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[February 15, 2014]
Retro electronics still popular - but why not just use modern software?
(Guardian Web Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Electronic music is more popular than ever and with it comes a fascination for trying to recapture the original sound. Artists like Chic star Nile Rodgers and the man who "invented dance music", Giorgio Moroder, are in the spotlight again. So, too, are their production techniques.
The latest gear may be cheap and convenient, but for many, old hardware is the only way to go. The theory is that the movement and circulation of air within old analogue machines gives a warmer, more wholesome sound than that of modern computer software, which, some say, sounds too "digitised".
"It's all about nostalgia, really," said Mick Wilson, tech editor of DJ Mag. "Guys are sticking to analogue because the sound is softer and it brings a bit of the past into the future, which is something that can't be achieved with new apps and soft synths. Daft Punk recently went back to record an album with those musicians just to capture that old feel. If you look at more modern artists, like Skrillex, they use some very harsh sounding digital equipment." Despite what its enthusiasts claim, many commentators believe most listeners would be hard pushed to hear the difference between sounds produced by old hardware and the sounds produced by computers running modern software that emulates them. One Berlin-based hardware manufacturer, Native Instruments, which has seen sales increase five-fold in the last four years, says that even the most realistic drum and percussion sounds can be found on software that runs on iPhones.
Despite this, manufacturers are making the most of the love of old hardware. Korg has updated its instruments and Roland has announced new versions of its 808 and 909 drum machines, as well its 303 bass synth – which was an essential part of the vast majority of acid house tracks. Sean Montgomery, senior product manager at Roland, said: "The analogue vs digital debate will always be there and you will never please everyone. At the end of the day, even our TR-909, from 1983, one of the most coveted and iconic of all vintage machines, mixes analogue with digital – the cymbals are samples of real cymbals. We're using brand new technology that is capable of recreating all of our heritage sounds." The resurgence in retrograde technology does not come with retro prices though. A Roland 303 synth that once cost £100 in a second hand shop can now command £1000. Other classic electronic apparatus can go for more than £5000.
Another explanation for the continued love affair with analogue is that it is one way to stand out in such a competitive industry. "If you are a producer and you are selecting sounds off a computer willy nilly and those sounds are almost infinite, your music is going to lack character if you are not focused on what you want to create," explained Adam Saville, music editor of DJ Mag. "No one wants to be a flash in the pan." Guy Gerber, an Israeli DJ who uses both analogue and digital equipment, said: "It's easier to create music than ever before because you don't have to have anything, you just need a computer and software, but nevertheless to stand out isn't easy in any era.
"You either have it, or you don't." For many, the attraction of using vintage gear is based on the allure of owning a piece of musical history rather than what the gear actually contributes to a track. But for the DJ and producer Alexander Green (AKA Boddika), whose studio is 80% analogue, 20% digital, analogue will always be worth the money for the sounds it produces. "You can't beat a machine that's 20 years old where the circuits have degraded and it has its own character. It may sound a bit romantic but you can't perfectly emulate analogue equipment with software. You just can't," he said. "I don't quite know why it is, maybe it's the history behind the instruments, maybe it's the authentic sound of the machines. Or perhaps it's just me." (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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