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Quote of the Week: Obsolescence & Engagement

In his latest Robair Report entry, Gino Robair ponders the divide between physical and digital instruments:

“I have an original Oberheim SEM (35 years old, serial number 100) that I used for an A/B comparison in the article. I certainly don’t regret the $600 I paid for it (used), as it continues to serve me well. I wish I felt that confident when I buy software.”

This may sound like a concern primarily for working musicians, and the bedroom tinkerers who aspire to be them. And certainly, matters of cost and technique — that is, of depreciation and the benefits of long-term engagement with a specific instrument — are of particular interest to musicians, but the implications of Robair’s consideration are no less significant for listeners. (I fully appreciate that the divide is a specious one, but for the sake of this thought, I’m putting aside, for the moment, that ongoing blurring of roles.)

On the one hand, musicians who are coming of age on laptops will not, necessarily, have the sort of benefits at age 45 that, say, musicians who dedicate themselves to piano, or to clarinet, might have.

On the other, there is a new realm of association between musician and instrument developing in the digital world, one in which the instruments are improved iteratively as the musicians themselves age. There is, certainly, precedent for this in the pre-digital era, but the extent to which collective experience will feed the development of single instruments is a promising one. In addition, we are seeing more and more software instruments developed by musicians (in such environments as Max/MSP and Processing) for their own use (as well as for commercial gain).

At the risk of the appearance of equivocation, I certainly hope that musicians, professional and amateur, continue to pursue both paths, experiencing lifelong engagement with one instrument, while watching another, virtual instrument evolve over that same lifetime.

Full Robair post at emusician.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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