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In a modern world, why do we like old sounds?

A post by David Mellor
Monday April 24, 2006
With the massive processing power available with modern technology, why do we still love old and retro sounds? Are we genetically programmed to love the Fender Rhodes?
In a modern world, why do we like old sounds?

With all the incredible power of modern technology and software that is available to us, what do we do? We emulate the old sounds with our software instruments. Is this not crazy - we have the power and technology to create any sound that could possibly be heard (and more than we could possibly imagine) and we use it to recreate Hammond organs inside our computers?

It's strange the way things turn. In the 1960s and 70s, musicians used keyboard instruments such as the Hammond organ, the Clavinet, the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, among many others. But when polyphonic synthesizers such as the Yamaha DX7 and Roland D50 came along, these old instruments were all but forgotten. The price you could get for them on the secondhand market was so low that they just stayed in people's garages and attics. (Disclaimer - do not try to put a Hammond B3 in your attic!).

The 1980s was a uniquely modern period. The old ways were banished to the past and people concentrated on developing new sounds and new styles. (Sounds good in theory but oh my god how it went wrong!).

But now, with all the incredible power of modern technology and software that is available to us, what do we do? We emulate the old sounds with our software instruments. Is this not crazy - we have the power and technology to create any sound that could possibly be heard (and more than we could possibly imagine) and we use it to recreate Hammond organs inside our computers?

The question is obviously why? While having no definite answers, there are a number of interesting possibilities...

  • The sounds of these instruments actually were very good. Instruments that didn't sound good simply fell by the wayside, probably during the development stage.
  • As much as we would like to be modern and up to date, we crave nostalgia - for many people nostalgia for a period before they were even born!
  • The old instruments were mechanical and electro-mechanical. This intrinsically produces a more human sound than computers would do unless specially targeted to emulate the old sounds.
  • We have run out of ideas!

There is probably an element of truth in all of these arguments. However there is one more that is probably more significant...

All new music is based on the music of the past.

A strong statement, but I challenge you to find an exception. New music has to be made from somewhere around 90% old elements, or we simply do not recognize it as music. Try to imagine what it would be like to take some cutting edge music from today and send it in a time machine back to a period prior to, say, Chuck Berry. What would people make of it?

Even open-minded and forward thinking people would simply not recognize it as music, because it had too many elements that were unfamiliar.

It is interesting to think of creativity in these terms, that people can only accept the new as 'icing' on an already familiar cake. You can even try an experiment - try to create music that is 20% new, 50% new, or even - if you think you are up to it - music that is entirely new.

Then send it in to us here and we'll publish it on the site. Now that really will be interesting.

A post by David Mellor
Monday April 24, 2006 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)
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