Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mikey Jukebox - S/T

Is the computer processing and manipulation of digitized sound musicianship?

I just returned from winter NAMM 2011 in Anaheim, California.  NAMM is the “National Association of Music Merchants,” a music trade group that has hosted the largest trade show in North America at the Anaheim Convention Center since the early to mid-1980’s.   Over 1,600 exhibitors display their latest and greatest in musical instruments, accessories and wizardry.  It also hosts hundreds of industry concerts, appearances and parties.

While there I watched Roland, a giant Japanese electric amplifier and effects manufacturer and distributor, put its real time pitch-correction and instantaneous keyboard generated harmonic choirs with digital drums midi instrumentation machines through their paces.  The results were phenomenal.  It would be difficult to differentiate between a very good singing group and the keyboard synthesized computer generated one. 

Roland offered me the opportunity to see Yngwie Malmsteen and Rising Force at a concert in downtown Disney at the House Of Blues. Before the concert Roland held the Finals of its “International Looper Competition.”  A looper is a digital foot switch array that allows one to store sounds and repeat them in a continuous loop subject to being turned on and off via a foot pedal switch.  Depending upon the mode, and the number used, multiple separate soundbytes can be stored, looped and recalled.  The winner of the Competition was Simon Shlomo Kahn, an English beatboxer.  With only his voice  and the looper he was able to create strings, horns, drums, punctuation, mirroring, echo-phasing, bass and harmony.  Other competitors made bottles sound like Bjork songs with the assistance of the looper effects modules.

This brings me to Mike James’ project - Mikey Jukebox. Mike James has been in the industry since he was a little child.  He started playing drums in clubs when he was six and learned to play the guitar at the age of sixteen.  By the time he was twenty he was writing and performing all the instruments on demos - guitar, bass, drums, keys/synth, and percussion - and multitracking them.  The ten track album Mikey Jukebox was recorded, scrapped, re-recorded, processed and reprocessed.  Sometimes 90 different tracks were used to create the music. James takes on the persona of Mikey Jukebox and releases this album as “self-titled.”

Mind you, the album contains some of the best “pop” songs I’ve heard in a very long time.  Sounds bounces all over the place.  It literally pops out of the speakers.  Harmonies are unexpected and exceptional.  There is a glam rock glory feel to the tracks. Instrumentation is powerful and compelling, and it is all digitized, computerized, processed, and programmed into place.  

I suppose since the first bluesman played electric through a torn speaker musicians have been engaged in sound processing. “Mikey“ James “Jukebox “ just seems to taken it to the next level.   His creations are a sound factory.  By playing all of the instruments and digitizing them into bytes and then separating them into tracks he is able to choose where and when any particular sound or pattern will appear or, rather, sound.  He then can process them to create the illusion of grand instrumentation.  Most of the album is produced by midi keyboard synthesizers. However great this music is, and it is great music, does all this production show great musicianship?

Computer sound processing, is now the chosen method of production.  Computer programs can change, correct, relocate and process any sound.  Less time is spent in the studio and more time is spent with editing software.  James started this project in 2007, scrapped the original project and started over.  He is a perfectionist with amazing technical sound processing prowess.  There is no question about that and I love listening to this album, but can this editing and production technical prowess qualify as musicianship?

Electronica has been around for quite some time.  These artists manipulate synthesizers and midi-triggering devices to create sounds that could not otherwise be created with the acoustic instruments at hand.  Electronica artists play computer chips.    Yet, even electronica is different than what “Mickey Jukebox” accomplishes.  In electronica the musicians play with a bank of sounds.  Mike James’ post recording sound processing recombines those sounds in ways the artists may never have played or intended to play them.

Today and tomorrow the musical instrument of choice is and will be the computer.  James probably can never tour this album since I do not think there is any way it could ever be played live with the same sound heard on the album.  It is his technical computer processing skill that makes this album so great and, I suppose, in today’s day and age that is the equivalent of an instrumentalist’s musicianship.  It is just that the computer is now the instrument and the possibilities are endless.

- Old School

buy here mp3: Mikey Jukebox
buy here: Mikey Jukebox


Penfold said...

Hey there Old School. Great review as always. I fall into the category of people who believe this type of person is a musician. If they record all of the music/sounds themselves and simply rearrange them with a computer, then I have absolutely no problem labeling them as such.

Old School said...

Hi Penfold. Thanks for the kudos and thoughts. I tend to agree with you. At one time I didn't. For example, Queen never used a synthesizer, although May had no qualms about using foot pedal effects. Times and technology have changed and so has the definition of musicianship.

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