Technology Traps

Creativity Traps

Recording Magazine, Fade Out Column Guest Editorial

Finding the proper place for technology in your creative process can be a challenge. At what point should you bring technology into your project? How much is too much? When does technology actually hinder your ability to be creative? This Recording Magazine guest editorial explores when, and when not, to use technology as part of your musically creative process.

This article was published in Recording Magazine in the September 2005 issue in the “Fade Out” column as a guest editorial.

Creativity Traps – In Defense of the No 2 Pencil

by David Summer

You feel the spark; you know you’re about to be creative. That great chorus idea takes shape right there in your head and before you know it happy endorphins are spinning through your brain, like joyous bouncing ballerinas. You’re about to create. You grab your main axe and lunge for the record button on your trusty boom box. But as your fingers are about to punch that well-worn switch, a little voice, from somewhere deep in your right brain, is already trying to be logical. Its whispering alluringly, “Don’t be an old fart. Get into the 21st century. Use that slick recording software that’s just taking up space on your hard drive.”

Never one to argue with an alluring voice, you run over to your computer and click “Start | Programs | MySweetRecordingProgram”. Hourglass… hourglass… hourglass… and, like a lumbering giant, the program finally comes to life. But something’s wrong with your new wireless optical mouse. It’s whining “Feed me… “. You put down your axe and run to the next room. You pull a couple of AA’s from the DVD remote, humming all the way that great, well… very good idea. Open the mouse, with its blinding red optical light making your eyes water, and find you’re short an A, it takes AAA’s.

The idea is still there… sort of. Now, peering though some sweat, you kill two birds with one stone by silencing your daughter’s teddy bear and getting the needed batteries, humming the still good… well OK, idea.

Click, click, click, Select Input Device. “Input Device? Oh, my axe.” You untangle a cord from a ball in the corner, securing one end to your instrument you hesitate over the other end’s rightful place. “Left Audio 3,4?” OK, seems as good a choice as any. Click, click, click selecting Left Audio 3,4, pretty sure that that label makes sense to no one from this planet. Click, click, click making more selections until finally, you get a break akin to landing that major label contract, sound is being recorded.

Now you’re on a roll, you’re intense, you’re fingers are flying in perfect sync with your imagination. You just know this is one of your best. “Save” a voice whispers in the back of your head. Find “Save” in that in that thick morass of inscrutable icons? Run the risk of a fleeing muse? Not likely. You turn the tune back once more to the chorus. Out of the corner of one eye you notice the waves being drawn as you play. As you finish, you begin to think of the thousands of 1s and 0s that represent your muse. OK, OK, done, save, now, now, NOW, click, click, blue screen. It’s all gone, the tune, the idea, everything. Game over.

If you’ve invited technology into your musical life for any period of time, something like this has happened to you, probably more than once. Yet, to completely ignore the benefits of recording software, notation programs and other music technology innovations is like trying to play Chopin on a quarter size keyboard. Without using the available technology, how can you cooperate or compete with your modern musical peers?

Deciding where and when to use the computer, and its technological coconspirators, is a decision that we, as creative musicians, are faced with almost daily. When and how should you connect your brilliantly shinning analogue ideas with our cold digital world? Creativity, unhampered by any physical constraint whatsoever, is alchemist-like wishful dreaming. After all, even that wood encased lead dead tree scratcher, the good old pencil, needs to be sharpened once in a while.

There’s no diagram at the end of the page here to tell you exactly when to use the boom box or pencil and when to go digital. I’m merely trying to get you to think about what’s best for you. What’s often worked best for me is allowing a short transition from muse to PC via a layover in pencil and paper-vile. The pencils, iPods, boom boxes, PCs et al. are only tools, our screwdrivers, clamps and hammers. So keep your pencils and staff paper just as handy as your keep your computer, the Kama Sutra …and Recording Magazine of course.

Published in Recording Magazine September 2005

Hear some of David Summer’s home studio recordings and some location recordings made while performing at church services throughout MA, RI and NH.