Perfection is... Not Perfect! Dammit. 

by Roland Couture

Good music is rarely perfect, and "perfect" music is rarely good. A lot of damage is done to the spontaneity and soul of music in the quest for perfection. How many recordings have had all the inspiration, life, and heart squeezed out of them in the name of "perfecting" them? Boston. Steely Dan. Rehearsing to the point of boredom and pain, or re-recording the same take 80 times... are we to believe this is what puts a musician in the creative mode where that mysterious and elusive "it" happens? Meanwhile, how many great records are full of screw-ups and unintentional genius? Stooges. Guided By Voices.

Many artists and producers get so caught up in their own perfectionism, striving for something "perfect" and failing to realize that what they already have is inspired and good. Technology nowadays has given musicians more power than ever to make their recordings "perfect." Many studios use powerful computer software such as ProTools to shape and edit sounds, "clean up" performances... even straighten out tempos and pitches. Programmed drum machines can keep a steady tempo... and do things no human drummer can do. Sampling and sequencing make any sound available, anytime. We're closer than ever to the big box with the button that says "studio trickery." Which makes it all the more important that such tools be used with good judgment and creativity, to enhance the music and make it more "human," inspired, spontaneous-sounding, chaotic, and different, rather than to squelch that creative spirit in the name of some stale idea of "perfection."

In truth, all parts of the musical process shape the overall result, from writing and arranging a piece of music to performing it, recording it, and even experiencing it as a listener. Who can effectively control all that? And why should they? Any part of the musical process can introduce chaotic factors that take the music away from its original intended result, and yet some of these changes would doubtless be perceived as improvements... at least by SOME segment of the audience. In "I Heard Her Call My Name," Lou Reed says, "...and then my mind split open..." and you hear the most genius, ear-splitting, and totally unintentional guitar feedback before he starts playing. Should we dump that into ProTools and edit it out?

And don't even get me started on improvisation, where composition and performance happen at the same time. Jazz, avant-garde music, even rock and rap, can all incorporate improvisation. That freestyle rhyme or that improvised guitar solo is exactly what it is, and it's already perfect. Every piece of music is already perfect as it is. It might not be what you like, or it might not be the perfect form of what you do like... but whatever it is, it's always the perfect version of itself. And that's how it should be.

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