Strive for Imperfection

Here is an excellent article posted at Mixcrate by DJ Enki that I thought many of you would identify with.  The article discusses the human ear's innate desire to find music with a "live" feel more pleasing to listen to.  This phenomenon is certainly something that I have become more and more aware of as I study all of my musical heroes and continue my quest for the "perfect" mix (or shall I say "imperfect" mix).  Ultimately, it's the perfect imperfections from masters like Dilla, Rza, Pete Rock, etc. that separate them from the rest of us.  We all may try to duplicate what they do in our own way, but none of us can replicate their sound because our skill level just doesn't match up to them.  Simply put, it's raw skill and mastery that allows for the perfect imperfections to be recorded.  In the end, our ears can distinguish between the skill level that goes into a J. Rocc mix versus the technological genius that allows for a seemingly "perfect" mix to be created with the help of a program like Ableton.  They are not the same, and our ears know it.
To me, the key moment comes when Gopnik sits with a couple of university professors who are studying the psychology of sound. They discuss an experiment in which a pianist played a Chopin song, and then the recording was manipulated to “much more variation within the tempo, or much less; with more variations within the volume of notes, or much less.” The manipulated recordings were played for people who then relayed their feelings about what they heard.
In other words, they were making the music sloppier or cleaner, testing to see at what point sloppiness turns music into just a mish-mash of sound, and, conversely, just how listeners respond to music that is so regimented as to be absolutely flawless.
They found that listeners like the middle ground. A little variation is the human touch; too much makes a mess of things.
Or, to steal a terrific quote from Chuck D: “The funk lies in the imperfections.” 

Read Article HERE.


Eric Nord said...

I'm not sure the term "perfect" or "imperfect" applies in the same way to all the various elements of music. The biggest distinction would be between the acoustic/timbral aspects of a recording or performance, versus its rhythmic/melodic aspects.

The term "perfect" means something very different when applied to a rhythm than, say, a timbre or acoustic quality. A "perfect" timbre would I guess be a sine, saw, or ramp wave. These sorts of discussions rarely yield substantive answers unless they focus on very specific, discrete aspects of music because music is psychological/cultural.

That said, one piece of general theory that does hold up across many aspects of music is the notion of "suggestion". Music is often more powerful when it suggests something (an emotion, mood, experience, concept), rather than trying to perfectly mathematically represent it. Those "imperfections" help create a vibe of suggestion. The reason why suggestion is effective is because it creates anticipation, curiosity, and imagination in the listener. It helps sustain tension and interest, which can then be released at the appropriate moment (say, in a chorus or climax) or sustained until the piece is over.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of hip hop is the abundance of "songs" without choruses. In some ways, the lack of a chorus (or at least a full chorus) is an imperfection. But the omission of a chorus is also a powerful method for sustaining tension throughout the song. One man's imperfection is another's perfection.

One of the reasons why this debate is happening now is because digital instruments have very rational/mathematical interfaces. The building blocks of digital music (pure waves, snapping grids, lack of analog acoustics, etc.) default to a very un-musical base setting. The "ingredients" of digital music are extremely raw. These digital tools have their origins, not in the music world, but in the world of physics, eletrical engineering, and computer science. So it shouldn't be surprising that they aren't inherently "musical" by nature. In general, a musician needs to break away from the often rigid/mathematical tendencies of digital instruments to create compelling music.

pipomixes said...


I think your description of the power of suggestion was very insightful. That is something that I've always appreciated about my favorite music and poetry, but was never quite able to put into words like you did. Suggestion! What a revolutionary concept. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. All of my favorite sources of music have one thing in common, SUGGESTION. From Miles Davis to Ghostface, it's all about SUGGESTION.

analoghdesc said...

thanks so much

now i know i was expecting to much from others