A recent Song Exploder episode features Rostam — best known for being in Vampire Weekend — talking about his song “Bike Dream.” Rostam seems to do most of his composing on his laptop, but describes how he brought analog sounds into the making of this song, and in one of the most interesting moments in the interview explains that musicians who work as he does can become too visual: their understanding of the song they’re working on is fundamentally, maybe too fundamentally, shaped by the waveforms they see in Logic Pro (or whatever app they use). They come to depend on the regularity of digitally produced waveforms, and the irregularities of analog sounds start to look kind of weird, and not in a good way. Yet, especially in rhythm tracks, irregularity is where the groove is. So, Rostam thinks, sometimes you have to override that cognitive preference for the visually regular — if you want to find a groove. You have to let the analog preferences of the ear have their way. (Listening to “Bike Dream” I find myself wishing that Rostam would take his own advice more seriously.)
There’s a great moment in one of the World Out of Time records that David Lindley and Henry Kaiser made in Madagascar 25 years ago when they’re just sitting around with a handful of musicians, including a famous flute player, an elderly man named Rakoto Frah, and they fall into something:
(They just happened to be recording at the time.) Afterward, Lindley couldn’t stop talking about those drummers. “You can’t get drummers in L.A. to play like that,” he said. One of the primary reasons session drummers didn’t play that way — free, loose, grooving — is that they were already, in those relatively early days of digital recording, playing to click tracks that kept them in time. So even when the regularities of digital imagery weren’t getting in the way of free music expression, the regularities of digital audio were.
Lose the digital; find the groove.