Thursday, March 28, 2024

Did You Really "Come Out Okay?"

My generation, "Gen X," really annoys me to no end when they start the nostalgic stupid-talk:

"I did [insert stupid/illegal/dangerous/cruel activity here] and I came out just fine...

"My parents [insert ridiculous borderline abusive parent tactics here] and I came out just fine..."

Did you? Did you really? Isn't it kind of arrogant to say, "I came out just fine?" How do you know? Could it be that you came out scarred and beaten-down? And, I mean, if one is total oaf, one won't know it, right?

See, because, maybe the reason we Gen X-ers have raised a generation of frightened, anxious and over-protected kids is because we grew up steeped in bad decisions and walked around frightened and intimidated by our elders and we were so heavily encouraged to "respect" them that even under circumstances of borderline (or actual) abuse, we suffered silently. [This did not happen to me, but it has sadly been the case for some.]

Maybe you didn't come out ok. Ever think about that?

I think about it, literally, every day. I keep a picture of myself as a toddler on my desk so I can ask myself: "Have I let that little guy down? Have I done my best to be the man he deserved me to be?"

We should all do that, I think. We need to stop justifying our own stupidity and that of our parents. We can love our parents forever and still acknowledge outdated parenting ideas. We can admit our own stupidity as kids and still maintain our cool factor.

To the Gen X-er who says, "My dad used to smack me with the fireplace tools when I slouched. That's what kids today need!" ...I say, "How about, no?"

Let's stop blaming some mysterious force for our mistakes with our kids and let's stop soothing our souls by pretending we are perfect.

Face the horror. Prove your parents really raised you with a backbone. Face your own imperfection. Prove all those cracks across the knuckles with the wooden spoon and those bike jumps over rusty scrap metal paid off.

Did you really "come out okay"?

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The History of Music Recording or Why AI in the Arts is Not "Just a Tool."

(Vocab: "Tracks" are basically slots for separate instruments in recording.)

1) A whole band, even the singer (often, 16 piece big bands and orchestras) gathered around one microphone, recording onto one track on a tape (before that, onto a wax cylinder). If someone made a mistake, you had to do the whole take over again. Performance was everything.

2) Two-track tape was invented. The whole band could record onto one track and the singer on another (or choose your configuration). The singer could try multiple takes and even (later down the line) "punch in" to fix mistakes.

3) More and more tracks were added: 4, then 8, then 16, 24 etc. Tape got literally wider. Multiple tapes could run in synchronization. Some big studios had as many as 100+ tracks.

4) Now, mistakes could be fixed with "punch-ins;" tape could be cut and spliced to mix a great chorus with a great verse from another take, etc. (Tape could even be slowed down, lowering the pitch, so a performer could hit higher notes. Robert Plant did this with Zeppelin. Disappointing? Have you hit your "tech line"?)

5) Digital recording was born. No more tape -- right to computer. Infinite tracks. Infinite takes. Editing became surgical. The computer could now "quantize" rhythms so they were perfect. Notes could be tuned, so that a singer could sound perfect. This is still the case, of course.

[It is at step 5 that I, personally, started getting miffed. I recorded my first CD digitally, but used no correction software and didn't even "punch in" -- every instrument, every vocal is a real, full take. (But, yes, I did redo tracks until they were where I wanted them to be.)]

6) AI is created. Now the music can be written for you. AI can already write (at this point) souless songs. A composer or a songwriter can ask AI to write a section in the style of Bach or Gershwin, and AI will do it (poorly, at this point) for him or her.

This is not "a tool." This is beyond even excessive manipulation of recordings. This is a replacement of the artist. Of the human.

Artists should take a stance against it. Consumers should refuse to buy it. (The consumers will not do this, however. They don't care.)

The great drummer and teacher, Tommy Igoe, said to me, in an online discussion, that fighting AI in music is like fighting gravity. There's no point. It is going to happen.

Well, while I'm at it, I have issues with gravity, too...