Mute your phone, put your iPad aside, stop downloading that trillion gigabyte sample library to your laptop, and consider this for 2 minutes...
Has music technology really advanced much in the past 30 years? Are we, as musicians and producers, able to do significantly more now than we could back in say, 1983?
It’s a contentious and radical thought for an editor of a music technology magazine to have... And, I struggle with this more than I’d like to admit.
And before you answer in your droves, I’m no luddite! The answer is obviously a resounding yes, right? Every month there’s new plug-ins and hardwares (many of which I love using) which bring new possibilities to our studio and live performance setups.
However, this question re-emerged as I watched a 1983 video featuring my good friend, mentor, and the man behind the popular audio education library at macProVideo.com, Steve Horelick, creating the music for the Reading Rainbow Kids TV show.
In this video, SteveH (who looks remarkably similar to how he did back then - hope you’re reading this Steve), dazzles us with his music and production chops using a Fairlight. Sure, the sounds aren’t as complex or realistic as today’s sample libraries. True, we’re looking at a monochromatic screen - no retina displays here then. But, notice how effortlessly Steve navigates his sound library, recalls patches, samples his voice, and triggers sounds in no time flat. Yes, we’re in 1983!
Then for the grand finale where—and this is the kicker—the Fairlight not only displays the waveform of the sound (akin to NI’s Razor), but Steve even draws on the screen to create his own waveforms! Pretty cool to see, even for us iPad wielding musicians.
Of course, the 8-bit Fairlight CMI Series 1 couldn’t create the depth and sonic quality of soundscapes you’d get from a modern sampler instrument or synth. Sound quality aside, it’s interesting to observe how Steve interacted with his Fairlight back then, compared to how we interact with our music machines now. We still use computer keyboards, MIDI Controllers, trackpads and touch screens. Not much difference! In this regard, there’s room for improvement.
Without doubt, music technology has become cheaper, more portable and therefore more accessible for more of us (which is a truly great advance in itself). But, looking forward to the next 30 years, I for one would love to see more tech to help us interact with our music studio setups more effectively and effortlessly.
Now I just need to get the Reading Rainbow theme out of my head... Still going strong after 30 years!!