I am ready to make a few unusual and some expected commitments for the year 2014. Although these are coming from personal realizations, opinions and circumstances, I’ve decided to share three of them with my audience (with some explanation included), hoping that some of you might find them inspirational (or thought provoking) and applicable for your own life or work. Plus, putting them out for listeners from all over the Planet to read will force me to actually stick to them…
Resolution #1: I will not purchase new software or hardware
This is actually harder than it sounds. Trying to leave my “gearhead” past behind, it might not be possible to simply ignore new developments and cool products. But, even though I won’t unsubscribe from the 20+ music technology related e-newsletters I am receiving on a weekly basis, the real challenge will be making the decision not to purchase the latest and greatest equipment or plugin. Why? I could simply say “I have more than enough gear in Studio CS” (and this would be the truth), but then you would say (if you’re a gearhead): “You can’t ever have too much gear!”. As I used to think the same, it might need some explanation why I think otherwise these days.
The less gear you have, the more you have to try: try to come up with unconventional solutions, try to get more out of what you have, try new and unusual combinations and end up with new and unique outcomes. Less convenience makes you think and work harder. Faster processing and more memory, more software, bigger algorhythm do not mean better music.
There are so many examples to put this in a wider perspective. For instance, think about the computers NASA used in the ’60s and ’70s. Their most complex program was 6 MB and Apollo 11 was guided to the Moon and back to Earth by a computer with 64 KiloBytes of memory and a processor running at 0.05 MHz – about the speed of a pocket calculator. Yet it was enough to assist a mission that changed history. Or, think about the Synclavier or the Fairlight CMI sampler of the early ’80s, with their processor running at around 1 MHz, both were responsible for amazingly realistic sounds in the works of many composers of the day.
I look at software similarly. Typically, what you will find in the newest versions, latest upgrades, is convenience. New features and functions might be marketed as “new capabilities”, but in fact, I have not come across any “new capabilities” for several years now, any features that wouldn’t have been possible to achieve before – usually in more complex but also more flexible ways. Whether we’re talking about new variations of formant synthesis, sequenceable effects processing, automation matrix or other “this will triple your creativity” gimmicks, it’s been all out there for those who choose to go beyond clicking on preset buttons – and it’s been around for a long time. This makes me think of the good old times that I was spending in front of the early version of Cubase (the whole program fit on four 3.5″ floppy discs), being more productive than ever.
I believe that we have passed the point where the advantage of the accelerated technical progress was practically measurable in most fields (the medical profession might be one of the exceptions). While more or less following Moore’s law, technological advancement is accelerating exponentially, in my opinion the benefits are only advancing logarithmically (the pace of change of the effect is decelerating). This brings the latest 64-channel theater surround sound systems to mind – as impressive as it sounds, I wonder how many listeners will perceive and actually enjoy its benefits over today’s 9.2 systems (knowing that most people can’t even distinguish a 5.1 from a 7.1 experience).
So, do we really need GigaByte-sized operating systems and TeraBytes of samples to create amazing sounds and music? (And let’s not even open up the analog can of worms here.) Taking this a step farther in light of the Apollo example: does the world need faster and faster technology to make history? Do we need to run fast to get farther and see less, or rather slow down and enjoy the journey? As for me… using technology as an occasional aid, it’s time to enjoy a healthy mix of the easy-to-miss wonders of yesterday and the creative challenges of tomorrow.
Resolution #2: I will use my smartphone less
I do like the “everything at one place” aspect of smartphones. I appreciate the practicality of the minimalistic algorhythm and small application size that runs on them. But I hate that they are leading the way in letting technology drive and schedule our lives, instead of inspiring us to free up time we spend with daily routines, and replace it with real productivity. Everyone knows by now how companies love to provide cellphones to their employees (to effectively extend their work hours without pay). But people are equally at fault. How many times do you check your phone a day? Some statistics say the average user does it 23 times, some research mentions numbers over one-hundred… either way, it’s too often. What’s the point of checking your emails, social networking status, weather, etc. constantly? How come no one felt being left out of the loop 15 years ago when launching your email once in the morning and once in the evening was enough? People still networked, and actually kept relationships more personal and reliable.
I do not want to waste any more time than I must with these routine tasks and I do not want to let technology become the purpose, rather than the tool. If I save only 3 minutes on average by turning on my phone only 10 times less a day, that’s already half an hour a day (over a full week per year!) that I can use my time for more useful activities. Let’s be the smarter one of our phones and ourselves.
Resolution #3: The New Album…. I will finally finish it and it shall be released.
My original plan was that first time in my life, I can spend all the time I want to compose music and sounds for my 8th studio album – one that is especially close to my heart. I even proudly shared my “no deadline” approach with some of my friends and students: “if it takes many years, then it takes many years… I won’t release it until I feel it’s near perfect”. The process started in 2009, and had no planned release date. After I delayed the release date several times, I have come to realize: what sounded good in theory, wouldn’t work in practice, for at least three reasons:
1. I’m never 100% satisfied with the mix of my own works, so technically the album will never be 100% finished. I just have to accept 98%. And due to the nature of music production, it takes about the same amount of time to get form zero to 98% as much it takes to get from 98% to 100% – there is always something to improve. Often I’m not even sure if I’m really improving on a detail or just moving over horizontally to explore another option. So those last 2% just aren’t worth the time.
2. Having been receiving your questions about the release date from all over the Planet at an increasing rate made me finally realize, that I owe it to my listeners to put out the new materials in a reasonable time. Working on my music by myself for too long is not only exponentially less productive (see above) but also exponentially more selfish.
3. Not wrapping up the first album (of my new concept album series of 4 albums) will prevent me from moving on, shifting my thoughts to the second topic and start working on the 2nd album.
I take this opportunity to thank everyone who inquired about the new albums and ensured me of their support. I’ll be proud to have you as a VIP passenger on this musical journey in 2014.
Happy New Year’s resolutions!