Blog: Limitators - Creative Limitations Introduction

An exploration of limiting your options by Ian Afflec   18-Jun-13

Blog: Limitators - Creative Limitations Introduction

LIMITATORS – An Introduction

This is a series focusing on music production; and how limitations can inspire creativity. For each article, I will create a scenario and attempt to produce a piece of music within the rules I have set.

My aim is to generate some discussion on the topic and hopefully inspire you to have a go yourselves!

So, why are limitations a good thing?

Modern DAWs offer the user a huge range of options to choose from; this is great, but can sometimes make it difficult to decide just where to start. I think it's nice having a large library of sounds to choose from, but spending 30 minutes scrolling through menus trying to find the "perfect" kick drum can often burst your initial bubble of inspiration.

Lots o samples

Options, options...

Compare this to the days when all you had was a drum machine.
Here's your kick drum, there you go, now go make some music!

There's nothing wrong with having lots of options, but when it distracts you from doing what's important (making music), it can sometimes be better to just choose a sound you like and stick with it.

It also has the advantage of creating a "signature sound", if that's your thing.

Kid in a candy store
By the time I discovered that you could make music with nothing more than a computer and some software, there had already been huge developments in the field of music production.

Upon opening a Daw for the first time, here is what I was greeted with:

A massive library of loops & sounds, an infinite number of tracks, a sequencer, infinite sample times, numerous soft synths with hundreds of pre-sets and unlimited polyphony, compressors, equalisers, and blah blah blah.

This was my first experience making electronic music; I was 13 years old and essentially had a full production studio in my bedroom. To say that I was spoilt for choice would be a bit understatement.

Dog and keyboard

The mountain of features was great for a beginner, but I never really had the chance to make mistakes and discover things for myself. The workflow was already pre-determined for me, I was told "This is how you make music" so I said "ok, cool" and went along with it.

For those interested: I was using fruityloops 3; capable, but not exactly what I would describe as advanced, even for the time.

I was surprised to hear that Burial, simply uses Soundforge to create music. Most wouldn't even consider it a "proper" DAW, less flexable than fruityloops even, yet he manages to make some of the most unique and interesting music I've ever heard.

How could he make music like that?

Why would he do it like that?

The answer is simple, because he didn't know any better. He just wanted to make music, so he just...did; and as a result, he discovered his own individual way of doing it.

Limitations are useful because they make you become familiar with your creative environment; they allow you to more fully understand the ins and outs of your equipment and appreciate what you have. Being restricted makes you experiment more; which in turn, provides a chance to find new and alternative methods of doing things. You'll make mistakes and be rewarded with unintentional results.

In the first episode...I will set the challenge of creating a song using nothing but sine waves.

Please share your thoughts in the comments and let me know if have any ideas for future episodes or if you'd be interested having a go.

ian AffleIan Afflec is a musician, filmmaker, composer and engineer from Manchester, UK.  Somewhat experienced in holding a camera and strumming a guitar; "I've taken the probably not-very-smart approach of learning everything I want to do, all at once". His work consists of: short films, promos, music videos, and the odd tune. Ian enjoys pretty much anything to do with "media" and hopes to inspire discussion by sharing his thoughts on the creative process.



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7 Comments... Comments are closed while we transition to Disqus

Chris    Said...

This is a top post, really got me thinking about turning limitations into an asset.

Equally, I'm still using relatively old Tracker software to make music with so I'm glad that big name artists do use things other than Logic, Live etc.

18-Jun-13 07:58 AM

Nick B    Said...

Yeah its a great concept for a series, Ian has just sent me the first mix of his track using these creative limitations - I'm hoping others will attempt to have a go too.

18-Jun-13 11:11 AM

Tribrix    Said...

Limitations RULE! Why else would I ditch the DAW for an analog 4 track tape recorder. Don't get me wrong, getting to play inside a DAW is a great, low cost, way to learn, but now I want more and in this case less is so much more. Having only four tracks forces me to make difficult decisions early and stick with them. Being analog forces me to "play" rather than program most of my tracks. In playing them, they become more interesting than when the machine does it, leading to more discoveries and mistakes. Mistakes are like gold, to be mined for. Machines don't make them. Some of the best stuff comes from mistakes. I could go on all day.

18-Jun-13 11:36 AM

Flex    Said...

Well, I had that idea of creating a song from sine waves before... Never got round doing it though... Always had to check out this or that plug before :(

Sometimes I listen to old song I did in the nineties on a tascam portastudio. I was out of tune a lot, but what I crammed into four tracks with just a guitar, a dynamic and whatever was lying around was kinda cool. And the "mix" didn't sound half bad either - easy, I had just a simple 2-band EQ and a nano verb for effects, not tons of plugins and lots of signals to clutter up the frequencies.

18-Jun-13 02:37 PM

Greg Cole    Said...

Really looking forward to this series, excellent concept and nicely written. Couldn't agree more, limitations inspire creativity. Top job sir!

18-Jun-13 04:21 PM

Daniel Oakfield    Said...

Limitations are a way, an option; while cleaning my hd I listened to some of my early digital tunes, old midi files, worst sounds ever but still a lot of effort was put in arrangement and groove, never more than 5 tracks because they where thought to be played by humans. And I must admit I still can relate to some of the ideas.

Today we are amazed by the aesthetic of the box, the cooler sounds, and we don't focus so much on the content anymore, that's the main point, putting a limit is a patch to our behaviour but I think we should do this in a more natural way that just set hard limitations.

In someway I sometime set a limit on my tasks today too for example using just one synth to produce all the sounds of a song, but that's a real exercise in style, a game... What I really do when I have ideas now is grab one instrument and play that idea, doesn't matter what's the genre of the song, if notes and rhythm work they do in every sauce you cook them.

I am pretty sure as well some new ideas could born from experimenting with presets or just tweaking, but then again they are ideas with deep roots on the technology and who's not into that could never really taste all the shades. Exactly like some virtuoso experimental classical-jazzy stuff for skilled musicians listeners only, which I respect but I have no tools to understand!

So, they are different ways, different outcomes, no best way in my opinion, it is just a matter of taste and fashion... just ask yourself: what was my opinion fifteen years ago? - or if you are younger than me just wait fifteen years and see how your life will influence your creativeness and relationship with technology... which by the way will change itself and eventually will start thinking about its relationship with us ;)

19-Jun-13 02:53 AM

Ian Afflec    Said...

There's some really good stuff mentioned in the comments so I'll definitely include some of them in future episodes.

I've tried to make the challenges as accessible as possible and I hope people will have a go once the first episode is out.

Thanks for the kind words, Enjoy your weekend guys.

21-Jun-13 08:50 AM

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