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Limitations of Instruments, Interface, and how those Limitations Affect Creativity

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  • Limitations of Instruments, Interface, and how those Limitations Affect Creativity

    [Time for another "Less is More" thread to balance our culture's materialism.]

    The organ is the most inspiring instrument I've ever played. That's just me of course, some of you may be more inspired by a Prophet or a Casio or whatever. My whole life I've been into synthesizers and other gear, but I had the organ epiphany in the past year.

    Many years ago, after a tremendous amount of research, I saved up, and bought a Kurzweil K2000. It was my first eBay purchase. The K2000 was a very deep synth, but I was thoroughly motivated, and the keyboard really got my juices flowing. I wrote a number of songs on it, mostly BEFORE I knew how to use it.

    I soon sold it and got a K2661, which is even more powerful, and adept at designing sounds...not just any sounds, but wild, weird, and twisted sounds, unheard by the human ear. I worked for hours creating programs and setups. When I would play, I'd play in fragments, and then would flip through the one thousand presets (some made by me). However, I wrote many fewer songs.

    At some point, I got a DSI Prophet 08. It sounded amazing, and so many knobs! In fact, in a few months, I realized that I never wrote any songs on it all, I was too distracted turning knobs all the time.

    But I WAS still writing...I was writing on a Farfisa Minicompact, and a Moog Little Phatty for bass. The Farfisa is a tiny crappy little transistor organ I acquired by chance around the time of the first Kurzweil. The Minicompact has four octaves and a few switches, a knee lever, and that's it. I kept the Moog on one sound. And that's what I would write on.

    I went through a ton of other synths...a DX7, a DX7iifd, a Blofeld, Q, OB8, Alesis Ion, ESQ1, and a whole lot more.

    To make a long story slightly less long, I acquired a series of different keyboards, but I came to the realization about a year ago, that the organ (specifically the Nord C1) has been the right instrument for me. Because...

    The limitations of just organ sounds focuses me. All I have are variations on three or so different sounds. So I can't flip through presets, really, like a rompler, and I can only tweak the (virtual) drawbars so much. All I can do is...play! and write! Amazing!

    I feel like I've discovered my voice. And these days, I have far, far more ideas than I ever even have time to work on, much less record.

    I've sold most of my stuff (including my acoustic piano). But I still have a couple of my favorite synths (including the K2661 and Moog mentioned earlier) though I keep them packed up, and only take them out once in a while for novelty.

    Pardon this self indulgence; the reason I share this incredibly dull story is because to me its important. And I was nudged along this personal course by other people citing how "keeping it simple" helped them. Those threads were mostly on Gearslutz. So I wanted to share with the crew I feel comfortable with around here. But for "less is more people" I think we need reminding of this.

    I still often get GAS. And I still yield to temptation (though its mostly amps I lust for nowadays).

    But if I'm considering a new bit of gear, I ask myself, "is this too much stuff? How distracted am I going to get? Does this make me want to play, or does it make me want to press buttons and switches?"

    So that was my turn. Have any of you taken this philosophy? What are your experiences?

  • #2
    I guess it depends on what style or genre you're writing for.

    * For more conventional music you could always do a tune with just one instrument, for small ensembles general midi should do the trick. You get your melody and chords against a rhythm with bass. It might not sound complete but more like a model or mockup of a tune, its essence.

    * For orchestral stuff you're going to have to go further and orchestrate a lot. If you're into pipe organs you're ahead of the game.

    * For dance music some irritating synth sounds and way too much D&B, and of course, way too much sound editing. Make sure you throw in some notes that go up a half step then back down again(I really hate those).

    * For ambient get ready to loop a lot and you'll never have enough synth sounds. You might find yourself getting ahold of some world instruments too.
    <div class="signaturecontainer">War is over if you want it.<br />
    - John &amp; Yoko -<br />
    <br />
    Nothing fails like success. <br />
    - Alan Watts - (based on <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sa%E1%B9%83s%C4%81ra" target="_blank">Samsara</a>)<br />
    <br />
    &quot;I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.&quot;<br />
    -Thomas Edison, in conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, 1931-</div>

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    • #3
      The most well written songs can be played alone on a piano and are instantly recognizable in that simple form.

      Comment


      • #4
        Dittos.
        My environment has always been that "simpler is better", as in uncluttered, purer, less distraction.....whether in cars I have owned, girls, whatever...classic lines seem more spiritual to me, in a non-spiritual way. ?
        For a while I desired to be a "sound delivery system", but got over it.
        As in mufflers, got over the Flowmasters, realize the quietness is superior.

        Guitar players always playing full volume also help keep me in line.

        Comment


        • #5
          When I'm writing, I almost always start with a piano -- usually on the Motif, PC3X, or one of my favorite pianos in Reason if I'm playing on my laptop. The piano is sort of a universal go-to instrument, mainly because it's straightforward for me and I often start with chording and bass variations, humming melodies, trying lyrical ideas, etc.

          But it's true that the interface has a huge influence on one's creativity. Often it has more to do with how well you know a given interface than how complicated or counter-intuitive it is. A 'difficult' interface that you know like the back of your hand is no handicap at all. For all of its quirks, if you're 'fluent' with a certain piece of gear, you know exactly where to find every parameter and command.

          The Ensoniq EPS and ASR10/88, for example, remain some of the easiest sequencing samplers I've ever used for working up a piece of music. It was also easy to create multisamples on Ensoniq gear, with command buttons arranged from general to specific running left to right. Very logical.

          Maschine and the Korg M3 -- for all of their raw power and complexity compared to Ensoniq gear of 20 years ago -- are also very straightforward pieces of gear, and I often find myself going to them first when I'm ready to start sequencing and doing a work-up of a new piece.

          Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum is the FS1R. The strange thing about the FS1R is that while the interface itself can be difficult to use, the sheer number of inspiring patches already in there make it a VERY inspiring synth to play. I find that the sounds themselves inspire ideas for new pieces. So, while some synths have a poor interface that stifles creativity, the sounds you get out of them inspire music in their own right.

          And then there is the control surface of a keyboard itself. That too can inspire creativity, or at least allow it. The Yamaha EX-5 is a good example. For some reason, when it comes to playing synth action instruments, I just play better on that board. Three mod wheels (pitch bend plus two), a ribbon controller, AND patch select buttons make it very expressive for nuanced playing. NONE of the Motifs that followed ever came close to the EX-5 as a control surface.
          Kronos, Fant.G8, PC3X, K2500RS, A6, Q, M3-61, Fant.X7, Motif 8, EX5(x2), V-Synth, K2000(x2), D50, JD800, JD990, JP8080, XP30, MC909, MC505, JX-10, JX-305, TR-707, Juno 1, DR-202, Radias, Triton Pro, Wavest. SR, EMX1, ESX1, ER-1, EA-1, R3, Poly 800, RS7000, FS1R (x2), RM1X, AN200, DX200, QY70, QY100, K5000S, OB-12, Maschine,ASR10,ASR88,ASR-X Pro, EPS,Virus B, Equinox,E-Mu XL-7,MiniAK, Synthstation,X-Station, XioSynth,TG33,Venom,V50,UltraNova,Z1,Spark,Moog LP Stage II, JP8000,Tetra,Supernova 2.

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          • #6
            I've lost my muse for a while. I sold several of my synths, and most of what I have (Virus TI, Moog LP, Prophet 08, Korg Micro X, Roland JV1080) are all packed away in boxes in the basement.

            I just have my CP33 digital piano and my MOX6 set up. Most of the time, I've just been enjoying playing piano and Rhodes sounds with the CP33's 88-key weighted keyboard. I am 54 years old and have been playing synths since 1973, and the CP33 is my first non-piano 88-key instrument.

            I am hoping that for me, less is better. It always was in the past. I am hoping this will help me find my muse, focusing on the music without getting lost in so many sounds.

            I am afraid, however, that my muse has been suffocated by some medicines I have to take. It's an unfortunate situation.

            Regardless, I've been spending hours just playing with acoustic and electric piano sounds. Playing, practicing, and playing.

            I wonder how soon it will be before I put away the MOX6 and just enjoy the Yamaha digital piano?
            -------------------------------
            Michael
            Jupiter-50, MOX6, TI Polar, Moog LP, Korg Micro X, JV-1080
            27" iMac, DP 7.24, Omnisphere, Alchemy, many more...
            http://www.youtube.com/keybdwizrd

            Comment


            • #7
              I had a very similar experience with Japanese workstations. With thousands of sounds to audition, organizing sounds so I could find my favorites, learning the OS, etc etc etc., I spent most of my time diddle fiddling around.

              When I got the Nord Stage 88 (Classic) that changed dramatically. I didn't have 2,000 sounds to relate to, more like 20 (actually there's way more when you figure in the synth section, but most of my patches are based on pianos, eps and organs, I use the synth section mostly to fill out the sound).

              It's a big relief- I love all the basic sounds on the Stage, I can modify sounds quickly because of the hands on interface that isn't driven by menuing, I like the feel of the keybed, etc. So instead of fussing with the keyboard endlessly, I actually practice and play it! And it's a big plus for me that the 88 note only weighs 40 pounds, and they put the mod/pitch on top, so it's not so freakin' long! And for the organ players, it triggers the organ sound at a shallow point of the key travel, which means you can do palm smears and organ technique playing with a weighted action board.

              I've had some serious G.A.S for the Stage 2, being that it's got the latest Nord organ, ability to use the optional 3 pedal footpedals, lots of memory for the pianos so you can have quite a few loaded up at the same time, and the ability to load in samples from the Nord sample library (which in turn is delivered through the synth section, giving you lots of hands on control over the sound), etc. It really does deliver on super high quality sound, a reasonable amount of flexibility, fun fx, simple and fast interface. Too bad it's over $4,000 new- if I get funds going I'd try to get one used on e-bay for around $3,000.

              The only thing I really miss from the more complex boards is being able to record within the keyboard.

              Comment


              • #8
                I am afraid, however, that my muse has been suffocated by some medicines I have to take. It's an unfortunate situation.


                Hope things will get better for you.
                <div class="signaturecontainer">Too many keyboards, not enough music.</div>

                Comment


                • #9
                  Hey keybdwizrd there's always other medicine to help with the muse





                  Franz Schiller,

                  I have fallen into the same trap with complex synths, whipping off a few ditties with the presets and then spending months getting into the instrument before working on any more music. I can't say I miss the limitations of having just an organ with some guitar pedals to process it, but sometimes it's hard to keep focused on the music instead of getting lost in the tools.
                  <div class="signaturecontainer">My VCAs go to<b> 11</b></div>

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hope things will get better for you.


                    Thanks so much. Unfortunately, barring some sort of miracle I will have to take this stuff for the rest of my life.
                    -------------------------------
                    Michael
                    Jupiter-50, MOX6, TI Polar, Moog LP, Korg Micro X, JV-1080
                    27" iMac, DP 7.24, Omnisphere, Alchemy, many more...
                    http://www.youtube.com/keybdwizrd

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      barring some sort of miracle I will have to take this stuff for the rest of my life.


                      I hear that...on a regimen of a few pills myself.
                      <div class="signaturecontainer">My VCAs go to<b> 11</b></div>

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        The cliche 'less is more' is overused, and somewhat meaningless. These threads generally consist of people spouting various anecdotes about their own experience, or by reciting other 'rules' about how music is best composed, etc.

                        In actuality, I think, depending on many factors (style of music, one's workflow, one's brain size, etc) these various factors work together in quite complex fashion. The way that I've tried to understand 'it' is basically that there are conflicting factors involved - some would lead towards a more complex setup, some towards a simpler one. If one is essentially improvising, obviously one's setup can't be so complex that it leads to creative paralysis. At the same time, as has been pointed out - if you have to simple a setup, some styles of music may suffer for it.

                        I tend to consider the 'command of complexity' as somewhat the equivalent of what technique is in a 'real' instrument. On the one hand, since most of my stuff is improvised, I need to be able to accomplish that without having to 'think too much'. But on the other, the 'technique' part of it, is trying to gradually develop a command over various components of the workflow so that I can command a more complex setup without effort. I'm always working towards that. I suppose that the anecdotal part of it for me is that I don't think that there is any kind of a perfect balance between 'less' and 'more'. It is a shifting ground, and it is my creative duty to try to make the complex more simple.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          The cliche 'less is more' is overused, and somewhat meaningless. These threads generally consist of people spouting various anecdotes about their own experience, or by reciting other 'rules' about how music is best composed, etc.


                          Why the hate, dude?

                          Nobody here, especially me, recited any rules. I stated very clearly this was PERSONAL to me.

                          And what the hell is wrong with "spouting various anecdotes about their own experiences"?

                          Isn't that why we're here on a forum? To share experiences? About gear (Keys Synths and Samplers) about music, about process?

                          That's why I said FOR ME less is more. I don't give a crap if it's a cliche if it works.

                          AND if somebody is inspired by having racks and racks of synths, and piles of modules, and tons of soft synths, I fully respect that.

                          In our culture, we can easily fall victim to a "more is better" mentality, especially us Americans. So for SOME of us (not all of us) for whom the restrictions ARE beneficial, we need to be reminded. That's why I like seeing these kinds of threads, and I like seeing them often.

                          If you do not appreciate the limitation philosophy, good for you, but there's no need, good sir, to mock those of us who do.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            "hate"?!

                            I've seen so many of these threads, on this, and on other forums. They always go pretty much exactly the same way. And obviously, yes - we're on a forum, and people talk about experiences. Of course, I didn't say that people should never talk about experiences. I did imply that simply talking about experiences isn't always really the whole story if one is trying to answer a general question - which I thought was at issue - which is the value of simplifying one's setup. Without thinking about it a bit, one could read your story and just decide that synths are not for you, for instance. The fact that turning knobs is a distraction doesn't necessarily mean that they are too 'complex'.

                            I think that the topic is interesting, but it just simply never goes anywhere, like the ridiculous analog versus digital 'debate'. I note that you don't comment at all on the substance of what I said, just simply accused me of 'hate'. Why the hate, dude?

                            Why the hate, dude?

                            Nobody here, especially me, recited any rules. I stated very clearly this was PERSONAL to me.

                            And what the hell is wrong with "spouting various anecdotes about their own experiences"?

                            Isn't that why we're here on a forum? To share experiences? About gear (Keys Synths and Samplers) about music, about process?

                            That's why I said FOR ME less is more. I don't give a crap if it's a cliche if it works.

                            AND if somebody is inspired by having racks and racks of synths, and piles of modules, and tons of soft synths, I fully respect that.

                            In our culture, we can easily fall victim to a "more is better" mentality, especially us Americans. So for SOME of us (not all of us) for whom the restrictions ARE beneficial, we need to be reminded. That's why I like seeing these kinds of threads, and I like seeing them often.

                            If you do not appreciate the limitation philosophy, good for you, but there's no need, good sir, to mock those of us who do.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I note that you don't comment at all on the substance of what I said, just simply accused me of 'hate'. Why the hate, dude?


                              Of course, I don't think it is genuinely hate. But I think you're being dismissive and critical un necessarily. To exaggerate an analogy for effect, it would be like going to an alcoholic anonymous meeting, and saying, "well I don't know why you can't have just one drink..."

                              Finally, I didn't comment on the rest of what you said, because I found it to be interesting; you already weighed the balance of complexity and improvising rather well, and I agreed with it. In fact, thinking about it now, I am baffled how you begin your post by insulting the thread, and then you go on to contribute to the thread in a positive way.

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