We don’t need more synthesizers; we need discipline
One of the main characteristics of modular synthesizers is their high level of customization, which makes it difficult to assert that there is a single correct way to use them. This does not prevent us from warning about a danger that manifests itself both in popular electronic music and in the increasingly common uses associated with the contemporary classical music scene. This danger lies in the fetishistic consideration of the instrument, not only as a means to develop certain music but as an object, a slogan, an advertising.
Historically, this fetishism has manifested itself as consumerism that brands have skillfully managed by selling musical hardware. Every new synthesizer, the latest drum machine, or effects pedal is the lure, a promise for users to consider, as we have often done in the past, that this device will change our workflow, and we will be able to finish our ever-unfinished projects. But we don’t need another synthesizer: we need discipline. Discipline that we will not find in urban spaces, social situations, or in the exciting encounters promised by so many electronic instrument commercials. Discipline that we will find by being alone in our rooms or studios for endless hours. Nothing will exempt us from that effort, regardless of the musical genre we practice.
In the field of classical and contemporary music, in a constant tension with its past, this fetishism is articulated in a particular way. As these instruments cease to be anecdotal, there is an implicit idea of considering them per se as a guarantee of modernity, similar to what has happened with instruments that we could almost call external, as in the case of the electric guitar. It is legitimate to think that a specific instrument can be associated with a certain musical approach, and certainly, the history of music has strong ties to the history of instruments and media – how could it not be that way? However, the automatic treatment that modular synthesizers receive as icons of supposed innovation without prior critical reflection or even the effort to understand what this instrument is, what it implies, is unsettling. This risk threatens programmers and performers alike. The fact that it is increasingly common to see the presence of these instruments – and especially their photos – in festival lineups does not necessarily come with a greater understanding of their characteristics and possibilities. It should go without saying, but no tool, by itself, guarantees original or disruptive thinking, just as none makes it impossible.
As someone who has dedicated a significant amount of time to these instruments, I am uncomfortable with the possibility of being associated with the salesmen who proliferate in narratives generated by new technologies and promote a superficial idolatry of these devices. I fear that this overt display is preventing a deeper reflection on the various and interesting approaches that creators from very different backgrounds undertake with modular synthesizers, and, more importantly, that can only be achieved with modular synthesizers.