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Why is Musical Expression Important?

 

(The Death of the Instrumental Solo)

LinnStrument is an expressive MIDI controller, which I (Roger) define as providing the ability for each finger to control a note's continuous loudness, pitch and timbre over its duration, thereby providing a level of musical expression approaching that of fine acoustic instruments. By comparison, a standard MIDI keyboard consists of little more than on/off switches, albeit with velocity sensing, monophonic pressure sensing for the last 5% of the key's travel, and two sideways pots to create unnatural-sounding pitch bends and mathematically-perfect vibratos.

Given the tremendous advantages of LinnStrument's expression, why are most electronic musicians still playing the on/off switches of a MIDI keyboard? Is the reason perhaps that few people value musical expression?

One place to look for the answer is pop songs because they represent the listening tastes of a large group of people. So I recently visited Billboard.com to listen to the top 20 songs on its Hot 100 chart. Of the top 20 songs, 18 of them used electronic instruments like drum machines and synthesizers, and the same 18 had no instrumental solos. This is in stark contrast to past musical genres based on acoustic or electrified acoustic instruments like electric guitar, in which pop songs commonly included a section featuring a skilled instrumental solo.

Does this suggest that few people value musical expression? It appears not because the singers on these same songs have highly expressive voices, full of subtle, nuanced and skilled modulations of loudness, pitch and timbre.

Could it be that there are no musicians skilled enough to perform compelling electronically-generated instrumental solos on pop songs? I doubt it.

Or could it be that instrumental solos performed on a MIDI keyboard's on/off switches are simply not that interesting? Makes sense to me. If true, it would seem that there's a tremendous opportunity for talented forward-thinking musicians to develop expressive performance skills on LinnStrument or other expressive controllers, in order to bring to electronically-generated music the same sort of skilled solo performances that are highly valued in other musical genres.

I (Roger) believe that expressive controllers are the next big thing in electronic music, the next revolution. Once you've played an expressive controller, you suddenly realize how limiting it was to play music with on/off switches, and more people are having this revelation every day. Here's what I think may be a future perspective on the historical transition between expressive acoustic and expressive electronic instruments:

Roger Linn Design  •  Berkeley, CA, USA

Roger Linn Design  •  Berkeley, CA, USA