A week or two ago, someone somewhere commented on a post I was reading, quoting Eno using plasticine as a metaphor for an element of his approach to music production. I appreciate this is pretty vague, but bear with me… Some time later I remembered the quote & went digging in google to see if I could find the source of the quote. I didn’t succeed but I did find this interesting quote via google books:


The quote is from this book: Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture and relates to a discussion at CDM on why we love hardware for music production

I totally agree with some of the comments by the Stereolab guy in that book quote, but I think it also has something to do with another form of ‘control’. In software everything is controllable & remembered, and while this is often sighted as a blessing I rarely read mention of it also being a curse. The most obvious example is with regards to the use of delays: one of the many reasons I love Space Echos is that there is no automatic tempo sync – they must be dialled in by hand & by ear. And a vital part of that process of dialling in delay & feedback settings is that it is a process of discovery & happy accidents.

For me that process is creatively the direct opposite of starting in a perfect state & attempting to dial in “out of time-d’ness” from a perfectly tempo matched delay. Now of course no one insists that you must always use tempo sync, but with a lot of software it seems such things are default. And as mentioned in this deeply fascinating thread on MW by one of the leading & earliest developers for Eventide, despite people having access to a machine of infinite possibilities (e.g. H3000) only a small percentage of people ever used anything other than the default programs. While that also says a lot about how great the presets were/are it is also a different reflection on the role presets (and default settings) play in the creative process, and the more default settings there are the more insidious that role becomes.


Also from that MW thread, I LOVE some of the incredible gems of wisdom he mentions in passing:

“Easy to get lost in the endless parade of ‘I can so I will’. Instead of ‘it needs it so I will do it’. Lets not polish every ‘scholars rock’ into a shiny round pebble.

& re ilok:

“To pay for the privilege of having a company treat me as if I were already a thief does not sit well with me”

amen, brother!

3 Responses to Plasticine

  1. Arnoud says:

    Interesting read.
    Regarding Gane’s note on the plasticine-ness of older gear, he sort of right and wrong at the same time. Older machines do not always have more control over the sound and that is exactly why we like it sometimes. And on the other hand, new machines/plugins can have ultimate control over every aspect (max msp/reaktor) and are only ‘controlled’ by an overall ‘sound’ of the enigine in ‘the machine’. That’s as plasticine as you can get, i think.
    It’s also the case with older machines (modular system/echo station etc).
    I feel that the most interesting difference between older and newer machines is their ‘meaning’ and the ‘limited of control we have over that. And I like to have some knobs to twist, but midi controllers provide us with a lot of options already.
    And besided if you like the way something sounds, use it, don’t over analyse it, as long as it inspires you.

    • tim says:

      As far as metaphors go, bear in mind plasticine can not be made into ‘anything’ the way max map/reaktor can… those tools are like plasticine if plasticine allowed you to get to the molecular level & alter its very nature.

      & re ‘don’t over analyse it’, every decision we make has ramifications & when it comes to making music the more technological it is the more important I think it is to be aware of both the time commitment (learning/getting beyond presets) AND the way those tools can shape results for you (sometimes automatically/by default)
      Neither of those two aspects I would want to ignore/not think about, just because it sounds ‘good’ e.g. some reactor instruments sound great but you could waste an awful lot of time trying to make your own if you did so without appreciating what that involves…

      • Arnoud says:

        “As far as metaphors go, bear in mind plasticine can not be made into ‘anything’ the way max map/reaktor can… those tools are like plasticine if plasticine allowed you to get to the molecular level & alter its very nature.”

        to clarify: what i meant was that you cannot alter the ‘physique’ of plasticine, just as much as you can’t (to my knowledge) change the ‘engine’ of reaktor or max/msp. of course you can’t make plasticine or reaktor into anything 🙂

        regarding presets: of course 🙂 i never meant to say it was justified to just press a preset button and go with it or to start building a huge machine without thinking of the investment of time and resources. sometimes however i’ve seen people over analysing the process and loosing focus on the goals.i meant to say that it’s better to take a step back and enjoy what you create and know when to stop working on it (whether it’s a plasticine figure or a max patch).
        you are definitely right on the ‘result shaping’ nature of some tools, you should be aware of that as an artist and use those limitations to your advantage.

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