I’ve always considered a musical mistake to be the most dreaded thing – the scourge of any performance. That’s a difficult standard for someone like myself of only moderate playing ability. Regardless, in the past I would throw out or erase any piece of recorded music that bore the unpardonable sin of even a single erroneous note. Well, that attitude has changed, to the point that I now find a minor mistake a pleasant thing, a comforting signature of warm breathing humanity.
Modern music – especially of the synthesizer genre – is exceedingly robotic in its technical precision because it is robotic in the literal sense. Most often, at least some aspect of a piece or song is triggered with an inhuman precision by a sequencer, looper, or drum machine. This pushes “perfection” in a cold and dispassionate direction, one which seems especially misplaced in music.
Yes, classical musicians will exhaust themselves with endless hours of practicing, in striving to “perfect” a performance. But the result is still only a relative perfection that is in no way perfunctory or mechanical. It still will breathe with such elements as rubato, accent, dynamics, and other spontaneous aspects of interpretation. But machines can’t interpret; as mere inanimate objects, they lack nuances, unless those nuances are pre-programmed. And a pre-programmed nuance is just that.
Like every other serious musician, I practice in order to avoid making mistakes in a performance or recording. But here and there, a tiny little imperfection appears. It might be a slightly delayed key strike, or a subtle wrong note that could be excused, say, as a grace note. My point is, in my own music or someone else’s, if the imperfection is slight enough, it now has the appeal of evidence that such music was made by a human being – a warm, breathing, thinking, feeling, loving, and most imperfect human being. And I really like the charm of that evidence. I despise the perfections of machines and computers, the exacting rhythms and note strikes, the flawless scales and arpeggios. I prefer music that breaths with a familiar and forgivable humanity; that is, a sentient musician whose very minor errors warm the cockles of my heart.
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One thought on “Musical Imperfections”
A friend once told me “Perfection is the enemy of excellence.” As a classical musician myself, I have wasted so much time striving to reach that perfect take. Great article and a good reminder that excellence is achievable even in the midst of imperfections.
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