The Tools And The Music (For Developers And Users)

In which ways the tools affect the music?
I want to discuss this topic, because it seems very important in the creation process. How the different tools “affect” the music we create?
As a first example I will use Renoise and a traditional DAW. Tracker vs piano roll, left to right sequencer.
The tools are “only” tools, and maybe we need to have the absolut control of the process, but this is not always what happen.
In Ableton Live the user is pushed to make one bar loops, maybe 4 or 64 bar loops, but the repetition is a users common place in this software. Of course Live is veryyy powerfull (and Logic, Cubase, too), but this is a very real thing.
In Renoise I see a more “blank” starting point. Its pattern based, but making variations is much more easy, and as a side note, the default pattern length is 4 bars. Some things are very easy to make in Renoise, like crazy breaks-sample mangling.
Programming music languages like Pure data and Max are literally “blank pages”, we start with nothing, and we can make our own synthesizers, our own scales, our own sequencers. But this is very difficult and I hear a lot of common places in the music produced with these software.
So, what do you think, as a developer or user about this?

the most important thing for me is having a piece of software (tool) that i am comfortable with, that i can navigate in a intuitive and fast way, and that i can tweak to my needs.
i’ve tried Cubase and found it bloated, non-intuitive, it felt cramped… it probably has a lot of power, but if i can’t even get to the powerful stuff because i’m stuck in the interface looking for a way to add a sample (for example), that means i’ll quit pretty quickly. i’ve had this experience with Live as well, although it feels a lot lighter and less bloated than Cubase and was a bit more intuitive, it still did not work for me.
i’ve tried a bit of PD, Processing, Max/MSP and Reaktor, but those were way too ‘core’ for me. couldn’t produce an interesting sound with it. steep learning curve, makes me quit.
i’ve used Reason for some time, and really liked it. it is, out of the box, almost a blank slate, in the sense that you can add whatever machine you like, and make sounds with it. it was intuitive for me, and connecting everything through virtual wiring, even thought it took me a while to get my head around it completely, worked really well.

Renoise felt to me like a breath of fresh air. intuitive, fast, all the things i needed. above all, it feels comfortable. add to that a fantastic, creative and helpful community, and i was sold.

the tools i think are important up to a certain point. in the end it all comes down to what you do with them. if you look at Tim Exile’s work, i’m really jealous of what he is doing with Reaktor, but i can’t do it myself so i look for another way in which i can make the music i want. that other way is Renoise for me.

I like to hammer in my nails with a shoe.

I’ve also tried a “traditional” sequencer, main reason was that I bought a VirusB and wanted to use it (duh :) ).
I tried Cubase (first SX version) and never liked it (though I started with trackers ages ago so YMMV).
The main reason was that I felt that it took too long to do simple things.
“Ohh, I have to use a VST sampler to use a sample as an instrument ?”
I’ve been doing that since 1993 i Scream Tracker 1, WTF! :) :P
Anyway, I guess I was set in my ways and had real trouble adjusting and never did :)

Tried zTracker after that which was pretty limited and wasn’t really developed after a while.
Tried Buzz, but MIDI support was very limited, at the time at least and development had halted due to Oskari’s HDD crash.
Then after a while I found and tried Renoise and I felt the same way as when I first started Fast Tracker 2, wow! this is it! :D

Traditional sequencer affected me in the way that I never completed anything beyond 4-bars. :)

The “tools” affect the way we create music of course. For sure we must find the right balance between ease of use and lazyness.

For example, the copy paste /duplicate / clone tracks functions : if you don’t use it at all, it will take you one week to compose a clean and well mixed 10mn track, but if you use it “too much”, you’ll work faster but you take a risk : your songs could become repetitive and even boring.

In fact we create in a framework that is more or less limited and more or less “automated”. But what makes a song new, interesting or innovative ? I suppose that everything that produces a sound “automatically”, without any real effort in terms of research, will make musics finally sound the same. Have a look on your favourite VSTis : they all have nice “presets”, and the problem is that everybody use the same nice presets : even if some virtual instruments have a great potential, their parameters stay unchanged, and they finally sound the same. You’ve got tons of DVDs of loop sounds, thousands of high quality wav files, that are sorted, but the problem, is that they are often allready pre-mastered, allready compressed, allready finished, allready filtered, with a bunch of effects, so that you go fast, but you cannot add any more DSP fx… and you’ve got to play with loops delivered as is… but for sure, you know that it’s not something unique, and that somebody will be able to make a track that sounds more or less like yours.

Concerning presets, there are easy ways to circumvent and avoid these problems ; for example you’ve got the GENERATE RANDOM functions that will produce random enveloppes. You’ll find them in Automation Enveloppes when you work with DSPs or VSTs. You can find a random button on the bottom right side of the virtual instruments editor windows. However I don’t really recommend to click on this random button located on the virtual instrument editor window, because most of the time, you’d like to randomize only 3 or 4 parameters and not the whole thing ; sometimes randomizing the whole thing produces crappy sounds. Finally you can select more precisely your virtual instruments randomizations, only through the usage of the automation device itself.

Concerning the workflow, the construction of your tracks can be influenced by pre-determined things such as the default BPM, the default Line Per Pattern parameter, even default visual parameters can be a source of influence in your musical choices ; think about the 4th row that is often highlighted in the pattern editor : that does not seem important but it really is, because you use those visual lines like a visual metronome, and finally the same LPB/BPM/Visuals, tracks follow the visual and temporal limits, and become more and more similar. People take a month to understand that a pattern length could be different than 64 steps. During this time, they give birth to similar tracks that have the same tempo, with the usage of predefined renoise sampes and instruments.

Renoise is delivered with Demosongs and tutorials that show for example you how to slice and or timestretch long samples with the help of the 09xx command combined with the interpolate edition technique : The soundtracker gave birth to “typical tracks” with typical pitch-tweaked sample effects, and these tracks are most of the time affiliated to the computergame music genre.

Finally, the “free factor” could lead people to use the same free libraries of the same free quality virtual instruments or the same free quality virtual effects. Even if there are thousands of free virtual instruments and effects downloadable on internet: you’ve got to a limited choice if you need a top quality result. We all know that SuperWave P8 or, for example, Ultrasonique, Drumatic, or ReZ, or String Theory, in the electronic music genre, sound better than other ones, that’s all. In the free world, ther’s a kind of “natural selection”, and finally you’ll find always the same choices, because all musiciens will love to use a free instrument that sound and look really cool, instead of a made-with-synthedit-in-10-mn crap. When you browse a bit forums dedicated to the “best free vstis” in the place, you often find the same names, Synth1, Crystal, Adonis, Delay Lama, Crazy Diamons, Tal Electro, Polyblit and so on…

i use this feature a lot. i lay out a sort of ‘groundplan’ for my song. say you build a 4-pattern piece, which will be your main songpart. i hate repetition, so i copy that stuff a couple of times to lay out the basics, then go back in and edit individual patterns so they are different each time. sometimes i will choose to build a new pattern from scratch, but this is often more work, and if your initial pattern is complicated, chances are you will not come up with a new pattern that will fit your song as nicely, as you would have when you had just adapted the pattern you already had. furthermore, for the sake of continuity in the song, i think it is worthwhile to edit the existing pattern, as you can keep certain parts that (in a melody for example) keep the structure intact.

you’re describing what for most people is probably the beginning of the learning curve. everybody (logically) starts out something like this. same goes for a lot of stuff you said about presets, ‘mandatory’ VST’s, ‘standard’ sample libraries etc. your own creative input determines whether it will work out to be a great song, or it will be crappy stuff. the man who picks up a new piece of software and his first track is fantastic, must be a musical genius (or very lucky).

Kurtz: As rhowaldt says, much of the things you said are related to new Renoise users, pretty fast you learn (I hope this is true for other users) to change the pattern length, LPB, BMP, etc. Of course, copy-paste can lead to repetition, but, for myself, is very easy to change the copied patterns in Renoise.
Some things are more common to hear in trackers, due to tracker effects: a lot of breaks, retrigger, sample offset tricks, etc. But I hear very different styles in Renoise users.
About the 4th row that is highlighted, this leads you towards 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 etc, but in other DAWs you are pushed to make 4/4 songs. But as soon as you realized this, its not difficult to change it.
About vst and presets: only with a couple off good instruments, shynt 1, Massive… you can make very distinctive music. Think about rock bands, in 40 years, all the same instruments, and veryyy different results (Bob Dylan, Beatles, Zappa, Sonic youth). One needs to learn about sound, have a sound in your mind, and make it real (making your own preset or selecting one)