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Sound-driven music making: creativity question


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Have you ever had this "problem"? I often find that my ear tends to guide my improvising, based on its associations with various sounds. So, for instance, if I'm playing a Vox Continental patch or patch style, I am motivated to improvise 60's-style riffs; Oboe patch and I am doing a minor-key, slow, sinuous melody. Etc.


Obviously the sounds of various natural and "pre-synth" instruments have their musical associations, but I find this true as well of the synth sounds I work with.


In both cases, I find my knowledge of/familiarity with a wide range of music tends to lead to mimesis of the musical style most familiar to the instrument the sound I'm working with approaches.


Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Inevitable? How do _you_ break the habits described above?


I know it's easy to say, just take that pan pipes patch, throw some guitar distortion on it and do a lead line, but that's not quite what I'm after; I'm wondering whether, as musicians and listeners both, there are some interesting ideas out there to work both with and against the musical expectations produced by a combination of a sound with the auditor's musical context.


Does it matter? If not, no need to reply, just let it die. :)



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It matters a LOT. Well, in my opinion. The easy answer is of course to find sounds that don't have historical precedent or association- easy to say, hard to do. Boy that analog square wave sounds a lot like a clarinet. :D And once you do escape the manmade instruments you're usually right back to nature- bird chirps, storms, rockslides, elephants, whatever.


Synths and samplers do have a nifty ability though- instruments are associated with certain moods and styles in part because of their original physical limitations, and synthesis can remove the limitations. Slice the attacks off the piano samples and it will out-Debussy Debussy. But then cheesey bed of Romantic strings starts to call...


20th century composers approached the problem by having instruments play to the utmost of their limitations and beyond their "natural" ranges. The original Planet of the Apes soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith is a cool example of acoustic instruments made to sound like synths.


Probably the only sure way out of the dilemna is to severely limit your instrument choices and simply make them work.



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Hi Bobro! Thanks for your reply.


I agree with you -- mainly -- but I also wonder whether such associations are ever completely unavoidable. I find when I slip into thinking, "hey, that's a really nice sound!" it's often because it keys off of something I'm already familiar with -- it distorts like a great electric guitar on distortion, it sounds like a bed of strings, etc. So, I try making "not-sounds" and pushing past what my ear finds pleasing and/or acceptable.


Then, when I succeed with that, I tend to lose improvisational inspiration, because now I'm at sea -- "okay, this is an original sound, but what do I do to make it into evocative music?" That's my "problem" of the moment. I achieve sonic originality, I light out for the tonal territory ahead, and find blankness, Moby Dick (NOT Moby, thank you! ).


I'm definitely not in the "tone poem" school of music-making, but on the other hand too abstract a composition, or improvisation, loses its rootedness in any context, loses its "center" that way, for me at least.


Interesting touchstone for me: Scriabin's "Poem of Fire" (talk about tone poems!) _almost_ sounds like '40s movie music (well, the latter did derive from the tonal tradition Scriabin was sort of in the middle of ), but then he throws in these atonal/accidental elements that save the piece from wretched, syrupy sweetness.


Or, the other way around -- reversed samples of airplane jet engines sliced up and used as percussion to beat out an African wedding-dance rhythm.


Oh well -- far better, and more serious, musicians than me have beaten their heads against this one. :) Thanks again for your thoughtful response!



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I am motivated to improvise 60's-style riffs; Oboe patch and I am doing a minor-key, slow, sinuous melody. Etc.
I agree with Bobro but I also think this is a totally cool part of being a synth player. You're playing traditional sounds and honoring the effects those traditions have on music...I think that's cool.


I do both...I honor my Father's music and I attempt to create sounds never heard before...I think it's natural.

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Maybe the best thing about how certain timbres seem to go with certain moods, whether by long use, relation to some kind of laws of nature, or both, is that there's more effect when the flute busts out with some satanic riff or the tuba takes the sweet lead melody. I'm definitely into honoring the past as an important part of music, got the pure noise deal out of my system in those teen years, inadverdantly retracing the steps of lord knows how many teenagers through the ages. :D
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LOL! I'm trying to get the pure noise back *into* my system. Combine it with a lack of knowledge gained through the years on many instruments....


When I play with other people (especially for an audience), I like to play songs. But when alone I find difficulty 'practicing' - I tend to just get lost in whatever I'm doing, and the avenue I end up playing along has a great deal to do with what instrument I'm playing, or if I'm playing keys, what sounds I've selected. (Sorry 'bout the run-on sentence.) I try not to worry about where in the past an association might come from unless I'm writing a song. I get the base down and listen back and hope the melody/structure isn't too evocative of something that's already out there. But sonically, I don't care if a particular sound leads me down a familiar path. It's all good, you know :)


Originally posted by Bobro:

got the pure noise deal out of my system in those teen years, inadverdantly retracing the steps of lord knows how many teenagers through the ages. :D

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.


This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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It's an interesting topic.


Not sure I have anything to offer, except an observation. Sometimes, the association we have are with a particular character or modulation of a sound and not the sound itself. A violin-like vibrato conjurs up the image, even with a sine wave, for me. The difference between the passionate violin vibrato and the "menacing" or "wobbly" vibrato, appears pretty absolute to me...in terms of rate and depth.


So I guess, to my taste, the psycho-acoustic associations aren't easily reversed or ignored. At least not on a large scale.





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