Saturday, August 23, 2008

Music By Design

In several previous posts to the Critical Noise Aural Intelligence Blog, I suggested that previously disparate if related skill sets respectively belonging to composers, engineers, musicians and sound designers were merging –had merged in many instances, especially in commercial audio production– producing a new kind of unified creative professional I labeled a Music Designer.

More recently I suggested that Music Designers consider trends and recommendations identified by AIGA, 'the oldest and largest membership association for design professionals', with the purpose that such information is applicable to our own craft.

Commercial music production and commercial design have always shared similarities, but perhaps more so now than ever.

In the past separate artistic pursuits (illustrator, painter, pianist, engineer, et al) required widely diverse tools and skill sets. Today all parties increasingly share the common method of applying mouse clicks to a similarly conceived Graphical User Interface (GUI) canvas.

The medium, be it light or sound, has become almost incidental. Meanwhile, Art and Artist, bound by a common digital ancestor, and sharing the same design language, have evolved into a single medium.

It may even be an error to continue to think of a GUI as only an interface, when it too may have evolved, from a mere desktop metaphor into a medium itself (GUM).

Certainly there are still illustrators and there are still composers, but others from both groups –sharing the same or similarly conceived tool kits– increasingly identify themselves as simply Digital Artisans without necessarily feeling it too important to distinguish or limit the exact nature their craft, lest they imply any self imposed sensory boundary to the array of communication abilities they potentially wield.

So of course the process has changed the way I think about music. For one, when discussing a modern score I think I probably use the word 'construction' now, more often than I do the word 'composition'.

It sounds a bit like a B-Horror flick, but it's really not too far from the truth when I claim Computers Have Changed My Brain!!!


Whether or not it's because I myself come from a design oriented family (both parents were photographers and painters, my father an engineer, and my sister a commercial artist), or because I began using computers for my own creative pursuits back in the early eighties, I have long applied graphic design protocols to music as a regular matter of course. Even limited use of digital tools, let alone mastery, give one with the feeling that the difference between sound and light (as application mediums) is minimal.

Thirty years after first programming my first musical scores and twenty since I first began experimenting with digital imagery, I experience little difference using a Digital Audio Workstation to manipulate audio –and a graphic program, such as the Adobe Photoshop, to process images. And I'm not alone in this experience. In recent years, say, in the last decade or so, I've met more and more musicians and composers who share my perspective.

It's not simply that all the music programs warrant the use of a graphic interface, but rather that they force us to think about about making music as at least a partly visual experience –changing the way we think– even in comparison to the notation of scores by hand with pencil and paper. So, that even when we do compose with pencil and paper, our experience with GUI enabled composition continues to influence our perspective, our methodology, the way we see and hear things.

Creating images and creating music has never been so much alike as it is today. No, I don't (yet) use my ears when modifying images, but (especially when I sit down in front of a computer) I certainly use my eyes in support of design projects, whether visual or sonic in nature.

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Click on any link below to read all the articles in the six-part series detailing the changing relationship between Traditional Music Composition and Modern Music Production:


Part 1: Top Down, Center Out and Bottoms Up
Part 2: Top Down Music Composition
Part 3: Bottom Up Audio Production
Part 4: Film Composer, Sound Maker or Music Designer?
Part 5: Songwriter Vs. Song Designer
Part 6: Music By Design

Like this topic? Related Articles from the Critical Noise Archive:

It's a Cut and Paste World (October 07, 2007)
Six Requirements for Sonic Logos (August 10, 2007)
When Marketers HEAR Double (December 01, 2006)

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