Friday, October 29, 2010

Chasing imperfection: Mistakes in pop music

"In painting, as in everything else, there is a fatal tendency to become accustomed to one's faults."

Those are the words of British author John Collier. They got me thinking about how musicians often become consumed by their worst personality traits. Sting, for example, will no longer record a song unless it's in an obscure time signature from the Byzantine era. His last album was entirely written in π+2(16/72), and played on an Tambur owned by a Sumerian monk.

But it works the other way round, too. Once an artist grows accustomed to a fault, they can tame it and incorporate it into their music.

While recording You Really Got Me, The Kinks wanted to capture the distorted buzz of their live shows, so they slashed their amps with a razor blade. In doing so, according to musicologist Robert Walser, they recorded "the track which invented heavy metal".

The Kinks - You Really Got Me

More recently, T-Pain's entire career has been based on the deliberate mis-use of autotune. One mistake with the settings became an artistic statement, hugely distinctive and widely copied.

Nostalgia for the ramshackle technology of yesterday also affects the way music is recorded.

I'm not talking about Lenny Kravitz buying The Beatles' mixing desk so he can suck John Lennon's spirit out of it like a voodoo priest of tedious soft rock. Instead, listen to the way Norman Cook turns the crackle of a vinyl record into a percussion track on Beats International's Dub Be Good To Me.

Beats International - Dub Be Good To Me

My favourite example comes from The Roots, on their 1999 album track Step Into The Realm.

?uestlove and Black Thought say the song was inspired by their youth, when the only musical "instruments" they owned were tape recorders. They would tape the instrumental sections of their favourite songs onto cassette, several times over, so they could practice rapping. Often, the only suitable sections were on the fade-out, so the music would disappear into the distance when they reached the loop point - then jump back in at full volume on the first beat of the next bar. When they came to record Step Into The Realm, they recreated the effect by sampling and fading their own instruments.

The Roots - Step Into The Realm

In the words of Scott Adams: "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep". But as the methods of creating music become ever more precise and digitised, I wonder what mistakes will inspire the artists of the future?

Labels: , , ,

<< Home

Newer Posts ::: Older Posts

© 2014 Discopop Directory | Contact | Go to the homepage