Music Projects as Ephemera
At some point in the past year, I upgraded my version of Reason from version 10 to version 11.
At some point in the past two months, I tried to open an old music project that I had written two or more years ago.
It was a catastrophe.
Without getting too technical, I had structured all of my projects, going back maybe 10 years, as an Ableton Live main project (for recording audio and using audio plugins) that potentially depended on a Reason sub project for using drums and synthesizers from that program. Through a technology known as ReWire, the two programs stayed perfectly in sync and I could easily share audio and MIDI between them.
The key here is that Ableton Live was the “host”, with the main recording controls and tempo, and Reason was the “guest”, simply making its instruments and sounds available. For a decade, my default project in Ableton included a track that was used solely for getting sound back from Reason, armed and ready to go.
In version 11 of the Reason “suite”, they made a bold choice: offer Reason as a VST plugin. This was pretty revolutionary, because it allowed users to do exactly what I was doing, but without having to run the Reason application at all. And you could have an almost unlimited number of these virtual Reason “racks” in your Ableton project, each merrily doing its own thing.
It was also revolutionary because it killed ReWire.
ReWire as a protocol still exists, and there are probably examples of programs that use it that you can run today. But Reason doesn't use it. And because of that none of my projects, spanning a 10 year period, can be “run” on the new version of Reason.
Oh sure, Reason Studios (the new moniker for Propellerheads SE, who make the software) has done a meticulous job of ensuring backwards compatibility for their own .reason file format. You can open very, very old .reason files, maybe even from version 1, I don't know for sure.
The problem isn't that I can't open the Reason file.
And Ableton, too, has made substantial investment in backwards compatibility. They warn you when you open an old file, that it might be converted, etc, but it's usually no problem.
The problem isn't that I can't open the Ableton file.
The problem is that they no longer communicate. The Reason file, with my drums and synthesizers. The Ableton file with my voice takes and guitar tracks. They just sit there, dumb, each ready to play half my song out of sync with each other. As my friend Sagar would say, “Why don't you just hit play at the same time?” Facepalm.
Reason Studios, for their part, doesn't offer downloads of old versions of their software. Maybe they would throw a DMG my way if I explained my issues, maybe not, I haven't tried contacting them.
Okay, I've got files on my computer, backed up to Dropbox, of songs I wrote and played around with 24 odd years ago, when I was in middle school. I know the programs that wrote these files don't exist anymore (they were on the pre-OS X, MacOS 8 operating system, not even MacOS 9!). I guess I keep them around for sentimental reasons.
Of course, I also have .reason files from 18 odd years ago when I was in college and making music solely with Reason (a copy of which may or may not have -cough- “fallen off a truck”). I can still open those!
I guess I didn't expect my music files to constitute such ephemera, based on the above. I guess I didn't expect to one day “upgrade” my rig and lose access to 10 years of music projects. Yes, as digital musicians we know that upgrades are risky. That's why I've been on OS X 10.14 Mojave until only 2 months ago (oddly it was losing access to these projects that made me say “eff it” and upgrade my OS). Based on some of what I read, I might never upgrade to Big Sur or beyond (because many of my plugins are old and won't get updated to run on M1 hardware). It makes me wonder if I should just have a dedicated music making computer that's not even connected to the internet and never receives updates. But that's kind of a luxury I don't have. Okay, end rant.
I think the point is that I should have expected this to happen. Every piece of digital everything is ephemera. Just look at how quickly link rot takes over the web (it's impressive that the linked New Yorker article from 2015 still exists, but is that even its original URL?). Ask anyone my age where their digital photos from college or before are, now that they've lost that phone 10 years ago, or the hard drive on that laptop crashed. I get it.
I haven't posted about this before because I feel a “Burning Man” style need to just let my art disappear into the desert sky. To metaphorically burn the last 10 years of music creation, most of which I was never going to meaningfully revisit anyway, and use the ashes as fertilizer for something new. That's probably the healthiest thing to do. The best ideas are ahead of me, not behind me. I am an overflowing font of endless creativity. Etc.
I don't feel the need to warn anyone that this might happen to them. The versions of the software are old enough now that if it was going to happen, it's likely already happened. I also don't mean to whine or complain publicly, though a bit of that seems to be helping. And I'm not here to tell everyone to “back up all your files in 5 different formats and 6 different timezones” or whatever.
This is more a eulogy for my lost files. Goodbye old songs. May you live on in MP3 format on songs.travisbriggs.com and Soundcloud. And by writing this, may I get some peace and closure.
What do you think, did I mess this up badly? As always I'm Travis Briggs, of travisbriggs.com fame. If you'd like to comment on this post you can do so on Mastodon (@firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@audiodude) or send me an email at email@example.com.