Cut Down On The Noise—Simplify

“It’s been said many times but bears repeating: “Technology is best when it’s transparent.”

As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my life is quite hectic right now, packed beyond capacity with things to do. Most of them are worthy things that I want and/or need to do, but they keep me hopping.

In response, I’ve chosen a very simple motto: “Simplify.” I plan to live by this simple (pun intended) maxim through the end of the year—at least. Simply (pun intended again), simplify means removing some of the clutter from my daily life and the complications that go with it.

When you’re a “type A” (driven) personality, as I am, there’s a strong tendency to not look before leaping—jumping with both feet into every project and activity without considering the consequences.

Even as mere humans, we can have tremendous capacity, but there’s a limit, a zone where there’s just too much noise, we feel too much stress, and we can’t be at our best in everything we do if there’s too much of everything to do.

In part, this new direction came about after a recent conversation with a friend about how noisy contemporary music is. Noisy as in busy. With all of the tools now available for music creation, recording, and amplification, sometimes it seems that they get used just because they can be used—without real purpose, resulting in compositions that are more noise than music.

The other day I was at a church that is looking to purchase a new digital mixing console. They’re moving away from the analog world. But what struck me is the biggest factor to them in selecting a console is what plug-ins are offered internally or can run from an external server. Not once did they bring up sound quality, workflow, layout, I/O capability, operator friendliness, the ability to meet future expansion needs, and so on.

It got me thinking about what I see as a current philosophy of “we can fix it later”—just apply a plug-in and all will be right with the world. Plop down a mic quickly and sloppily on stage or in the studio—no problem, we’ll just fix it with a plug-in.

Even more humble live and recording systems have more tools than we can possibly need, just waiting to be applied nonetheless. But just because one can doesn’t mean one should. It’s adding up to a lot of noise. A plug-in can only do so much to “fix” a lousy mic signal—it’s still a lousy signal. So how about simplifying instead, taking the time to place the mic correctly in the first place in order to capture a quality signal?

I love technology. It can help us immensely in achieving our desired result, or even better. But there must be a point to using it. A voice must sound like a voice, a guitar like a guitar, a piano like a piano—once we achieve that, by applying simple time-proven concepts first, then we can take advantage of technology to tailor it.

One of my favorite photographers, Ansel Adams, did his work almost exclusively in black and white. The simplicity is one of the things that makes his work so powerful.

Late in his career, Adams used the latest darkroom equipment on his most popular work, Moonrise. Yes he took advantage of the best technology available—but he used it to enhance what was already there. He was not adding things, making it noisy; he was simply enhancing an already great image.

It’s been said many times but bears repeating: “Technology is best when it’s transparent.” Can I get an Amen?

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