Do me a favor: As much as I appreciate you reading this editorial, I'd like for you to jump over and read this month's cover story. When you're finished trundle back over here and we'll continue. . . .
. . . finished? Great. Now, tell me, what was the most interesting thing about that story? Obviously the whole SMiLE saga is intriguing on many levels, not the least of which is how long it took for the whole project to happen. But for me, one thing stood out: Brian Wilson and Mark Linett using today's DAW technology to realize Wilson's 37-year-old creative vision.
In particular, I found it interesting that they used the DAW as a creative and arranging tool. And also that the sounds they wanted were created by live musicians playing together, rather than with each musician overdubbed in isolation. There was mic bleed, there were less-than-perfect vocal doublings, and so on. Bottom line? The music works wonderfully despite these "imperfections" - I'm listening to a pre-release copy as I write this.
I hear so much music today that has been relentlessly "perfected." The rhythms are perfect, the pitch is perfect, any extraneous noise has been thoroughly cleansed from the track, dynamics are carefully leveled out. In some cases the music was supposedly played by musicians, but it could just as easily have been created using samples triggered by a MIDI sequence (heavily quantized).
There are, of course, certain styles of music where this is appropriate. But I find myself growing fatigued of the "sanitized for your protection" approach to production. Where the style calls for it, I want to hear musicians performing - making music. All the "imperfections" simply bring that music to life.
Everyone knows that technology can be used for good or for ill - not that editing is evil; it's just a tool. But just because we can use that tool to do something doesn't mean we should; certainly the case with sanitizing the life out of tracks.