A strange series of events lead me down an unexpected path of reminiscence this week - and since this is my 1000th post, I thought I'd mark the occasion with a few (well- or ill-) considered thoughts. I was having lunch with my wife at our favorite local Chinese restaurant - and couldn't quite put my finger on the "oddity" of the room. I looked around and nothing was any different than it had been before - but then it hit me - the piped-in music was very, very different from the canned Sino/Euro-trash they usually play.
They had replaced their usual instrumental ethno-pop with an Andrew Lloyd Webber greatest hits album. Mind you, this was not your average cheesy cabaret soundtrack - this was really awful, saccharin-sweet instrumental clap trap that didn't even rise to the musical production quality of a SoundBlaster. Right-thinking people wouldn't even put these arrangements in an elevator. Needless to say, once it made its presence known, we couldn't get past it. So, we laughed it off and played an impromptu game of "name that musical" while waiting for the Hunan Chicken to show up. The usuals were there - we got a dose of "Cats" and "Phantom" - and by the time we got our food we moved on to "Evita" and "Starlight Express". There was even a little bit of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and "Sunset Boulevard" mixed in. But the real surprise came when I picked out a theme from "Song and Dance" - a lesser-known one-woman show that I produced with my girlfriend at the time - back in the summer of 1988. I was quite pleased with myself when I finally named a tune that my wife didn't know - and she had the audacity to suspect that I was making it up. When it went to the chorus I recited a few of the words and she surrendered...
Anyway, that started me thinking back not about the old girlfriend but the setup that I used to create all of the tracks for the musical - only a Roland D-20, and an Alesis MMT-8 sequencer. I had a cassette four-track - but it kept screwing up enough that we ditched it and I played the sequences live through the synth, and adjusted tempo on the fly using the data slider on the D-20 (sending some form of control message to the MMT-8) - talk about cutting-edge! Looking back on it now, I would never dream of doing things the same way - but that's just it - things are so different now (both for me - personally and professionally - and industry-wide) that there's barely a resemblance. It really hadn't dawned on me until that day in the Chinese restaurant - I guess it's as much about *not* taking the time to look back and see how far you've come, as it's about "staying current". It's caused me to rethink the amount of time spent in splitting hairs with people over what application, plug-in, or virtual instrument is marginally better than the other. It also made me remember that - even with a painfully minimal setup - my arrangement was better than that garbage playing in the restaurant.
And I also feel the need to say a few things in defense of Andrew Lloyd Webber. First of all, I don't mind his music - trite and contrived as it can be. However, there's a real gem in "Song and Dance" that made the whole thing worth doing (and my girlfriend at the time was very persuasive). It's a 5/8 piece in Db minor that falls well on the fingers and has some really surprising chord turns in it as well as a really stunning melody - not just catchy, but truly inspired. I also remember going to an international drama conference in high-school, and seeing a performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that truly blew me away. The person who played Judas had an amazing set of pipes (I'm talking about Christina Aguliera sit down, quit warbling, and listen to someone really do it kind of pipes - required for the part) and the production was so amazing that when the character commits suicide, his last note was jerked out of him by the drop, and the music cut out in perfect sync - and you could hear 3500 people gasp and hold their breath - with the next few seconds punctuated by the occasional choked-back sob during the low vamp into the next scene. This was an auditorium filled with a bunch of drama queens with chips on their shoulders (i.e. none of them wanted to see a musical during a *real* drama conference) and they gave ALW's work a 10-minute standing ovation. I don't think that anyone managed to fall asleep that night. I know I didn't...
As much as I yawn and roll my eyes when ALW's name is mentioned, it's more from the fact that I've played a great deal of his music (and many times over, at that) as a professional trombonist and pianist - as well as music director and arranger. The thing that irritates me the most is when I see that Pavlovian response from people every time they hear ALW's name and coo in some glib sense of adoration. I was at a screening for the Society of Composers and Lyricists where they announced an impending screening of the feature based on "Phantom" with ALW penciled in for a post-screening interview. Everyone murmured approvingly with a low chorus of "Mmmm" and "Oohhh" and "Ahhh" - and I'm sitting there wondering if I'm the only one that's not interested... maybe it's just that people in L.A. don't get enough of the stage...
I'm finding that all of these little (seemingly) myopic events, experiences and memories are instructive. They're telling me that I have less reason than ever to *not* make music. Between Garritan, SCARBEE, Worra, and a slew of other folks - I don't really need to explain "what I meant" to do with a piece of music. All I need is the time and patience to give my ideas full realization. I've said it before - and I'll say it again - it's truly "an embarrassment" of riches. From the huge, expansive orchestral libraries to deep and wide expressions of single instruments - 15+ years ago these kinds of instruments were unthinkable (well maybe a few folks were thinking about it back then ).
So as I fade back into the woodwork a bit - I'd like to pose a few questions (and I'd like to keep this about sample library discussion so the thread doesn't get moved and sink to the bottom of the OT section).
Right now I feel that looking back 15 years only tells us that in 15 years things are going to be radically different.
- What was your first "real" electronic music setup (tape decks and cutting blocks included)?
- Do you think that *you* are closer to or farther away from being able to express yourself creatively?
- Do you feel like you spend more of your time tweaking things like computers and sample libraries, or in actually creating music?
- Do you think that the music instrument industry as a whole is healthy - and do you see it as impacting your future creative options?
- What do you think sample libraries and samplers will be like 5, 10 and 15 years from now?