Wanted: Dead or Alive…or the Quantisation Death Ray
One of the problems I have with electronic music is that missing “human element”. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with robotic music, or humanly-impossible-to-play programmed intricacy, or anything to do with the style. It’s when there’s no life to the music, and you know that with a bit of a kick of life the track would sound a whole lot better.
I think that our ears/minds can tell the difference between a human-played and a programmed instrumental line, in most circumstance. Again this not about “realistic” sound or only using acoustic sounds. It’s about the tiny inconsistencies that give away the human element.
I went through a phase, not long ago, where I stopped quantising the midi parts I was recording. My normal routine was to slow the track down, record the midi part played live as best as I could, then go back up to the normal speed and THEN quantise it to a greater or lesser degree.
When I stopped doing the quantising bit, I noticed something interesting. If you over-quantise, it becomes a death ray – it destroys the “livingness” of what you played in. In some situations that might be what you want (as I said before this is not about censoring styles, I’m talking about situations where an imperfect, living element will enhance the music), but bear in mind that no one will play a part exactly how you did, and if you quantise it, it will instantly lose that unique touch, your touch. All the things that make you, you… your experience, your playing style, your influences, your physical being, your emotions. All these factors combine to make anything you play uniquely your style.
Quantise it and all the stuff that comes from you, is nuked. You’ll get some dynamics left probably, but it’ll be a pale imitation of what you played.
Even if you think you can’t play well enough – practice the part, play it as slow as you need to, put in the effort, and the quality of the final track will be your reward.
Cut back as much as you can on unnecessary quantising, and your personality will shine through.
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He is a founder member of Avant Pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith.
Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday. For previous articles search for ‘Dave Graham’
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