is a bad word...If they are keyboard players, the more complicated the musical phrasing is, the better the technical challenge (Berklee's  "Be-Bop" phrasing style in Fusion music is a good example of this stage).

Stage 3

The third, is the stage of liberation : musicians in this stage will likely to be more in tune with their music and with themselves. They will also know, with certainty, what their ideal gear should be and stick to it, once in for all. Obviously, the two keywords here are spontaneity and simplicity. When this stage is finally attained, gear is often reduced significantly and good music without constraints is the ultimate goal...

However, be aware of the so-called "Peter Principle" feedback lurking in the background...

As a reminder, this concept states that in any evolution scheme there comes a time when the artist/ musician reaches his top level  but, can also reach his level of incompetence (after the top of the Gaussian curve).

From then on, only devolution can occur... 

Evidently, this "Peter Principle" can hit you at any stage, at any time or in any form. For example, a sudden change of gear - or a shift to another technology - might be either very beneficial to your creative growth or hamper it severely due to the abrupt environmental change in the man/ machine interface. 

We have seen that happening before : in the 80's, most analog musicians succombed to the d*g*t*l songs of Japanese mermaids. Fortunately, some recovered from this ephemeral mirage and are now back to their first love: tweaking real knobs in the analog world. 

So, in a sense, this feedback principle is necessary: it is the paradigm-shift the artist/ musician badly needs, in order to regenerate his musical quest. 



(Extracts from 'Ye Olde Timer's Analogue Cookbook' by André C. Stordeur) 

André Stordeur has taught analog modular synthesis since 1973. He studied with David Wessel at the I.R.C.A.M, in Paris, and with American composer Morton Subotnick.