Do the Work

“With the democratization of music performance, we are all music inventors now. Anybody with a laptop and the ability to whistle a tune may invent the next musical genre without ever finding her way to a rehearsal room.”

That’s Bill Bruford. Former drummer for King Crimson, Yes and an array of his own combinations, Bruford got off the stage in 2009 and went on to acquire a Ph.D from the University of Surrey.

“We are all music inventors now.” That’s the definition of irony.

In an essay appearing in The Absolute Sound, Bruford makes many salient points about how many people want to be musicians without putting in the effort that it takes to be a musician that can actually move the art to where it hasn’t been.

Among them:

• “Before the digital world arrived, you were Liszt or Liberace, Satriani or Santana, Hendrix or Holiday, Marley or Madonna, violinist, bassist, or saxophonist, or you aspired to being one of those, or assisted one of them in your role as a skilled support instrumentalist. Now that facsimiles of all these people are in our laptops, are we still making fresh ones?”

• “To master a musical instrument to a level that affords minimal creative options is seen as literally unaffordable because it takes too long.”

And because he is a drummer:

• “Drummers are well placed to resuscitate, to breathe life, to bring life to collective performance, but they remain too ready to abandon training, instinct and intuition at a moment’s notice, to accommodate another’s worldview. They tinker away in the engine room of the music to little effect—an abandonment of their traditional area of influence that borders upon a dereliction of duty. Such dereliction cedes power to others (client/producer/programmer) and eliminates the participatory discrepancies that make a performance unique. . . . To follow that road for a few more years will rightly consign the drummer to oblivion and do a calamitous disservice to popular music.”

But the only drummers who are likely to take stands, to create something that they are confident of, are those who have honed their capabilities. And that takes time. Sure, there is talent, but talent not tested through time is ephemeral.

While it might be thought that Bruford is just a crabby old man bitching about digital technology, yes, he is an old man, 72 years old, but it is hard to imagine that a guy who goes from being a performer on some of the biggest stages to the world to a classroom to get a degree in Music is in some way mentally ossified. Odds are he used a keyboard not a quill to write his essay.

Percussion is undoubtedly the first form of musical rhythm, something that is ancestral and visceral, probably going back to people beating on hollow logs. Through the millennia there has been an improvement in the technology and the technique: drums pretty much as we know them today were developed and people—whether Ringo or Mickey Hart or Glenn Kotche—improved their skills through hard word and effort.

Drumming is something that remains, in some instances, collaborative: Think of the drum circle. And in Bruford’s telling, “Music that includes interactive performance seems to be more affective than that generated from a technological alternative.” People performing with other people.

Bruford cites the interaction that goes on between performers as something that can lead to things that are otherwise unimagined by those who are simply interested in getting it done, getting the track out of the way so that it is about moving on to the next one: “Why are you stammering about m-m-m-My Generation? Great idea! Why a bass solo break? Because the man has an amazing sound with the Rickenbacker round wire strings. We could use that. From the employer’s point of view she never thought of doing it that way.” [Emphasis in the original.]

Probably never thought of that because the point of view of that person is time is money, so damn it, move on.

No one in any field accomplishes anything of note without going through a long apprenticeship. Maybe someone would cite the exception to the rule. Mozart, say. Which would be hard to argue against. But realize that from his childhood he performed. And performed. And performed. And. . . .

“To master a musical instrument to a level that affords minimal creative options is seen as literally unaffordable because it takes too long.”

And because it takes to long, there is evidently a lack of commitment to doing the work—yes, work—that it takes to get that mastery that allows the creation of options that move things forward.

If it is simply a matter of clicking an option with a mouse rather than running scales or paradiddles over and over and over again until your throat hurts, fingers bleed or shoulders ache, who is going to do the work?

Look at the list of the performers he mentions: Liszt, Liberace, Satriani, Santana, Hendrix, Holiday, Marley, Madonna, Daltry, McCartney. Every single one of them had or have undeniable talent.

But every one of them did or do the work.

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