We can create natural sounds using digital music instruments. Nowadays, these are very popular. I love them too.
Is digital musical more than just a play button?
Once, if you went to a gig, you’d see people skilfully (or sometimes not quite so skilfully) play their instruments. But lately, it’s started to become just as likely to see someone back up the ukulele-playing frontman by pressing the play button on a laptop. Technical developments have always influenced the music industry, from the first mass-produced pianos to the electric guitar, but is programming some software on your computer the most innovative we can come up with now? Surely, there must be something more interesting out there?
(laser-harp – Miemo Penttinen)
There is, but no one wants it. A quick search on the internet shows the huge amount of digital instruments that have been developed in the past twenty years. The Eigenharp, for example: an instrument that resembles an oboe, electric guitar, synthesizer, and drum kit all rolled into one, and is presented as the “most expressive instrument ever made.” Another new instrument is the Chapman stick, which, although not many people have seen it played on a stage or know its name, has actually been used on a fair few records to add texture to guitar, bass and drum sound. It looks like a body-less electric guitar, and is played by tapping with both hands instead of picking or strumming.
Another category is formed by various “sound machines” that seem to rely more on serendipity than skill. They turn images of kitchen appliances into melodies, or contain innovative interfaces that let anyone intuitively play a tune without ever hitting a false note. The mistake that these engineers seem to have made is that they focus on accessibility: they try to make instruments easier to learn so everyone can make music. But most people don’t want music to be simple. If they go see a band, they want to be impressed. Knowing it took years of practice to master those instruments is part of what makes music sound good.
Many videos prove that The Eigenharp and the Chapman stick don’t suffer from accessibility, but require lots of skill and practice. Unfortunately, there is another problem. Digital instruments sound the same. The sound of an electric guitar or bass is electronically amplified and transformed, but is still influenced by the type of wood of the body, the type of strings, different sets of pick-ups, etc. It may be electric, but it still produces an analogue sound, not a digital one. Digital music does not sound different if you use a different operating system or a different way of pressing the keys.
And this is where the laptop comes in. Because if an instrument sounds the same however you play it, why then put your time and energy in improving your expressive motor skills? Instead, you can focus on intricate compositions and harmonies that lie outside of your physical capabilities. And then skilfully press play.