chris blogs

May 2004

16may2004 · Digitalizing everything considered harmful

Is it just me, or are things in daily life getting more and more digital?

You may not consider this to be a bad thing, but take note that almost everything digital is also very innatural; nature is, by definition, analogue. There is not just day and night; sunlight slowly fades in the evening.

Still, everything gets digital: While started with photography (anyone still buying analogue cameras?), we currently are digitalizing the media. Radio and television get streamed in digitally compressed formats all over the world. Music (mostly) gets recorded and mixed using computers; large parts of formerly used instruments get replaced by plug-ins that try to sound like them using digital synthesis and/or samples.

These instruments will never sound like they used to, and while inexperienced (and I don’t claim here to have better ears than you) listeners may not notice acoustically, I’m pretty sure they will notice by feeling different.

Don’t forget that we are analog devices: While digital things may look like the holy grail in our life, they aren’t. This is because they are too different, they misses the warmth of life. And while those digitalized instruments are “perfect” in some way, we aren’t. It’s really the small errors, glitches and uncertainties that make the music worth listening and interesting at all. It’s as Donald Knuth tells in the MetaFont-Book:

Musicians who use computers to synthesize their compositions have found that music has more “life” if its rhythms are slightly irregular and offbeat; perfect 1—2—3—4 pulses sound pretty dull by contrast.

However, the only way to have music on computers (which is a facility I definitely wouldn’t want to miss), is by digitalizing it. But then, please do that in the last step (you might even consider recording on vinyl), and don’t “click all the music together”. It will pay out.

It’s by the way interesting that this true for many, but not all arts. Computer graphics can definitely look great, but you won’t reach the detail and feel a “real” drawing has; you can’t, by definition. The devil is in the details. But it’s not, at least not that, true for poetry for example. It doesn’t really matter if you read it from a book or from a screen. This is probably because it is already digitized by putting it into words. I’m sure it would feel different if the original author read it aloud.

Heck, I can already myself in some years getting asked by my son watching a bug with magnifying glass, “Dad, this resolution really rocks! I can’t see a single pixel there.”

Or maybe, he will.

NP: Scott McKenzie—San Francisco (definitely recorded analogue)

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