I have been writing and recording a reasonable amount of new music recently and have, inevitably, been using various DAWs (digital audio workstations). During the recording and editing phases I have availed myself of some of the many tools available that allow one to ‘polish’ (at best) or even ‘reconstruct’ (at worst) the original recorded performance. In doing this I have encountered people who are perfectly happy to embrace this, people who don’t know that it is even happening and people who are (philosophically, at least) opposed to such practices. So, where to draw the line (pun intended)? The following is some thoughts from the perspective of a musician who uses this technology.
There seems to be a view that the use of this type of technology is killing musicianship, in some way. I find this somewhat ‘purist’ view really interesting, to be honest. I presume it’s a hangover from days in which this type of editing and manipulation wasn’t possible (or at least much more laborious and inefficient) in which players really did need to be able to nail their parts in order to make the most of a recording session. This is perfectly understandable from a historical perspective but maintaining this view now seems to be slightly outdated, in my opinion. This is perhaps because of an important misconception, namely that this type of manipulation can make inferior musicians or people who just cant play sound perfect. This just simply isn’t the case and, therefore, musicianship and technical ability can never be replaced in the pursuit of high quality performance. Also, I strongly believe that in the modern world, the fundamental concept of musicianship is one that is now wider and more inclusive than it has ever been. In this sense, it is important for modern musicians to embrace, understand and know how to work with this type of technology (and those who use it best, i.e. engineers) to create something that shows their music in it’s best light. A comparison might be drawn with a number of other disciplines – for instance, of photography. In recent decades it has become far more common for people to take digital photos and manipulate them in order to either achieve something that would be impractical/inefficient to capture, or to achieve something that may not be possible to capture in the real world. Is it appropriate to say that embracing modern technology in this example is ‘cheating’? I don’t think so! Again, using this example, Photoshop will not be able to help someone that cant work a camera to make ‘perfect’ images. Instead, it will be used as a tool by professionals to either enhance or embellish their work, to make their workflow more streamlined and efficient or to create that which could not be achieved without such technology.
Why should people feel that they have to stick to old fashioned conceptions of skill and ability and scorn the use of technology which has been designed to be assistive to these types of processes? Would the same people, when faced with life-saving surgery, feel that the surgeon should rely only on classical conceptions of surgical skill and not embrace the wealth of technology which has been developed with the same intentions? Doubtful! Yes, this is an extreme example but I don’t believe that the concept of musicianship is static and that it should be romanticised in the way that this type of thinking inevitably leads to. Musicianship, I believe, relates in part to the ability of a person to use their aural, analytic and critical faculties in conjunction with their technical skill to achieve suitable musical products or engage appropriately with musical processes. As such, I would go as far as to say that I see it as the responsibility of musicians to embrace and understand such technology as it is almost ubiquitous in the production of most music in the modern world.
This technology isn’t killing musicianship – it is, along with the development of many other areas of technology that impinge on music (instrument design, for example), changing the meaning of the term. I do not see this as a negative!