Samples vs Reality

This isnt a review, its more of a philosophical rant about reality versus convenience… I’ve been enjoying playing around with the gamelan sample library I bought recently, but I suspect I’d enjoy it a lot more if I hadnt spent any time in front of the real thing. Every time I load up the library I feel a burst of excitement related to my feelings prior to doing that gamelan workshop in Bali. And every time I am disappointed. Not with the sounds, or their implementation (both of which is fastidious to the point of obsession) but in the context. Plonking away on a MIDI keyboard or drum pads & hearing those sounds just doesnt get close to 20% of the way there in terms of experiencing the reality & physicality of playing the real instruments. Which wouldnt be a problem, except music is an experiential artform.
I appreciate no one ever claimed it would but with gamelan it has never been more apparent. The same should apply with the orchestral instruments, but at least in that case I know I am never going to learn the violin enough to even hold a sustained note… And although I am an absolute beginner with gamelan, my ears & my perception do not lie. I am no virtuoso with any instrument, but years of physically manipulating sound generating objects has instilled in me an instinct to be able to vary that manipulation to achieve the sounds I like. And its hard instilling acoustic instinct based on context into a sample library. In the end it is a substitute based solely on convenience.

Again this is not a negative review: its not a review of any sort, but it is a realisation I have just been going through, and it was prompted by discovering the beautiful, inspired Freenotes musical instruments. I can’t embed any youtube clips because there arent any but if the instruments above intrigue you at all I highly reccomend visiting their site & watching a few of the little quicktime videos. After ten minutes on the site I had a strong desire to own everything they produce & then thought, actually a sample library of everything they produce would do fine… and then thought better of that, and ordered one of their spinners
No sample library could every replace having that instrument spinning in free space in front of you, hitting it as you wish (but based on the endearing manor in which it was created) & savouring the sound generated as it engages with the acoustics of wherever you happen to hang it.
And I was left with a question stuck in my mind; are sample librarys the fast food of music?

2 Responses to Samples vs Reality

  1. Not an expert, just a home recording geek, but I’ve read audio production folk holding forth on how the very best place to combine sounds is in the air.

    My few privileged moments playing around with gamelan instruments after a concert were marked by that beautiful detuned beating sound that each pair of similar instruments makes. That great sound (impeccably sampled) can likely only get so much out of the best playback system compared to the actual in the room experience.

    And tho’ modern sampler playback can allow for a lot of memory & flexible architecture, you may not get to play samples of each distinctly detuned pairing for each note on each instrument. Without that, the original experience is being approximated rather than conveyed. Plus I guess the overall tuning of the notes as set up for sample playback may not conform to that of a given Gamelan set. Different pitches, equal temperment and all that.

    So in that case, yeah: sonic Mickey D’s.

  2. Max says:

    I think you’re right: sample libraries are the fast food of music. Sometimes unavoidable but never as good as freshly played instruments. Sampling itself can be an art, of course; I like to play around with selfmade field recordings and I admire sampling artists like Amon Tobin. But sample libraries made to substitute “real” instruments are only a makeshift if you lack instruments/players/mics/acoustically treated rooms (often the case, unfortunately…). But how often you encounter really good tomatoes in the supermarkets of the north european countries? The “fast food” is really a good comparison!

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