Author Topic: Novelty in Electronic Music  (Read 2454 times)

ffcal

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Novelty in Electronic Music
« on: December 16, 2011, 12:02:21 PM »
Tobias' (False Mirror) comments about Steve Roach's use of pads got me to thinking about how novelty/variety of sounds seems be applied more frequently to electronic music than to other genres.  Do I wish that Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett used more than a pure acoustic piano sound on most of their albums, or that Ralph Towner plugged in and used more processed guitar sounds?  In some respects, I think it is more of a challenge to say something different with a limited sound palette than to introduce new sounds on every new piece or project.

Forrest

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2011, 12:41:23 PM »
Good topic, thanks for picking that up.
Let me precise said comment I made in this thread: http://www.hypnos.com/smf/index.php?topic=4479.0 :
Innovation might be the wrong word, let's say development instead. The latest Steve Roach releases sound well.. pretty much like older Steve Roach releases. There's a high level of self-similarity. Whereas when I compare it with Robert Rich - he has much more development in his latest works.
This doesn't say anything about the quality of music. I truly admire Steve's work and I'd probably never get close to his deepness of atmospheric layers in my own music. However the new releases just don't excite me any more, I'm missing the "wow, I NEED to get that" factor because I think I've already heard it in the previous CD.

Development (or its more drastic form: innovation) isn't just about sounds, it's about the totality of all musical aspects instead. I have to admit I don't know anything from Ralph Towner except his name, but if I take a random band/musician that comes to my mind: Esbjörn Svensson (RIP) and EST (Esbjörn Svensson Trio) - I have all of their albums and you can clearly hear the development in the music, although it's always the same instruments (piano, bass, drums).

However I guess it must be very hard to keep up with the self-development over such a long time...
« Last Edit: December 16, 2011, 12:43:22 PM by False Mirror »

drone on

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2011, 01:53:22 PM »
Good points, Tobias. 

With Steve Roach, he has explained why his releases sound similar to the last one as he works on multiple projects all at once.  Problem is, of course, then you got so many albums that sound the same. 

I think in electronic music, also, with the new technology increasing year after year, EM doesn't sound as innovative anymore in general.  When Roach recorded Dreamtime Return, for example, the technology was more limited then and now you have all these choices. 

Also, my theory is that every artist reaches a creative peak in their career and it's very hard to replicate that undefineable "something" they had going on after they've crossed over that peak.  The best example I can think of is Pete Namlook, who most definitely had a creative peak in the mid-90's and has gradually gone downhill.  His music nowadays is fair to good I would say. 

I think many artists find a formula and stick to it pretty much throughout their career.  Robin Guthrie, ex-Cocteau Twins, comes most to mind.  He hasn't changed his sound and probably never will.  When he puts out a new record, you know it's going to sound like everything else he's done and he's not going to suddenly start playing guitar like Kurt Cobain. 

ffcal

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2011, 02:58:36 PM »
I see what you mean, Tobias.  But there seems to be a different level of expectation with eletronic music than with other musics in general.  Why do we seem to expect more sonic novelty when we are listening to synthesiazers and samplers, as opposed to, say, rock music?  If anything, the expectations in rock seems to run in the other direction; when you're accustomed to hearing only guitar, bass and drums, it can be a bit jarring to hear synths in there, or maybe a brass or wind instrument.  Maybe if electronic music had a deeper history, there would be more of a "traditional" frame of reference, as there would be with classical, jazz or rock.  I see execution and development as a separate issue that transcends the choice of sounds.  I can be just as bored by someone who recycles their earlier pieces in an unimaginative way as I can be one who does not seem to know what do with his/her extensive sound library.  What makes a piece work for me are those choices that focus on the idea or feeling being conveyed, and not so much the sound.

This also bring to mind something I think Robert Wyatt said many years ago about musician Fela Kuti--something like, "he only knows one song, but it's a great song."

Forrest
« Last Edit: December 16, 2011, 03:02:04 PM by ffcal »

Altus

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2011, 06:30:07 AM »
This is something I've thought about for years as well.

Why do electronic artists usually feel the need to innovate and change their sound for each album?  Is it simply because they can due to the tools at their disposal?  But if an artist strays too far from their original sound, some listeners can get upset that it's "not like the old stuff".

They're damned if they do, damned if they don't.

This is something I think about often with my own work as well.  I enjoy revisiting and refining themes, ideas and processes I've done in the past.  But there's the fine line between just creating music, and creating music worth listening to.

Drone On hit the nail on the head with this:
Quote
...my theory is that every artist reaches a creative peak in their career and it's very hard to replicate that undefineable "something" they had going on after they've crossed over that peak.
This is absolutely true and I personally feel this has happened to Steve's work.  That won't stop me from following his work, and I'll still purchase music of his that I feel I'll enjoy.  But as I've mentioned in another thread, I won't blindly purchase all of his music anymore.  (I haven't for years now)
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petekelly

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2011, 07:41:23 AM »
I think this is an interesting thread as it questions things, this is one of the virtues of the Hypnos forum. I don't feel that the 'its all good' mindset is necessarily helpful regarding how the genre is going. I certainly agree with Mike's comment:

Quote
But there's the fine line between just creating music, and creating music worth listening to.
and I also agree with Drone On's comment too on artists releasing work after their creative peak - David Sylvian being an example to my mind.
The recycling element is something that I see and recognise in my own work too much and it's something I'm trying to address. On the other hand, a trademark sound still can have a lot of scope for variety and development. For me, I think 'imaginative experimentation' is the way to go.



ffcal

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2011, 11:09:48 AM »
I think there's an inherent tension between moving one's music forward through experimentation and refining one's style and "sound" to create more interesting pieces each time around.  I split off my experimentation with minimal sound into my Sans Serif side project because I didn't want to be constrained by expectations from myself and from prospective listeners expecting that "Gongland sound." 

I also think that the more prolific you are as an artist, the more likely a listener will at some reach a saturation point with the "sound" and no longer be surprised at what he or she hears, for better or worse.  I'm not sure that is necessarily a reflection on the quality of the artist's work; the listener may have just reached their own subjective saturation point.

Forrest

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2011, 05:53:45 PM »
But there seems to be a different level of expectation with eletronic music than with other musics in general.  Why do we seem to expect more sonic novelty when we are listening to synthesiazers and samplers, as opposed to, say, rock music?

I guess the major point is that electronic music relies much more on technical aspects than any other genre and hence has a certain tendency to get "old".
My roots are within the Techno/House/IDM/etc.. scene and I know no other genre that develops faster. Back in the 90s the possibilities of production where very limited. But with affordable computers and software you suddenly had a lot more ways to work on music. As soon as a new cool software arises, the entire scene might change again. Electronic music is dependent on technology and this causes said problems.

Guitars don't develop that fast, neither do pianos, basses, cellos, violins, drums, ...

Jeff Sampson

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2011, 10:14:59 PM »
I'm not sorting out why electronic music would have to be dependent on technology, or why it should be more reliant on it than any other genre. That strikes me as saying it will stagnate if technology doesn't innovate. Why must that be? Isn't it more on the shoulders of the artists using "old" technology to find new ways of meaningful expression? If guitar/ horn/ drum/ piano players (etc.) had waited around for technical evolution in guitars, horns, drums and pianos (etc.) the world would have heard a meager percentage of the music that's been created over the past 20 centuries. Seems to me it isn't so much the quality of the tool as it is the quality of the user.

Re: Forrest's question about expecting more sonic novelty in electronic music - who is the "we"? Is there a study or some such along those lines? It's certainly possible that I'm in a minority, but I listen for creative novelty in electronic music just as much as I listen for it in other genres I like. I'm really curious what the evidence is.
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judd stephens

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2011, 08:52:07 PM »
There's probably no wrong answer with this topic and you're both right.  In some respects it's more of a challenge to stick with the same instruments, but perhaps it's also an equal challenge to include and integrate new sounds and actually make it sound like you know what you're doing?

Even though technology evolves fast, there's plenty of ambient-type music that doesn't sound old to these ears, or at least, still is listenable and enjoyable.  My point is that though some artists may feel the demand for their sound to be fresh, it doesn't really mean that the older stuff sounds that dated.   Vangelis' Blade Runner comes to mind, along with many of the early Hearts of Space and Hypnos releases, which the latter runs nearly 15 years and the former even older. 

In defense of ambient/space music not necessitating the rapid evolution, you can point to the artists that sort of keep a signature sound that hardly varies- Drone On mentioned Robin Guthrie, and there are the "retro" artists whose intention is to harken back to old days using dated technology, maybe mixing it in with newer instruments.  We'll probably hear more of that as ambient gets older,  just as rock borrows from blues, reggae, techno, and whatever else springs up along the way.

Also in terms of creativity I'd say though it's true some artists definitely have what most would consider their peak years, they also tend to have certain waves or cycles.  In those times the artist such as Steve Roach gets on a certain "kick" where a few albums have didgeridoo or electric guitar, explores that sound for a while, then gets on another kick, sometimes with newer technology.  From being on this forum for awhile, I've noticed one wave with Roach is just as you think he's done and the creative well has dried up, he starts a new direction and renewed interest...

DeepR

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2012, 03:36:43 PM »
If you look at a shorter time period of Steve Roach' discography, there can be quite some similarity. Also, you will still hear familiar elements when comparing some of his music over a longer period. But on the long term and looking at his whole body of work I find his output still very innovative and versatile. The various types of ambient he is exploring all evolve in their own way, slowly but surely.
Tribal albums like the Fever Dreams series, Dream Tracker are clearly different in sound from the early to mid 90s tribal music. The collaborations with Vir Unis and more recently Erik Wollo are also unique compared to his other music. And there's much more. How about Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces. When it was just released some people said that they've all heard it before. If you ask me, that's just because they had not given it a proper listen... :)
« Last Edit: January 15, 2012, 03:38:35 PM by DeepR »

Seren

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2012, 01:05:19 AM »
One question that the topic makes me think about is the difference between the perception of an artist 'peaking' between the listeners and the artist themselves.


Made me think about what I am doing or not doing and why.....

DeepR

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2012, 08:32:46 AM »
In my opinion an artist like Klaus Schulze already peaked in the 70s. After that there were still good releases every now and then. It's just that there seems to be little 'quality control'. He simply releases everything he creates. Same with Pete Namlook, another electronic artist with a huge discography. And to a lesser degree Steve Roach. But I do think Roach' overall quality is more consistent than Schulze and Namlook. On the other hand you could say Schulze and Namlook have explored more different types of music and sound.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2012, 08:37:34 AM by DeepR »

ffcal

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2012, 12:53:24 PM »
DeepR,

In Schulze's case, I think what contributed in a big way to the seeming decline in the quality of his output in the 80s were serious personal issues such as substance abuse.  I agree that for certain artists, there can be too much of a good thing, but that may be more of an issue for artists who didn't seem to have much to say in the first place.  I remember there was a period for Namlook where it seemed that every improvisation of his ended up on a release.

Seren,

I think for the artist it can be tricky to take feedback from the public into account.  On the one hand, the feedback can be very helpful and welcome if it is coming from people who may have insights into how your music may be communicated more effectively and can tell you on how it affects them on a personal level.  Feedback can become more of a minus, though, if it is simple being used to "give the people what they want," if that doesn't happen to be what you want to do.

Forrest

Seren

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2012, 01:29:26 PM »
Thanks Forrest - feedback is a complicated issue - I tried to be brave enough to ask for specific feedback on my music but surprisingly few people responded.

I was thinking more about the perception of a career 'peaking' - it is often the perception of listeners about which is the best period of an artists music. For me Klaus Schulze's best period was the 70's, but to say that he peaked then is very subjective - and would miss everything else he was trying since then....

But it made me think about my own music in the same way - what am I trying to do and why? Always a good question I think.

sraymar

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Re: Novelty in Electronic Music
« Reply #15 on: January 19, 2012, 09:58:50 PM »
I come from a more conventional background and it was always composition over sound. A smaller soundset makes you think differently when composing and quite often that music can be played on different instruments and isn't so sound specific because you focus on chords, rhythm and melody. If you can get that together you can space it out from there. I did that with a tune called Viewing the Cosmos.

However it was a real challange for me to abandon that method and get lost in sound creating music that was sound specific with a loose and sometimes absent structure. Its a different part of the brain that goes on a sound journey. I like both approaches as long as the stuff is interesting and holds up over the years.
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