Having just released a new album, Wild Light on Monday (16 September), before heading off on tour this weekend (UK dates kick off at Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms on 22 September), 65daysofstatic‘s Paul Wolinski has written us a guest column arguing that innovation for innovations sake isn’t always the greatest when it comes to the technology that makes music.
I saw the William Friedkin film Sorcerer for the first time point last year. It’s a tough 70s film about mercenaries trying to transport explosives through a jungle without blowing themselves up. It’s great. What’s more great is the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream and it’s interesting how fresh it still sounds.
I’ve been an avid follower and user of music technology (read: massive geek) since I started spending my school lunchtimes in the music department learning how to program Blue Monday into the school drum machine.
When my band 65daysofstatic first started playing live shows in 2001, we used something called an Akai S2000 sampler. This huge, heavy piece of metal and circuit boards held 45 seconds of audio samples from which we could build a song. Now the phone in my pocket can hold about 27 hours. This technological evolution continues to race forward just as fast as (or faster than) it ever has, but it feels to me like digital music hit saturation point a few years ago. The wave of progress has broken into this weird ocean of atemporality; there’s no unheard-of new musical forms on the horizon anymore. Electronic musicians have become unstuck in time.
Tangerine Dream used analog synths made by people like Bob Moog and Dave Smith, drum machines by people like Roger Linn. The digital revolution of the last couple of decades of the twentieth century brought us samplers, laptops and DAWS (digital audio workstations) like Ableton Live or Pro Tools, and heralded the rise of bands like The Prodigy, Underworld and Orbital. Now though, with no clear future in mind, the makers of such tools have embarked on this quest to remake old tech in new ways. 21st century global capitalism has changed analog synths from unwieldy, complex beasts that weighed a ton and never made the same sound twice into cheap-but-accessible plastic equivalents, easy to tour, easy to manage. You can control re-issued Moog synths with your iPad, should you want to. The interfaces available to musicians get slicker and more specialised but, so far, the fundamental ideas behind the tools remain resolutely old school.
Set adrift on this sea of rich invention, electronic musicians no longer seem to feel obliged to chase that unheard of sound. Instead we can go back and experiment with forms that were invented and then left behind, so eager were the pioneers to find the next thing. Factory Floor are looking for the future in the 1980s dance scene, while Skrillex seems to be digging through 90s jungle and grabbing the good bits. It’s all fair game now and no-one’s wrong. As futurist Bruce Sterling is fond of noting, ‘What happens to musicians will eventually happen to everyone’; perhaps this digital plateau electro kids find themselves ploughing these days provides a small glimpse into the weird atemporal future that awaits us all?
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