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

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  • 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.‑1–42-yankees-vs-55-dodgers.htm

  • 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.…’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.

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