Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Machine Age

I think I've managed to isolate the moment when popular music became, in general, intolerable. It was that moment when so many decided to use a drum machine. You can set up a rhythmic pattern in a sequencer and then use it to underlay the song. Like the previous use of a click-track, it allows you to precisely co-ordinate different tracks recorded at different times. For quite a while musicians worked around the awkwardness of this (it is not so easy to accompany a singer, for example, if they aren't even in the studio), but more and more, as time went on, the thought that there even was an awkwardness to it tended to disappear. As music became more and more an industrial product and less and less an artistic expression, the use of mechanized rhythmic tracks became ubiquitous.

Here is what is wrong with them: they are utterly static. Most good music has an inherent direction to it. It is going somewhere. For me, all great pieces of music take you on a journey. Drum tracks are fixed. They do not 'move' the beat, they come from nowhere and they go nowhere. They are fundamentally inhuman. When I accidentally hear music in a public place I notice the rhythm first of all. So much of it is the horrible, mechanical slap of the drum machine. I suppose it doesn't matter too much if you are dancing to it, but if you just sit and listen, how long can you stand it before you want to scream?

I went to YouTube and typed in "new releases" and this was the first thing up:

As soon as the intro is over, the drum machine kicks in. Sure, you can make a complicated pattern, but it is absolutely rigid. Fixed. Nailed down. Dunno about you, but it drives me up the wall...

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