FACT Magazine Gets Computer Music All Wrong


FACT magazine just published 14 pieces of music software that shaped modern music. It writes a history that seriously portrays computer music history as going from “bad” to “good” and from “no options” to “anything you want”. It’s quite strange, since it’s written by Xela who did his first (?) release on the demoscene label Monotonik back in the days. Ok, well:

*initiate uncool data-rant*

1980’s computers are portrayed in the article as word processors that only a few people made some experimental sounds with (of course, USA’s computer music inventor is mentioned as always). First of all – as much as I love text mode, computers had been using colours and vector graphics for ages. They had also generated pop music in 1956, made christmas carrols and TV-music in 1958, played Bach in 1959 and in 1960 you could draw music with a light pen. And in 1968 Douglas Engelbart did that demo that sort of featured all those gimmicks we still use today. So no, it wasn’t like computer music was just a grey little blob in the 1980’s. But that’s what the article claims. But it was followed by a revolution in quality!

Over time, however, music software blossomed, and transitioned from fiddly time wasters, doomed to the forgotten directories on an Commodore Amiga cover disk, to the plethora of usable and sturdy apps we have available to use today.

“Plethora of usable and sturdy”… what? Let me count the times that Ableton Live has crashed compared to how many times Protracker has crashed. Let me count how many years that your spankin’ new [DAW/VST/whatever] will be usable for, and then compare that to the sequencers and softsynths from the 1980’s. Let me count the amount of bloat that got added to music software in the 1990’s, and compare that to the ultra-fast interfaces of 1980’s trackers. Let’s look at the huge archives of MOD-files and chiptunes that are freely available today. And if we strip away all the normal stuff, there’s a quite fair amount of innovative or impressive works. Just like today. Made “despite of” or “because of” the software, depending on your perspective. I can only assume that these things are not important for the author, but let me say this: usability & usefulness are not exactly objective concepts.

I know the purpose of the article is not to give a thorough history lesson on computer music. Seems more like a click-bate, although there are some very interesting bits in there too. But if you start at 1985 and basically only say what the software did and who used it, you’re not going to be able to say anything about “shaping modern music”. And I don’t know, the tone of that first page of text just pisses me off, actually. The author might not like people (“hipsters”?) who don’t use computers to record audio nowadays, but he does it on the expense of more or less thousands of years of music that didn’t have these “apps” that have been fashionable for, oh, 20 years?

Oh and one last thing: The article opens by saying “We’re at the stage in history where using music software isn’t so much an option as it is a necessity.” What does that even mean? Hardware and software need eachother – you can’t have one without the other. And in fact, the software metaphor as we use it today leads people like Florian Cramer to say that software has existed for thousands of years in magic, music composition and poetry.

Sorry Xela, I guess you just touched a sore spot…


8 Responses to “FACT Magazine Gets Computer Music All Wrong”

  1. B.Leo Says:

    Give ’em hell!

  2. Akira Says:

    I had no idea the guy who wrote this had any sort of demoscene roots. Traitor!! :P

  3. cTrix^DA Says:

    I agree that many of the packages mentioned were quite impressive in their day as I remember when most of them came out. But no mention of Cool Edit…?! :-P

    A simple gripe I have is that the Author says Reaper is “shareware” (even hinting it’s “free”). It’s not… the version he talks about is for a 60 day evaluation. And the full $225 is super cheap for what it does. Saying it is “free” is saying people shouldn’t even pay for the bargain $60 “personal” licence!! (yet spend 1000’s on outboard)

  4. wackee/arise Says:

    Actually, I would disagree with some claims here, based solely on my experiences:
    – I played live using Ableton Live since 2001 and it did crash ONCE (offstage). And I am talking shitty laptop with Win XP. Whereas ProTracker 3 on a (borrowed) Amiga 600 crashed constantly and unexpectedly when using packer with MODs.
    – I also had my share of crashes on the C64 with Graffity’s GMC (usually upon load/save).
    But also, no software had as an efficient workflow as Fast Tracker 2 have had. This one you could use if you needed to do things fast, and it did deliver.
    But apart from that, I agree with most of the statements above ;-)

  5. Trixter Says:

    Wackee: That’s because you were using PT3. Should’ve stuck with 2.3 :-)

    • wackee/arise Says:

      Probably. But let’s not pretend that ‘legendary 8/16-bit stability’ is anything more than romanticizing the memories ;-)

  6. goto80 Says:

    Although we obviously have different experiences with the programs we use, is it possible to agree that the potential for crashes is bigger with newer machines, since the setups are a lot more complex? Soundcards, operating systems, conflicting drivers, etc?

    There might be some romanticizing on my part, but I’ve truly had very few problems with Protracker, defMON, DMC and JCH but much more so with Abletong, Renoise and …. LSDj.. :)

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