Saturday, October 11, 2014

"What kind of typewriter do you use?"

Courtesy of Ars Technica, is this lovely little anecdote about a meeting between Ernest Hemingway and Ansel Adams:
there is a (likely apocryphal) story that tells the tale of an encounter between famous novelist Ernest Hemingway and famous photographer Ansel Adams. In the story, Hemingway is purported to have praised Adams’ photographs, saying, "You take the most amazing pictures. What kind of camera do you use?"
Adams frowned and then replied, "You write the most amazing stories. What kind of typewriter do you use?"
 I mention this just to point out that, while technology offers composers today astonishing tools for their work, all that is really needed is a pencil and a piece of paper--possibly with staves drawn on it. All the rest is just your mind, thinking. Sometimes we like to obsess about our professional tools, but I recall an occasion when I was talking to someone after a concert and she commented on what a great guitar I had. Yes, I did and still have the same guitar, but I found the comment irksome because the guitar is just a medium. The quality of sound really comes from your head, through the fingers. It is wanting to make a certain sound that gives you the ability to do so.

I like the technology available now. I compose on a 27' iMac running Finale and I use Bose for playback. With the usual caveats about synthesized instruments, it is quite useful. I have a keyboard plugged in as well, but frankly, I never use it. But none of the music I compose has anything to do with the tools I use. It all comes from my head (and of course, from fifty years of listening closely to music).

But if you don't actually have an orchestra in the next room, as Haydn did, modern technology offers some pretty cool substitutes:

Click to enlarge


Rickard Dahl said...

I'm curious, how come you chose Finale over Sibelius?

Bryan Townsend said...

I got my first computer, a second-hand Mac Plus, around 1991 or 2. I started out using Encore. It was a bit buggy as I recall. If I clicked on the glissando tool it would cause the whole computer to crash! Anyway, a few years later I switched to PCs and bought my first fully professional music software, which was Finale. I think it was the 1997 version. At that time I don't think Sibelius even existed, at least I wasn't aware of it. For a number of years I was not involved with music, but when I got back into it and became serious about composing I took up with Finale again even though I knew that Sibelius was popular. I think I tried out a sample version once. But I had already invested a few years in learning Finale, so I kept using it.

Do you have good things to say about Sibelius? Does it have advantages over Finale?

Rickard Dahl said...

Hmm, it's hard to say. I know I've tried the Finale trial version but it was before I started composing. On the other hand I tried the Sibelius trial version once I've started composing. It seemed good and so I kept using and bought the software. Another reason I picked Sibelius was because I've read various reviews. It seemed like composers preferred Sibelius. As someone roughly said: Sibelius is better for composers (more intuitive), Finale is better for editors, publishers etc. In the end I think both probably work good as long as you get past the initial learning curves. I simply happened to learn Sibelius at the right time.

Bryan Townsend said...

Interesting... Ironically, while I compose on Finale, my publisher, Avondale Press in Vancouver, uses Sibelius! It is likely that the two programs have converged to some extent over the years.