I actually did some mastering for this guy who was producing very Snares/Squarepusher-inspired dnb/classical stuff in Logic, and, you know, all the elements were there, but everything sounded very contrived and predictable; and this guy had got himself a release on a fairly decent label anyway, but I still feel obliged to offer advice just because label guys often aren’t as critical as the people you’ve got to impress to actually shift any units these days, so I enquired about the drum programming… Anyway, turned out this guy had spent about 6 months programming the drums on this one track, using the arrange page, thousands of automation envelopes, Kontakt, piano rolls, everything, etc. (probably had RSI too)
His college music tech teacher had told him everyone uses Logic and he’d just stuck with it… Not only is that kind of intricate programming arduous using a mouse, it also forces you to compose really slowly and sucks all the spontinaity out of your work… So I tried to introduce this guy to trackers and he wasn’t having any of it… Induced some kind of nervous breakdown and I never heard from him again.
Actually though, as far as programming melodies goes, this is the main reason I use a tracker… I find seeing chords and melodies on a piano roll screws my head up completely… Sucks all appreciation out of music for me, makes things fiddly and warps my perspective.
For me, programming melodies in a tracker is like having a polyphonic 303… Chords are usually a case of holding Shift and step sequencing with the MIDI keyboard, but with melodies I feel like I’ve got much more creative freedom… I actually find I do my most musical stuff writing melodies with that drum machine approach - reducing everything to notes and durations.
I guess it depends if you’re used to musical notation or not really. I come from piano, violin and choir education, i guess i’m still kind of locked into that kind of horizontal thinking for some things.
Oh I do too actually. Piano, trombone, cello. And actually, I didn’t even know what tracking was until relatively recently - totally raised on Atari Cubase.
But I’ve always found notation’s got in the way of hearing music as it is… I can get on with standard notation because it’s deliberately convoluted and sort of poetic; but piano rolls, to me, reduce meaningful musical phrases down to uniformly meaningless horizontal bars and vertical gaps…
It’s just too visually representative for me… It’s a bit like when you watch TV and you’re conscious of every scene being a one camera shot with multiple takes, and probably actors talking to themselves half the time… That sort of thing… You may gain an appreciation for the technical side of TV making, but it kills your appreciation and enjoyment…
I’ve always felt it much more liberating to compose either completely conceptually or improvised, with an instrument, or intuitively with hardware/analogue sequencers and drum machines, where the sequencing itself becomes a sort of art.
The great thing with step sequencing - I think - is that you can think 100% musically without time, ergonomics or dexterity being an issue… I’ve always felt the huge limitation with the piano is that you condition yourself to think in terms of what’s natural with two hands - when hands, and there being two of them, have absolutely nothing to do with the direct effect of music…
I shouldn’t obsess, but I think what has happened with electronic music is that it’s all become too compartmentalised… Where a tune is just a composite of a few decisions, in terms of drums, basses, chords… You can tell great music, whether The Beatles or early Model 500, because it sounds whole and makes sense.
If we try to look at a piano roll as just another tool, then it make very much sense to have one.
Just like it make sense to have a graphical automation window. It would not be a large part of the program.
For step programming, then just forget about it. But for quickly do a few operations for data that is already there, like moving/resizing/selection by pitch etc, then the roll is very nice tool to have.
I never ever have used a pianoroll as something to ‘see the music’ by looking at the keyboard/pitch etc. I think that is a common misunderstanding (“you need to see the keyboard where the notes are” etc), though, some people would find that useful as well. However,I find it useful to adjust data that is already there. Thats why I would like a graphical note view in renoise. Not because I want to mouse the notes into renoise, but because it is simply faster to use for a few important things. And who says it is impossible to make such a tool that is customized for trackers? I think that would be great. And as a side effect the transition for newcomers to trackers would also be smoother. Sadly many people (at least that I know) ditch renoise after a few tries because of the poor live input support (quantize and simply move notes easier etc). But as soon they do some step editing, they are in heaven almost instantly.
But most of all, a graphical note view (I did note use the “P” word, did I ) would just be another cool and useful tool that also many old school trackers would use. You just don’t know it yet!
Hopefully we can remove these gaps in the future, and make it a bit more friendlier for different kind of workflows. It should not require many changes/additions to do so.