Reading Response #2

From Chapter 2 of Artful Design, I would like to respond to the question posed by the host of "One Person, One World" on page 89: Will computer-based instruments someday replace traditional instruments? In recent years, computer-based instruments have been created at an amazingly rapid speed. Some of them are completely original, and the rest of them evolve from existing traditional instruments. Indeed, the former kind adds variety to the family of instruments, yet the latter one is debatable depending on how people value instruments.

To begin with, if people only differentiate musical instruments by their timbres, it will be really easy for computer instruments to replace traditional ones. As explained in this chapter, the sound of Ocarina is generated by processing a combination of synthesized audio signal waves. Apparently, a real ocarina, instead of these digital operations, uses wind pressure to make sounds. Despite the unlikeness in mechanics, they honestly sound similar. In addition, the Ocarina app does not require the users to hold extra physical items while a real ocarina takes space, encouraging people to choose the app. Maybe the difference is negligible with respect to ocarina since it is relatively small in nature, but it is crucial for giant instruments such as organ. The largest organ ever built in the world, the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ, has 7 manuals and 33,112 pipes. It is basically impossible for people to make music on pipe organs if they do not have a closely accessible organ, not to say the diverse sound qualities of the organ family.

Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ

However, what makes these traditional instruments so priceless is their unique sound mechanics. No matter how close digital audio signals manage to simulate, the mechanics of traditional instruments is inimitable. Then, how about sampling the true sounds from traditional ones and making it controllable on a small screen? Still considering organ as an example, digital organ, which applies the playback of actual pipe organ recordings, has already thrived for years. Rather than physically approach all these almighty creatures, people are able to hear and play with these sounds using a machine that is comparable in size to digital piano. Under the software application boom, it is conceivable that computer-based or smart-phone-based organ will be launched soon.

Even if the sound comes from the same mechanics, the essence of making, performing, and enjoying music should not only be the sound itself, but more importantly, the liveness people feel and the interaction between performer and instrument, audience and instrument, performer and audience. That is why live performances can never be replaced by recordings, and should also be why traditional instruments can never be replaced by computer-based instruments.