I love vintage recording gear. I really do. Actually, to be precise, I have come to find I like the idea of vintage gear a lot more than actually hosting it in a studio environment. I’ve recently been cleaning house of all of my relic SCSI gear that went along with various hardware samplers and began to wonder what place hardware will have in a rapidly software recording, and peforming, lanscape? There is no way around it, I have fallen in love with software. I have fallen in love with its many efficiencies, varieties, and cheap price tags. I have also fallen in love with a relatively uncluttered space which often makes my work easier. Still, there is a nostalgia for old hardware that I can’t seem to replace with software. I don’t have a warm place in my heart for Kontakt 1.0 the way I do for an old EMAX or Akai sampler. Memories and workflows are much more specifically attached to actual physical gear I owned far more so than any software I have used through the years. I don’t know why that is.
Hardware is currently available dirt cheap on eBay, local classifieds, ditches by the side of the highway… and I still sometimes get a flutter of excitement when I see an Akai S5000 for under $100. Kind of like how a guy in his 40’s or 50’s always idolizes that car he wanted when he was 17 but was so unattainable at the time. But, like the car analogy, I always come back down to earth and realize, sure I can now own many multiples of S5000’s but where exactly will I put these old dust boxes and would I really actually use any of them? I know I have tried to reclaim past glory only to get frustrated with slow transfer methods, SCSI errors and a whole host of annoyances I have since been conditioned to be impatient towards.
I guess what it comes down to is I love hardware and software for different reasons. With hardware, there was an intimacy and fluency that came with using that piece of gear over and over again. You kind of had to get to know your hardware well in those days because not only did you have fewer options to produce what it is you were trying to create but, frankly, you probably dropped a whole lot of dough in order to own it. You had much more incentive to justify its existence than you do with, for instance, another bargain priced VST drum sampler. With software, its just too easy to use it ad hoc – moving and weaving through list upon list of special purpose samplers, drum machines, editors, processors, etc in order to get the precise idea out as quickly and painlessly as possible. That part makes the workflow easier, but it makes it antiseptic. You don’t have to suffer and bleed as much in order to earn the result you are looking for. Perhaps, there is even a little less pride in the result owing to how everyone else seems to be using the same tools in the exact same ways. Nonetheless it is clear, I have been far more prolific in my personal music production through software than through hardware – and in the end life is short and you will always have more ideas than you can get out into reality.
Come to think of it, this nexus between direct intimacy and cold efficiency is reflective of the modern dating world. Way back in the days before online dating services, text messages, and Facebook you had to get involved in the pesky business of actually meeting people in person. Sure, it was often painful and aggravating. You often just wanted to cut to the chase but found yourself navigating through insipid details. But if you did find someone worth spending your time with, it felt so much more rewarding than rattling off error-filled text messages to the “usernames of the top-100 matched singles in your area” just to achieve the most dates possible in a given time-frame. In other words, hooking up has never been easier in music making or dating, but there is a consequent loss of depth you get from direct, fingers-on-knob (you’re thinking that, not me, you sick bastard!) interaction.
You get the point.
So where does that leave hardware for me going forward? I will always have some piece of hardware I come back to and cherish. Hardware will, for some time to come, continue to be a prominent part of live music peformance. Hell, an argument can be made that the iPad has in some way revived hardware and its inherent workflow and live-friendly methods, alongside the software approach. Sometimes I find myself on the iElectribe app on my iPad and get the same feeling as I do working with the actual box in person – complete with signal routing and midi implementation issues! Because, you see, part of the joy in hardware is the struggle. The struggle ensures that no two people will go about solving a problem in exactly the same way – which will result in unexpected and unique results. I still like to bounce back and forth, using tools that I see best for the job at hand. Sometimes you want to discover the music as you are going along, while at other times you have a very precise idea of what you want to create in mind. The key in any case is to stick with something, whether it be hardware or software, and avoid the temptation of just endlessly bouncing around your personally curated collection of audio… stuff. Because more so than hardware or software – this or that – its about being productive and having fun regardless of the tools you choose.