How one electronic music producer wants to decolonize music software

Originally published at: How one electronic music producer wants to decolonize music software | Boing Boing


Music cultures are one of the most significant identifiers of any culture I would think. The electronic systems that quantize, correct a human input to a grid (with or without ‘swing’) will always be a novelty that is outside of playing an instrument or singing… Garry Numan’s ‘Cars’ is a combination of artificial synth sounds and a ‘real’ drummer pretending to play like a machine - no quantization!

Off grid pitch and timing are the human experience of playing and listening to music for most of us (even if we enjoy banning beats!) there is no way to tune a fretted instrument that will account for how soft or hard the player will fret the string… Angus Young from ACDC is known to be a very ‘light’ player… micro-tonality is everywhere.

Slide and pedal steel players use the notes in between as their stock in trade.

The understanding of other cultures music can never be understood by quantizing tonality or rhythm into a DAW.

But having said that, creating common templates that allow for a more accessible music creation experience for all people has to be a good thing!


Another good example of this is Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. Despite its legendary and innovative synthesizer use, Moroder and Bellotte couldn’t get a satisfactory kick drum sound out of the Moog. They used a human drummer who could keep perfect 4/4 time for some seven minutes straight instead.


I did not know that!! Thanks for sharing

It seems wrong to say that music software is colonized. It was just created by people who had a specific musical mindset. To say that it has been colonized would imply it existed in a different state prior to said colonization and thus that decolonizing it is an effort to return to that earlier state.


It’s colonized because whites have dominated what is considered popular music with only adopting/appropriating musical styles that it found attractive (ex. jazz and rock).


I thought it was colonization because the popular tools that make music creation somewhat easier are forcing musicians into European intervals as opposed to being tools that provide ease for all.


Which adhered to a very specific regional definition music. It’s straight out of the Euro-centric vision of what makes music, ignoring the very differing definitions of music that come out of many other traditions.


Well said. I was thinking along the same lines as an early adopter of music software. I have never felt software was capable of capturing the subtleties of human performances even in the conscious space much lest the sub conscious.
What I don’t understand is why this make the software colonial? Would it not simply make it Western? If there is a need for a solution that better caters to the varying subtleties of different styles then I believe someone with a good understanding of that should code such a tool and start taking money away from the other players in the space.


it was explained in both the original story AND in the comments.


Have you heard Raga Bhairav from Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, which arguably created acid house years before the west did?


This is a tangent, but I thought Chinese music used a twelve-note scale very similar to ours. Is the problem then something like tuning?


Exactly! Pretty much with the evolution of written music, notation, and the development of equal tempered tuning we have lost access to much of histories music… other cultures.

To codify music in a Euro-centric language and its machinery, instruments, is to exclude other ways of expression.

The piano forte is a rigid machine, however African American blues musicians would, for example, flatten the 7th to push the Western tonality ‘back home’. Mongrel instruments like the guitar which allowed for bending pitch and percussive expression were a natural fit (sax and trombone etc.).

Colonization of music would seem to be embedded in the musical means of production of the dominant culture as much as all production.

Believe it or not this is an area that Casio has addressed in their Casiotone keyboards for a good while.

… Including models in the current catalog with a cool selective quarter tone shift function.


You may be thinking of the shí-èr-lǜ scale…


That said, much of the Western stereotype of Chinese music is based on the pentatonic scale…

This is a misleading perception…

Part of what distinguishes Chinese classical music from Western classical music is the way in which it tends to use quarter tones and microtones, both of which are used in Western music, but typically as embellishments rather than explicit alternative tunings…


It’s not free, but one of my favorite softsynths is Modartt’s Pianoteq software, a remarkable piano modeling software that allows you to easily retune any of its virtual instruments…

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I have a Casio piano and either by menu-diving or sending a suitable SysEx in Midi it could change the temperament in
Equal, Pure Major, Pure Minor, Pythagorean, Kirnberger 3, Werckmeister, Mean-Tone, Rast, Bayati, Hijaz, Saba, Dashti, Chahargah, Segah, Gurjari Todi, Chandrakauns or Charukeshi. Other digital keyboard have this feature too, I’m sure about the now-defunct Farfisa. Some of the of analogue Farfisa Organ could be tuned in other temperament or go microtonal, sometimes in the middle of a performance.


More resources for anyone interested…


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