Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Multidimensional Exploration

Fair warning: this will be a little rambling and very music nerdy. I also might not exactly have everything right so take it as you will.

So now that 2015 is behind us, I just wanted to point out something that the casual music consumer might have missed. There was actually a major evolution in the way music is made last year, and you may never notice it. Behold, the advent of multidimensional expression control!

The basic idea is the ability to play notes between notes. Think of the sonic difference between the notes C and C sharp. That difference is what's known as a "semi-tone", and if you break a semi-tone down into 100 equal parts you get what is referred to as "cents". Next time you see a synthesizer with knobs labeled "Semi" and "Fine/Corse/Cent" you'll know what they mean if you didn't already. If you need some fancy italian words to throw around at your next cocktail party and/or want to explore this idea a little more in depth, here's some handy dandy wiki articles: Glissando, Portamento, and Vibrato (each of those would make an awesome name for a breakfast cereal).

In any event, microtonal performance isn't a new thing. The trombone would be an example of a microtonal instrument, as would any fretless string instrument, and as I mentioned synthesizers have always had the ability to be tuned on the fly while being played. Hell, the human voice is a microtonal instrument if you really want to think about it, and God only knows how long we've been using that to make music. The point here though is that in 2015, the concept of microtonal performance was emphasized in several new ways and that trend looks to continue in 2016. Additionally, the idea of performing the movement between two different states has been more heavily applied to MIDI controls, which opens up a whole new universe of audio wankery.

Two instruments that really exemplify and embrace the potential of this concept are ROLI's Seaboard and Roger Linn's LinnStrument. Each of these are vast departures from the functions of traditional keyboard and pad controlers and open up performance capabilities that simply didn't exist beforehand. Throw in something like Artiphon's Instrument 1 to change up how we view stringed instruments, and let's not forget breath controlers while we're at it. Now add in the fact that software developers are embracing the idea of multiexpresion control more and more and you can see just how music production can really change over the next year or so. It might not be readily noticeable, but as this continues to expand and evolve you'll more and more be listening to music that simply wasn't possible to make at any other point in human history. Or, at the very least, it was extremely unlikely to be made.

Personally, I can't wait to hear it :)

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