I Want It That Way

This [lack of scholarship on drum machines] says much about the general ambivalence, if not outright animosity, that “rhythm units” have engendered through the years. Most famously, in the early 2000s, a 50-something pianist from Los Angeles, John Wood, began to sell a $1 bumper sticker that read “Drum Machines Have No Soul,” and quickly drew to him a fan base of similarly minded sulkers (Chamberlin). It is not always clear if Wood and other critics saw the drum machine as a cause or a symptom of the (perceived) displacement of studio musicians by electronic production, but like the equally maligned auto-tuning vocal software, beat boxes make for easy targets given their unmistakable sonic signatures.

That major pop artists and songs would rely on a built-in rhythm may seem like a creative shortcut but such criticism misses the point: what most of these artists valued was not just a particular pattern but the specific sound of it. Phil Collins, after all, was a drummer himself but he embraced the CR-78 to the point of demo-ing it for journalists (Rsdave). His use of the CR-78 suggested that Collins, like Sly Stone and disco producers before him, saw it as an instrument for aiding a larger musical vision.

 I found myself emphatically agreeing with a lot of this and applying it to a lot of other things beyond drum machines and autotune—synthesizers, samplers, lo-fi… hmmm.