Electronic music is not real music? Why do people say these things? Probably because they are musicians who play non-electronic instruments and they feel threatened by the possibilities that musical technology has to offer. Well, I’m here to tell them that they are wrong and that their view will only serve to hinder their own musical progression.
Technology is not a bad thing, it is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t take over. As long as there is still creativity and composition, then technology can be used to create wonderful music. Using technology doesn’t mean you have to let the technology take over. You control it, it doesn’t control you. You get to tell it what you want to hear, not the other way around.
Related article: Is EDM Real Music? Absolutely! Find Out Why…
Guitars are Boring
Okay, so I am being deliberately provocative with that subtitle. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-guitar. I think guitars are fine when used as part of a broader rainbow of sounds. What I do have a problem with is when you get guitar-only bands who stick religiously to the guitar-bass-drums setup. That’s how the Beatles started in the 1960s, but even they were starting to use other sounds by the time they split up.
I suppose the appeal of guitars is partly that they look cool. There is something impressive about someone with a great looking guitar hanging down to their knees. And there is the performance aspect. It is difficult to play a guitar very well, so there is something impressive about watching an accomplished guitarist play something complicated. In that sense, perhaps it is similar to watching a good magic trick. You know you can’t do it yourself, so you are wowed by seeing them do it.
My point is that it is a limited way of making music because a guitar has limited sounds. Yes, different guitars have subtly different variations on the guitar sound, and effects can be added to make it sound weird and wonderful. But your starting point is always a vibrating string. There are more ways to make sounds than to vibrate a string. It’s fine, but it’s far from the only way, or even the best way.
Real Instruments vs Electronic
Of course, there are more “real” instruments than just guitars, so let’s broaden this a bit and compare “real” instruments in general against electronic instruments.
Of course, the main benefit of playing a traditional instrument is that it allows for performance. People are more impressed if you can play a traditional instrument than if you make electronic music. The problem with these traditional instruments is that each instrument has limited sounds.
Electronic instruments, such as synthesizers, have infinite sonic possibilities. Once you dive into the world of electronic music creation, a world of musical colour opens up to you that just isn’t possible with traditional instruments. Of course, electronic music doesn’t offer the same scope for live performance as traditional music. Or does it?
Performing Electronic Music Live
Of course, if you are using sequencers live, like the British duo Orbital do, there is a limit to the performance element. Sure, you can stop and start sequences live and tweak the sounds and the mix, but that’s not quite the same as actually performing on an instrument.
However, there are ways in which the traditional element of musical performance can be incorporated into electronic music, without even touching a traditional musical instrument.
Well, there’s always the keytar:
Of course, a lot of people think they are cheesy. Actually, my problem with that video is why would someone use a keytar to play an imitation of a guitar sound? Seems to defeat the whole point of using a keyboard.
Haken Continuum Fingerboard
Here is Dream Theater’s keyboardist Jordan Rudess playing a Continuum, which is a keyboard-style instrument which actually has no fixed keys. Instead, you can easily slide between notes.
ROLI Seaboard Keyboard
Here he is again, playing the Seaboard. This is a similar concept to the Continuum, but with raised bumps for the keys. Also, the “black” notes are positioned above the “white” notes like they would be on a traditional keyboard. This means you can play it in a similar way to a normal keyboard, but you have the added benefit of being able to slide and bend the notes, which gives it a unique performance aspect.
Update January 2016: Check out the new Seaboard Rise 49.
Of course, the original theremin was invented way back in the 1920s and only had one sound. These days you can get much more advanced versions of the theremin concept, such as the Moog Theremini. Here you can see how you can play many different sounds, and control more than just the volume and pitch as with the original theremin. You can actually alter the sound tone as well.
I’m a Composer of Electronic Music
Okay, so although I have talked about some of the ways in which electronic music can be performed live, I don’t consider myself a performer. I’m okay if people don’t even consider me a musician. I consider myself a composer. For me, the computer replaces the orchestra. So, just as a classical composer would write down notation so that the musicians of the orchestra can perform what he wants to hear, I tell my music software what I want to hear. I make no claims to be actually performing the notes myself.
Here’s an example of one of my compositions:
Of course, that particular piece could be interpreted by live musicians and performed live, but that’s not my end goal. I just enjoy composing music using the sounds I have available.
If Classical Composers Were Alive Today…
I sometimes like to try and imagine what it would be like if classical composers were alive today. I’m almost certain they wouldn’t be restricting themselves to only using “real” instruments.
When composers started composing classical music, they used the instruments that were available at the time. Many different instruments got invented, using whatever means of creating notes that they could come up with: plucking strings, rubbing a bow against strings, blowing through tubes with holes in, using wood, brass, whatever materials were available. All these different instruments were invented because they wanted to get as many different sounds as possible.
If classical composers were to get into a time machine and arrive at the present day, I like to think that they would be delighted with the sonic possibilities now on offer. I like to think they would make use of the many different sounds available to them and create wonderful audio dreamscapes. I really hope they wouldn’t scoff at the technology being used and insist on only using “real” instruments.
I suspect they might look at the guitar-bass-drums bands that still exist, and ask them why they are restricting themselves to only using those sounds. Kind of like a painter only using black and white, refusing to make use of the beautiful colours that are available.
So there you have it. There’s nothing wrong with traditional instruments, but there is also nothing wrong with electronically created music either. To say it is not real music is akin to saying that words on a website are not real words, or that photos processed using photoshop are not real images.
Yes, a lot of electronic music is sequenced, which means that a lot of the notes are not performed live by a human. But that opens up so many possibilities. Technology is a wonderful thing, and music is no exception.
What do you think? Why not leave a comment below.
Happy music making!