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Technology and the Artiste

(Published in "Studio Systems" Nov-Dec 99)

In the last issue of Studio Systems, I highlighted the role of the songwriter in the current Indi Pop Scene and then, quite by accident I came across these fantastic articles on Song writing on the Internet. It's in the Archives section, under "Creative Options" of the Keyboard magazine site and there are three articles which sort of cover the entire gamut! I would love to email these articles to any potential songwriters as my contribution to the great Indian Pop song. As for those of you without the net or are intimidated with technology, what can I say! The future belongs to those who embrace this technology as it is sooner than later going to be an intrinsic part of our lives. The faster we accept this, the easier it will be to clear the hurdles that have obstructed us for so many years. In fact, the subject of this issue's article is just about that.

Since years, the world of artistes have grappled with the technological age. Somewhere along his growth, an artiste has always looked at technology as his enemy. They seem to be working at cross purposes where technology seems to belittle the achievements of the artiste. I will never forget the arrival of the drum machine in our lives. Also the synthesisers, the multi track recorder and now, all that software, which even makes singing in pitch unnecessary!!! Where is all this taking us? Where does technology end and art begin? When will all this stop, so that we can realise the thousands of hours that we have spend, slaving at our art? These are the thoughts that should rightly torment the minds of the intelligent artiste. But, is technology really the enemy of the artiste?

From time immemorial, people slaved other people by depriving them of the basic necessities of life i.e. food, clothing, shelter. A far more sophisticated way of enslaving people was also used and most effectively! This was to starve people of knowledge and technology. The people were always kept uneducated and always in awe of people with that power. This was the way, the king ruled as not only did he have economic means, he, more importantly knew more than anybody else or had the means to do so. He could bedazzle his subjects with these powers and could thus rule over them for centuries.

In the Indian context, the British ruled India not only economically, but they saw to it that we were constantly in awe of their technological advancements which we were unable to understand. Also they made it difficult for us to do so and the educational system was designed to produce more efficient slaves(babus). Anything of importance was handled by the English and made in England, while they looted our country of it's natural resources. It was in their vested interest to keep the people of India uninformed so that they continue to rule over us. Unfortunately, the similar mindset continued after Independence and still continues today. The politicians have replaced the British and a similar movement to keep the people poor, uneducated and ill-informed continues so that the rule of these politicians will go on, their power intact and merit will never count.

]The artistes of this nation, surrounded by the corruption cannot be expected to be immune to these influences. We have lived decades without being exposed to the advances from the west. We have got used to be secure in our talent, in our knowledge that took years to accumulate, in our experience which we share, if we so desire! The rude shock that we receive when we hear the technical finesse of the music produced by the kids of today is disconcerting, to say the least!

In the early eighties, I remember slogging for hours in the studio to get that elusive thumping bass drum sound that one heard on so many recordings from the west, yet all I heard was something resembling someone banging on the door! Those were frustrating days in the studio in Bombay, yet today, all that you have to do is to pull out a sampler and you have a collection of hundreds of bass drum sounds, all great sounding, played on the best instruments in the world, by the best musicians in the west and recorded in the best studios in the world. Is this technology powerful or what! Yet for so many years, drummers in India hated drum machines like their biggest enemies. In fact ,even today, in 1999, there are some that still do! Sure, this allowed people like me who never slogged on a drum set for years, to come up with a decent drum track, but this never stopped me from hiring a dedicated drum programmer to do my drum tracks. There was no way I was going to outdo the skill, experience and talent of a trained drummer. All that the drummers had to do, was to invest in the best that the drum machine manufacturers could come up, just like they would have bought any new acoustic drum innovation because that what it precisely was! It was just the technological aspect of it that threw the drummers in the other direction and the keyboardists, who were already familiar with synthesisers and therefore technology, took over the drummer's chair. All that the drummer's had to do, was to embrace the technology and who knows where they would have reached. Thankfully, better late than never, a lot of drummers did and today we have a fantastic pool of drum programmers to rival the best in the world.

Some feel that the use of technology will rob the artistes of their skills as instrumentalists and they would only be pushing buttons. In fact, the opposite is true. This technology helps people, who do not have the skills, to actually achieve a musical performance which was impossible before it's use. And there is still no substitute for musical dexterity and MIDI controllers are being developed and improved every year whereby musicians can use their own instruments and skills and take advantage of the enormous resources available to them. In fact, technology is still struggling with trying to capture every nuance of artistic expression that a good artiste can create with his instrument and has a long way to go before it can successfully do it. So even today, there is no substitute for a good musician.

However there are still many artistes in India who continue to be intimidated by technology and refuse to use the enormous resources available to them. It is true like all things, technology can be abused and used in the wrong way. But this is not the fault of Technology but of the people using it. All good things (e.g. drugs) have been abused by people but the good far outweighs the bad and in the hands of responsible creative people, the artiste can blossom as never before. The drudgery is greatly reduced and more time is available for real creation. New possibilities emerge as we stretch our imagination to accommodate this technology and the artiste's creative growth is assured as he is constantly challenged.

It is also time that the artistes stop feeling that the sheer knowledge that they possess of their art, is enough to captivate the audience. It is only the fakes that can be impressed by this, as the true audience is always in touch with their feelings and aware of what moves them. This appreciation of pseudo-intellectuals can only mislead the artiste into further frustrations and down the wrong path. The artiste has to constantly look for ways to reinvent himself and it is here that technology will help him. Today the Information Age is finally dawning over India and the artiste cannot allow himself to be left behind because of this unfounded fear. Information is soon going to be available to the common man at the touch of a button and the artiste's complacency will guarantee his obsolesce.

One thing is certain, mediocrity has no place in today's workplace. It is no longer enough to be OK, you will have to excel in order to succeed. People say that computers have made life easy for musicians. In fact what they have done is expanded our horizons tremendously and shown us such incredible possibilities that we have just not been able to stop working on it.

I guess, long hours and hard work will never go out of fashion!!(sigh)

Nandu Bhende

homesite :http://nandu_bhende.tripod.com

 


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