In the beginning there was…analogue musique concrete…we’ve come a long way with new technologies since these guys began playing with slices of tapes and sound recordings!
Ever since the beginning of recorded history humans have found ways to create sounds to make music of some form or another. The trail of early instruments can be found through the study of organology and the history of drumming goes back to ancient tribes and cultures, especially in Africa. This article “Drumming, the Backbone Of African & Reggae Music” by Jason Kahn gives a historical overview and bibliographical sources of interest.
The definition of a musical instrument according to the Oxford Dictionary is an object or device for producing sounds, therefore in todays world of digital computer technologies, the computer digital audio workstation can be defined as an instrument.
Early keyboards and sequencers invented in the days of “musique concrete” or electronic music, changed the performance of recorded music for ever. In those days paper rolls with holes cut in it were used to trigger music performances.
The following links give a deeper explaination of the history of “musique concrete” if you wish to read more…
Today the same idea is used when we see the sequencer on our computer screens and technology has evolved to provide us with new ways of creating, recording, manipulating, composing, manipulating and effecting sounds to create music.
The following BBC documentary “The New Sound Of Music 1979” shows the evolution of these processes.
In this clip early vocoders before today’s Autotune are used to manipulate the human voice as well as introducing the cutting of video to match to a tempo, a technique now used throughout music and media production…
This other BBC series “The Alchemists of Sound” also provides further insights into the “radiophonic” workshops and the “avante garde” composers…
Futher progression of this digital musical trend and the artists that pioneered it are documented in the BBC programme “Synth Britannia” links to which seem to be now not available on the BBC website.
Today in the digital domain of music and producers, re-mixers and re-fixers the sampling, cutting, pasting, recording and playing sounds through digital workstations has become far less time consuming but to be able to compose, arrange and master a piece of finished work to a high standard is in itself art and takes musical knowledge, digital equipment/interface knowledge and a lot of passion and patience!
The computer is perhaps part of the evolution of musical instruments in today’s digital worlds of technology. It is an accessible instrument with infinite sound palettes to choose from that is relatively easy to play and learn to use through experimentation.
Some muso’s and corners of the music industry disregard digital music production as employing less talent and musicianship as real instruments. To some degree this may be true, but even if a computer is to be used as an instrument it too takes hours of practice and skill to master, it too takes hours of dedicated practice and experiementation. It is a different form of creative artistic expression that requires a different set of skills to produce a final finished product that can be listened to. Computers can be used to perform live and some of the live performances by skilled digital musicians have phenomenal musical abilitiy attached to them. There is a lack of warmth in digital music as opposed to true analogue sound that cannot be argued, a different experience to the listener that experiences the vibrations of all the harmonic and inharmonic frequencies and spurious additions that natural sound gives, but the ability of the musician is not necessarily better, just different.
The option of a computer as an instrument that we have today is possibly as much a blessing as a curse. It provides a platform of opportunity for creative musically artistic souls to be creative and express themselves, but possibly at the cost of them not taking this passion to the direction of the study of a real instrument. Saying this though, it may be what leads some to the desire to learn to play a real instrument, when this would not have otherwise arisen except for learning about music through digital music experimentation.
As someone from the generations of real musical instrument training who went to piano and drum lessons at school but later in life ended up picking up a computer as an instrument, I have embraced the technology and absolutely love the expansions of possiblity that lie within the computer as an instrument but at the same time truly appreciate the art and ability of those who play real instruments. If given the opportunity now to return to conventional piano lessons, I would, and this is due to my passions for playing music being reignighted through digital music production. That being said, I think because I have the ability to access a miriad of instruments and sounds through my computer, I may find one instrument to be rather limiting to my creativity in some senses, whereas with musique concrete they are endless.