Brian Eno Explains the Loss of Humanity in Modern Music

In music, as in film, we have reached a point where every element of every composition can be fully produced and automated by computers. This is a breakthrough that allows producers with little or no musical training the ability to rapidly turn out hits. It also allows talented musicians without access to expensive equipment to record their music with little more than their laptops. But the ease of digital recording technology has encouraged producers, musicians, and engineers at all levels to smooth out every rough edge and correct every mistake, even in recordings of real humans playing old-fashioned analogue instruments. After all, if you could make the drummer play in perfect time every measure, the singer hit every note on key, or the guitarist play every note perfectly, why wouldn’t you?

One answer comes in a succinct quotation from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which Ted Mills referenced in a recent post here on Miles Davis: “Honor Your Mistakes as a Hidden Intention.” (The advice is similar to that Davis gave to Herbie Hancock, “There are no mistakes, just chances to improvise.”) In the short clip at the top, Eno elaborates in the context of digital production, saying “the temptation of the technology is to smooth everything out.”

But the net effect of correcting every perceived mistake is to “homogenize the whole song,” he says, “till every bar sounds the same… until there’s no evidence of human life at all in there.” There is a reason, after all, that even purely digital, “in the box” sequencers and drum machines have functions to “humanize” their beats—to make them correspond more to the looseness and occasional hesitancy of real human players.

This does not mean that there is no such thing as singing or playing well or badly—it means there is no such thing as perfection. Or rather, that perfection is not a worthy goal in music. The real hooks, the moments that we most connect with and return to again and again, are often happy accidents. Mills points to a whole Reddit thread devoted to mistakes left in recordings that became part of the song. And when it comes to playing perfectly in time or in tune, I think of what an atrocity would have resulted from running all of The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street through a digital audio workstation to sand down the sharp edges and “fix” the mistakes. All of its shambling, mumbling, drunken barroom charm would be completely lost. That goes also for the entire recorded output of The Band, or most of Dylan’s albums (such as my personal favorite, John Wesley Harding).

To take a somewhat more modern example, listen to “Sirena” from Australian instrumental trio Dirty Three, above. This is a band that sounds forever on the verge of collapse, and it’s absolutely beautiful to hear (or see, if you get the chance to experience them live). This recording, from their album Ocean Songs, was made in 1998, before most production went fully digital, and there are very few records that sound like it anymore. Even dance music has the potential to be much more raw and organic, instead of having singers’ voices run through so much pitch correction software that they sound like machines. (witness the obscure disco hit “Miss Broadway,” for example, or LCD Soundsystem’s career.)

There is a lot more to say about the way the albums represented above were recorded, but the overall point is that just as too much CGI has often ruined the excitement of cinema (we’re looking at you, George Lucas) —or as the digital “loudness wars” sapped much recorded music of its dynamic peaks and valleys—overzealous use of software to correct imperfections can ruin the human appeal of music, and render it sterile and disposable like so many cheap, plastic mass-produced toys. As with all of our use of advanced technology, questions about what we can do should always be followed by questions about what we’re really gaining, or losing, in the process.

Related Content:

Brian Eno on Creating Music and Art As Imaginary Landscapes (1989)

Brian Eno Creates a List of His 13 Favorite Records: From Gospel to Afrobeat, Shoegaze to Bulgarian Folk

Brian Eno on Why Do We Make Art & What’s It Good For?: Download His 2015 John Peel Lecture

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (53) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (53)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Jerry says:

    Of course, it’s the human element, with all its frailties in place, that makes music interesting to hear. I would say that Bob Dylan, whilst becoming relatively more ‘polished’ in the studio in the recent past, still has a delightful habit of not seeking perfection, even for his most recent releases. This, for me, makes them all the more memorable and worth repeated listening.

  • chinkels says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Been saying this as far back as I can remember. Jeez, just listen to a Beatles song. They were the top of the mountain and those tracks are swimming in perfect imperfection. Most modern music is “dead” sounding, lifeless and formulaic.

  • John Taby says:

    This is something that I have been fed up with for years. The answer I was given as to why would they do this was simply, because they can, and I have to think the more it is done in time nothing but perfection will be expected. Growing up listening to Dylan and The Band I know just what he is saying and I agree. It’s as if the blood is left out of something suppose to be one human relating to another human being making all sorts of things happen inside of one another. The sense of belonging, not being alone, of encouragement etc. I get none of that, personally I do not get any of that with the “modern” recordings and because of it, I buy less and less new music. I’ve gone back to listening to the old Blues players and artist who are remarkable but not famous. To paraphrase Joni, “leave me the spots & the bruises please but save the soul of the song for me.”

  • matt black says:

    agree with much of this! we need more wildness , chaos, Dionysus, feel, edge…

    re ‘having singers’ voices run through so much pitch correction software that they sound like machines’

    humans are fascinated by our ongoing fusion with machines. hence the attraction of vocoders and autotune. yet as we fetishise the fusion we are also trying desperately, to hang onto the quirks and edges of what it is to be human. hence vinyl popularity !

  • Joe says:

    I don’t agree. What music needs is more discipline, more correctness, more unity. The slothful, lumbering, mis-timed note or drum hit is all too often dignified, in a kind of patronising racism that assumes that laziness and lack of structure is the hallmark of black music (note the pseudo-jazz of the Sirena track quoted in the article), with the name of ‘feel’, or ‘swing’. It isn’t that at all. It may just as well be the lacklustre product of a drunken, tired, fed-up or just plain incompetent instrumentalist. There is no reason to imagine a ‘barroom’ feel just because a mix is boomy and incoherent, with the drummer playing the ‘hang’, and the other musicians barely listening to each other. Eno very often has poignant insights to share, but on this rare occasion he has missed the mark, unfortunately.

    Jazz isn’t about making some acoustic noise. Quincy Jones was obsessed with the accuracy of timing, tonality and mix. He called jazz the classical music of pop. When it came to producing pop, he was happy to replace drummers with drum machines on Michael Jackson records, and to do multiple takes in the studio obsessing over getting it right, and to use computers and samplers, again, to get it right. Accuracy, correctness, formality and discipline. That’s the essence of classicism, and there’s no reason why that Apollonianism shouldn’t be represented in music.

  • Why do we look to the pop music charts to be what they clearly are not? In the days before disco it was reasonable to expect the “hits” to be great. They weren’t all, of course, but it was still where the best songs rose like cream. Since the music industry figured out how to make tons of money through target markets selected by virtue of their predictability and not their discerning demand for musical excellence, it is not where one should be looking for masterworks. Imagine if the sign in front of macdonald’s read, “over 99 billion lobster thermadors served”.
    Once again Eno and Open Culture provide excellent food for thought and discussion. Great comments above as well.

  • Lawrence says:

    The trouble with this observation is that it’s both speculative (would), negative and sorry Brian, a tad reactionary and typical of now. The thing is that nothing is stopping anyone from recording music how they like. It can be like the Stones’ Exile – as it was, or it can be polished, as it is now. Now we have the means to make music anyway we can. To me the problem (yes there is at least one) is that knowledge of how musical instruments are really supposed to work. Especially drums in a lot of hip hop and pop that sound very wrong. But that’s just me, some people like what they hear. We have to be open to new ideas and not clinging to a past that was as caught up in fast productions and back on the road selling records and tickets. See Genesis Foxtrot for an album that sounds like the tape heads have been demagnetized (now that hinders humanistic expression if nothing else). Good new reamsters, good knowledge of music and something to say is a fair start. We have new technology and we should use it. Much the same as Queen used to say no sysnthesizers were used on their records, well time moved on and still does. We have

  • Joe says:

    I don’t agree. What music needs is more discipline, more correctness, more unity. The slothful, lumbering, mis-timed note or drum hit is all too often dignified, in a kind of patronising racism that assumes that laziness and lack of structure is the hallmark of black music (note the pseudo-jazz of the Sirena track quoted in the article), with the name of ‘feel’, or ‘swing’. It isn’t that at all. It may just as well be the lacklustre product of a drunken, tired, fed-up or just plain incompetent instrumentalist. There is no reason to imagine a ‘barroom’ feel just because a mix is boomy and incoherent, with the drummer playing the ‘hang’, and the other musicians barely listening to each other. Eno very often has poignant insights to share, but on this rare occasion he has missed the mark, unfortunately.

    Jazz isn’t about making some acoustic noise. Quincy Jones was obsessed with the accuracy of timing, tonality and mix. He called jazz the classical music of pop. When it came to producing pop, he was happy to replace drummers with drum machines on Michael Jackson records, and to do multiple takes in the studio obsessing over getting it right, and to use computers and samplers, again, to get it right. Accuracy, correctness, formality and discipline. That’s the essence of classicism, and there’s no reason why that Apollonianism shouldn’t be represented in music.

  • Toad says:

    Joe–the tone of the discussion changes completely when you allege “patronizing racism” in those you disagree with. Maybe your ideas could be read without disgust if you would clean the snot off of them.

  • Buddy H.White says:

    I see so-called guitar players getting a group together and a month later they’re in some supposed rock bar. Half the young people wouldn’t like good music, it bores them. All they need is a drummer banging and somebody twanging and singing off key.
    I feel like the taste for music isn’t instilled in young kids anymore. They just need noise with a beat!

  • Lawrence says:

    Of course there is an irony in here. Who was it that was credited with being the first to use the studio as an instrument?

    Why it was Mr Eno.

  • Roger Doyle says:

    I have a lot of time for Eno – he is a thoughtful and intelligent gent, but when he starts to lay blame on technology for the lack of originality in music he is beginning to sound like the generation that came before him.

  • Steve says:

    I think the people who got the credit for using the studio as an instrument originally were the Beatles with George Martin, or the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson ?

  • Ian says:

    Where is he talking about originality?

  • Joe says:

    Dear Toady (apt name btw), thank you for your sincere appreciation of my ‘ideas’. Your comment about cleaning ‘snot’ off them went over my head entirely. Maybe I should pop my head into kindergarten more often.

    Brian Eno’s undeniably inadvertent but nevertheless very real racism in his attribution of warm, human, instinctive, unthinking qualities to African music and African people are well-known. In his interviews, he has referenced Africa several times in the past. In one of them, he says that electronic musics should ‘have some Africa’ in them, and by that, he explains, they should be easy to play without thinking about how to program them. How patronising is that?

  • steve says:

    Full, upfront disclosure: I’m a musician.

    I also don’t entiely buy Eno’s loss of humanity in music thing. The process of developing, arranging and recording music isn’t magic. It’s fun and satisfying, but falls short of mystical. If anything, it’s been entirely democratized to the point where just about anyone with a computer, some spare time and maybe an instrument or two can bang out a song.

    Having said that, playing music is a state of mind. To effectively play, you need to both focus and clear your head. The moments where musicians change from one structure to another or suddenly shift dynamics or otherwise really deliver can feel amazing. It’s not like anything else. For a musician to want to impart that sensation to a listener is a perfectly natural extension of why they play in the first place.

    Of course, any deliberate attempt to cause that feeling to manifest in listeners is a bit of a fool’s errand. Sometimes they’ll get it, most often not. Some of us just can’t accept that and either quite or they start blathering about whatever Eno’s on about. I’m over it, personally.

    I once found myself alone in the room where Sirena was recorded. I grabbed a drum and banged out a rhythm for a minute. Six months later, when I happened on that song, I was immediately triggered back to my time in Electrical Audio, studio B. That room mic thing in the beginning (before the other close mics are turned up) nails the sound and feeling of that room perfectly.

    Anyway, I’m here to tell Joe to pound sand. Trying to graft some kind of accusation of racism onto musicians who aspire to play a little loose is just lazy and misguided. None of what he says sounds like it would come from any musician I’ve ever played with. Nothing in what he says suggests that he understands what Eno is getting at, so for him to call bullshit on it is kind of a canard.

    Music is also not first and foremost a display of skill. Audiences appreciate it, sure. But you’ll only bore the crowd if you just run through scales at breakneck speed.

    Last but not least, the guy who played on the Sirena song is Jim White. Look him up on Discogs. He’s an incredibly talented guy who can hack it in several different styles of music.

  • Will says:

    The concept that “music is dead now” comes up every generation. What changes is how “death” is signaled to the people raising the claim. For Eno, death is perfection in execution. That may be barking up the wrong tree.

    For every “Exile…” or “John Wesley…” there are albums such as “Aja,” “Hemispheres,” “Crime of the Century,” etc. These latter albums are played and produced flawlessly, yet are all very human to my ears. Perhaps this humanity is due the idiosyncratic vocalists on these albums. But more, for all the technical, instrumental perfection displayed, the playing is consistently imaginative, stylish, and individual–human. Music becomes “inhuman,” to my ears, less when the production and playing is highly polished as when it becomes less and less imaginative and individual. The lack of this kind of musicianship in much “modern music” is where I see its decline, if anywhere.

  • Rastaman says:

    Evidently I signed into Open Culture as Rastaman which I don’t remember doing. It’s kinda bizarre as I’m an old white guy from New England.
    I’ve always have this perfection discussion with my producers. I have been recording for years and I think I have rarely captured my true live performance with headphones on and live band or electronic tracks particularly because the producer was never satisfied, it became dreary work and the feeling was wrung out of me in a hurry.
    I think the lack of a live drummer or presence of a perfect electronic is one part of the problem. And that its usually one guy at a computer keyboard doing the whole thing is another.
    But there is a strong element of necessity that’s hard to ignore.

  • Todd Pierce says:

    The philosophy I apply on my recording is that the recorded product should only be as perfect as your best performance. So multiple takes is OK, but pitch correction is not. Bum notes add character. But really bad synch needs to be fixed.

  • Francis Hawkins says:

    I think a lot of listeners don’t have a problem with highly disciplined and skilled musicians (session guys or otherwise) who help pop artists make great records. Dylan, the band, and the Stones DID fetishize the musical shortcomings of the American roots musicians (and r&b, Chicago blues, and other genres that came out of roots music), and they sometimes put out records that would have been just as soulful with a few less mistakes. But Eno is pointing to something different than hiring Steve Gadd to play drums on your record instead of the sloppier drummer from the road band. He’s saying that today’s hits don’t breathe or sound human because the songs are built from small samples of studio performances that are either looped, or, in the case of vocals, stitched together from a million short takes to compensate for technical shortcomings and/or artistic vision on the part of the vocalist.

  • Mel says:

    In the 1980’s, I once made a video art piece called “Drummer’s and Their Dry Cleaners”, which was not at all smooth, hand-pressed, or stain-removed.
    Inspired perhaps by a certain Eno Cage Paik spirit of randomnes, I was thumbing through the massive NYC yellow pages, (the original Global Groove) and noticed that Dry Cleaners immediately followed Drummers, and with that, a new excuse to create some gibberish. The hardest thing about filming was finding drummers that actually used dry cleaning services!

  • Paul says:

    Excellent commentary on the state of modern music!! I keep asking myself, “why do I hate so much of the new stuff?”, and this article provides a concise explanation!

  • Vider Gates says:

    Every time a singer gets an award for best singing there’s an engineer laughing somewhere.

  • Stephen Ramsay says:

    Nothing new here, really. It’s been the entire history of musical technology going back more than a thousand years. Or perhaps you prefer instruments that don’t stay in tune, lack dynamic range, constantly break . . .

  • Mark Eisenman says:

    Absolutely, real humans playing music, (or baseball) is where it’s at.
    To illustrate further:
    Baseball, probably the most statistically rich game that exists, where the 1927 Yankees could face off against the 1969 Mets in a computer simulation,, (i remember that!), would not ever put asses in seats to see the computer printout of that series.
    Because seeing the players improvise the turn at second base making a double play is a thing of endless variation and beauty.
    That’s why we watch and listen.

    More on the baseball analogy here.

  • przegosc says:

    Ironically, one of the genres that suffered the most because of what Eno was talking about is metal. A music that was by definition underground, rough and under-produced (as most of it was being done either in garages or on the cheap) had a special charm because of it. Nowadays, everything in metal is on time, all rough edges are instantly smoothed, the sound is clear and “proper”. That youthful revolt spirit is gone, substituted by Ken on guitar and Barbie on drums.

  • John Knottenbelt says:

    I agree with the idea that often “some imperfections” can deliver more “warmth & humanity” to many art forms. Much like the lines on a face can deliver an assured appreciation of the fact that none of us are perfect, but can strive towards “perfection without some of the ego” which often delivers a soulless study of cold perfection, rather than the warmth which underlines the life of the piece. To each its own, I speak from my personal experiences & how my spirit speaks to me. May you find your own comfortable road with what you feel inspired to produce. There is more than just “Black & White” in everything. Often it is those shades in between that gives depth to the whole.

  • rupert chappelle says:

    you cannot get more human than an unpitch corrected theremin.

    keeping things a little off keeps them real.

    perfection sucks.

    national electrophonic.

  • John Black says:

    I only have one thing to say about perfection……it’s a human condition invented by humans for humans & striving for perfection by physical bodily means & attempts is endless. Sure you can invent a machine that will make the perfect soap bubble or smoke ring but it’s not the same as taking a wire out of a screen door & nailing it to a wall on your porch & plucking it & running a jack knife along it’s length to make a sliding sound & then make up a song with words to accompany yourself…..the blues!! Oh I have one other thing to say about sterile machine music…..THE POGUES!!…..haha!!

  • Kevin Brown says:

    I’m not so keen on mechanically (electronically) perfect music, but I’m no fan of exaggerated “humanity” either. In both instances, it seems the way the music is played is fetish-ized at the expense of what the piece means in a purely musical sense, i.e., what the notes themselves may want to say.

    I’ll grant that some compositions have little to say for themselves and virtually beg to be “interpreted,” and an imperfect human touch goes a long way in accomplishing that. But other compositions stand on their own, and even well-intended interpretations can be insufferably presumptuous, if not downright wrong.

    Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli was known for his perfectionism, and while some found it ‘unatmospheric,’ I found that in some instances the way he was a slave to the music (as he put it) revealed, in a way that no more ‘atmospheric’ interpretation possibly could, that the notes had a life and a will of their very own. He wasn’t playing the notes, the notes were playing him as much as they were playing us, the listeners. Sometimes music demands that human performers perfect themselves, and such performances are absolutely spellbinding. This isn’t to say that they lack any human touch, just that we don’t notice it at the time.

    It seems to me that music itself, in the ideal sense (defined pitches, rhythms, etc.), has nothing to do with the flaws of the human touch and is always perfect, just like every circle is perfectly round, or it’s not quite a circle. Perfection, virtually, is only interesting when people have bent themselves out of shape to produce it, and then it can be extremely interesting.

  • Dave Clayden says:

    Or Stockhausen more likely.

  • Julian Taylor says:

    very well put. I get the feeling the person who wrote this article hasn’t experienced much in the way of Jazz, Hip Hop or Classical music. If the only musical example one uses are the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Dirty 3 then one isn’t really qualified to write about music

  • Tom Watson says:

    Read the first part of the article and couldn’t agree more. I remember the first time we’d heard a Linndrum used as a backing track for a recording and remember thinking how mechanical and lifeless it sounded. That’s probably reality today but we gave nothing to compare with it. Digital software allows people to ‘correct’ everything they may perceive as an imperfection that the end result is some sort of vanilla drudgery IMO. All the colour and most semblance to what a real band sounds like is virtually gone. Vocals are not good enough unless ‘pitched’ and multiple robotic, soulless harmonies are apparently just fine. This is the negative side of the digital world but people really need to be happy to be imperfect humans and I think that would return some of the soul to music

  • nikto says:

    I know for a fact that Paul McCartney was using Autotune on “‘Til There Was You”.

    I mean, his intonation is so perfect, it’s gotta’ be autotune, right?

    And all those Beach-Boy songs where the singing is so in-key …

    All phony!!

  • Skip says:

    So Joe, while espousing “accuracy, correctness, formality, and discipline,” you inadvertently posted twice. Perfect.

  • Allure Nobell says:

    I think this is why I basically lost interest in popular music during the ’80’s and haven’t listened seriously since. Too much synthesizer, too mechanized, too manipulated. It all sounds the same, and it’s boring.

  • Teresa says:

    I am a classical musician. One of the things that makes classical music different from pop or jazz is that we use the manipulation of tempo as a form of expression. We do it in a subtle way so that you might not even be aware of it. Classical music is not about perfectionism and discipline – it is about shifting psychological landscapes and it’s how you move from one landscape to the next that makes for great artistry. Most people don’t know this because our attention span can no longer handle a journey. We have plenty to obsess about and perfection to aim toward, but the best performances are not chained to these unrealistic expectations.

  • Steven Cee says:

    Oddly enough, the same Quincy Jones Joe said was obsessed with perfection, said this, “A man trapped within the confines of lines and staffs is a man without a soul.” …
    And I would add a man trapped within the confines of computerized, technical perfection, is without a soul. That’s not to say it’s “bad”, or we shouldn’t use technology, but that unless it’s used creatively, with “musicality”, and says something, it’s no more full of life than watching computer games on the big screen.

    Some of the greatest music has grown out of “mistakes”, whether it be in someone soloing, or a band just “jamming” as ideas and grooves appear. You can’t really do that when everything is simply pieced together, by a programmer & his computer. Where are the individual voices, whether on instruments or humans singing, their own sound, phrasing, all the elements that set them apart from others, are squelched when it’s all by the numbers, and perfectly placed together. Can you imagine if Bille Holliday, Neil Young, Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix were auto-tuned, including Neil & Jimi’s guitar playing? The thought of that sent a chill up my spine, yuck! Of course, none of those artists would ever allow it, thank God…

    You’ve got to know much more than just the technicalities of notes; you’ve got to know what goes between the notes.” . . . – Jimi Hendrix

  • Mark Paul says:

    I disagree

    Even with the technology of today, it’s not perfect &
    there are still errors & mistakes.

  • Jonathan says:

    I think blame is incorrectly attributed to artists when it’s the consumer continually demanding over-polished music.

    People don’t want to hear overdriven guitars or room mic’d cymbals. At least not on recordings. Hip Hop artists still bring a real drummer to live sets.

  • Daichi Bisbee says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m 18 and grew up on Oldies, Classic Rock, Jazz, and Swing. Love it all but seem to understand today’s music… Listen to the song Barbara Ann by The Beach Boys, their rhythm is off at times but that’s what makes it fun. Same with Give Peace A Chance by John Lennon.. it’s off rhythm a lot. The Doors’ drummer made a mistake on a drum fill in Break On Through. It makes it sound human. Not to mention, if you listen closely to Hey Jude by The Beatles, you can hear Paul McCartney say “F#cking hell!” in the background after messing up. I can name more but you get the idea. I hate my own generation’s music with a burning passion.

  • Walter Pewen says:

    My opinion is to some degree, this is everyone’s “fault.” The neurotic obsessional thing with devices like perfect phones that’s been sold to a nation that seems so bored-now people look at “tech” as the thing. They see tech as “art,” which is is and can well be. Unfortunately, the tremendous amount of money being made in tech has created a new priest class, and they are engineers, not artists. The hubris in places like the Bay Area is overwhelming, some folks truly believe THEY are the new arts class. The philosophy being, if they can DO it then it must be what we want. This spills over and gives us autotune and records people hate. But remember, in the “old days” a record engineer was usually someone who started out with a music background, at least in part. So people should not complain TOO much. They continue to feed the beast that is pushing crap on us we may not want. From a Jungian standpoint, we get the music we create on a group level whether we are conscious of it or not. Hence, when I hear depressive, repetitive, oppressive music in a coffee house that sounds mechanistic, I do have to laugh. Lots of people have chosen lives or are conforming to lives that are like that music, Not too much Judy Collins or standard folk music do I hear. Mostly only negative machine music. Thanks Eno. Some of it’s neat, most is not for daily
    living. Donald Trump and the GOP are feeding quite well on depression of the people.

  • Luciano Tanto says:

    …how humanity explains the loss of brian eno in modern music.

  • Jesse Trunoske says:


  • Anthony says:

    I can agree with all the above, however there are so many talented people out there who could never afford the time to to make music they would like to as studio time is so expensive, it costs less to own a state of the art computer.

    I myself have a home studio, and the time I spend making music would have run into millions.

  • Edward Hurley says:

    Let me undercut this whole page with a bit of good Ol down home rule of sense, If ya like what ya hear it can’t be far wrong

  • Jimmy Hawk says:

    True. Quincy Jones also said the Beatles were terrible musicians. He said that Cream were a good band with their live improvision that shook a whole generation of musicians.

  • Jimmy Valentine says:

    Mistakes become arrangements.

  • Bert Dobben says:

    Well if technical perfection meant as a pejorative phenomenon also means that musicians who play their instruments very well are doing something wrong we should all like Ornette Coleman more as a violinist than as an alto sax player. Charlie Parker was technically far better as an alto player than Ornette but his music kept all the roughness and “humanity”you can imagine. Smoothness has nothing to do with perfectionism. There is a lot of technical great music which has rough edges and a lot of technical bad music which is slick.

  • MJ says:

    While I agree with much of the article’s points, I would suggest that using Exile on Main Street as an example of music’s humanity is a mistake. While the sound of the record is soulful and ragged, it is actually a record that could not have been made without the help of technology. The Stones planned to record the record in a house in the South of France, but they didn’t really get a lot done. First of all, the basement where they were recording had terrible sound. Secondly, the Stones’ drug use, particularly Kieth’s, kept them from completing any real material while they were in France. The record that we now know was really put together in Los Angeles, after the original sessions. Many of the songs were taken from loose jams of particular ideas while they were in France, and then edited. Once they edited material, they then wrote the songs, added vocals, and bought in people to overdub (like Al Perkins playing steel on “Torn and Frayed, and almost all of the backing vocals). Furthermore, the Exile on Main Street session were such a disaster that the Stones ended up using leftover tracks from previous albums to fulfill their promise of a double album. Don’t get me wrong, Exile is one of my favorite records of all-time, but it is not the live, ragged, piece of humanity it is perceived to be.

  • Ed says:

    What’s with all the absolutes? Sometimes a quantized robotic beat is beautiful, sometimes one that pushes and pulls is.

    Not to mention the riculous straw man argument going on here. Never before has there been more music to listen to. There are thousands of examples of live, messy, weird, irregular, noisy production, you can find pretty much whatever you like and more importantly you can find stuff you don’t yet know you like.

    This talk of ‘music nowadays’ is just from insecure musicians desparately trying to position themselves in some imaginary scene they want to be part of or apart from. There is so much interesting music going on, if you find yourself complaining that ‘all modern music is’ something or other you’ve really got to ask yourself what the hell you’re going on about.

    I’d have expected more from Beano but maybe this kind of thing afflicts everyone sometimes. Or more probably this whole article is based on some particular comment taken out of context. And the chat in the comments about analogue or digital production being better is like saying the colour red is better than the colour green.

  • DSB77 says:

    And then there’s Kraftwerk. So much technology, so much mechanization, yet so much SOUL. The artistry of the humans making the music is what matters more than the gear.

  • Andy says:

    I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it figures. The gym I go to has all sorts of popular music playing, no jazz, country or classics. If an older track, up until, say, 2010, comes on, I’ll often think – nobody would dare do that now. Even tracks that are trying to sound “authentic” come over as fake. There’s plenty of music around now that doesn’t suffer from smoothing syndrome, but whoever curates the gym selection doesn’t want us to hear it.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.