Timothy Taylor wrote of a “scientific imaginary” (Taylor, 2001), a period in mid 20th century culture seemingly obsessed with futurism, as the world rebuilt itself following the second world war. For Taylor and others, the utopian and dystopian visions of the era’s literature, films, and music say more about their time than the futures they portended. But this reflection of the contemporary in dreams of the future was inadvertent, an unconscious residue of the past clinging to the bright shiny objects of the science fiction age. The science fiction of current pop culture now looks to the past with a sad, longing eye – a tacit acknowledgement that the best is not yet to come; it is already come and gone. Note the overt nostalgia at the core of Christopher Nolan’s recent film, Interstellar, a movie whose central conceit is that only the past can save the future.
The Journal on the Art of Record Production (JARP) is an international online peer-reviewed journal promoting the interdisciplinary study of record production. The journal publishes peer reviewed research papers, conference papers, interviews and reviews with contributions from world-renowned industry professionals.
The Good Old Days? Negotiating Quality, Mythology and Technostalgia in Contemporary Music Production
Tradition and Innovation in Creative Studio Practice: The Use of Older Gear, Processes and Ideas in Conjunction with Digital Technologies.
The necessity of using traditional tools and pre-existing knowledge is part and parcel of the process of being innovative. Rather than being diametrically opposed, tradition and innovation are complementary to each other. For Negus and Pickering ‘creativity doesn’t emerge out of a vacuum…creative talent requires a tradition so that it can learn how to go further within it or beyond it. Innovation should be understood by rejecting those approaches which set it squarely against tradition and established cultural practice’ (2004, p. 91). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi supports this idea by asserting that ‘new is meaningful only in reference to the old. Original thought does not exist in a vacuum’ (1999, p. 315). He goes on to state that ‘without tradition there can be no novelty’ (ibid). One could then argue that a desire to use older technology for certain sorts of creative practice in the studio may not be fully explained solely in terms of technostalgia, sentimentality or a simple desire to return to a glorified past. It may be that older technologies and methods of working have an important place in informing innovative practice in the studio. This paper will present evidence to demonstrate that understanding the basis for [re]appropriating technologies and practices of a previous era informs current innovative studio practice.
This article explores the confluence of nostalgic discourses about popular music and recording and production in practice. It draws on the authors’ involvement in recent recording projects by the band The Chills, whose 1980’s and early 1990’s outputs are credited as being highly influential in the indie rock genre. The article offers new perspectives on the broader context through which technical decisions are made in recording processes, and articulates how these decisions can be understood as compromises that reflect tensions between nostalgic ideological rhetoric, and the demands of production practices in contemporary commercial contexts.
For the first two decades of digital audio, interface metaphors were drawn from their analog ancestors, primarily the multitrack tape recorder, the mixing console and outboard signal processors. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) design incorporated a high degree of skeuomorphism to help transition users from their analog equipment to their digital devices. However, as DAWs evolve new functionality undreamt of in the analog era, new interface metaphors are needed. Designs emanating from the gaming industry provide a glimpse into the future of how users will control DAWs, disposing of the current dominant design motifs of the DAW in favor of more immersive experiences.
Performing Nostalgia On Record: How Virtual Orchestras And YouTube Ensembles Have Problematised Classical Music
The purpose of this article is to discuss how nostalgia for classical music performance traditions has shaped classical recording practice, and also how the use of sound recording technologies is challenging these same nostalgic tendencies. It does so by drawing together key academic literature on classical music recording practice and classical music performance in order to demonstrate their interrelationship. In particular this article looks at how virtuosic live performance is used to reify the tradition of classical music itself, and how this has oriented twentieth century classical sound recording practice around a single aesthetic paradigm, the reproduction of a “concert hall”-like listening experience. An equivalent acoustic construction does not exist in popular music genres, which have adopted variable mix aesthetics in recordings since the 1960s. The article then examines two case studies, and uses them to illustrate the tensions that arise when performance and technology intersect within the classical genres. The case studies are virtual orchestras and YouTube ensembles, each of which problematise traditional notions of classical music performance. What these case studies show is that performance virtuosity, as a marker of quality, has been unsettled by the accessibility of orchestral sonorities and the drive towards participatory cultures of classical music.
Modern practices of isolated listening manifest of mobile creation of privatized sonic worlds speak to and of a history of audile techniques conforming to larger social narratives of societal segregation. Today, we experience headphone and iPod culture as systemic echoes of past private listening techniques manifest in radio and made mobile initially via the automobile. This study argues modern private audile techniques to be self-references of past private listening practices, and in effect, become temporal echoes resonating through the dissemination and cognition of culture. Moreover, within the widespread assimilation of privatized listening, emphasis on record production ‘fidelity’ has suffered as a result of the portability afforded by modern privatizing media experiences.
Tony Swain is a record producer, composer, session musician and A&R consultant. He has been active in the industry for over thirty years. He achieved significant success during the 1980s in a production and song-writing partnership with Steve Jolley, working with acts such as Imagination, Spandau Ballet and Alison Moyet. Their work has subsequently appeared (as direct samples or close emulations of key elements) in records by Mariah Carey, PM Dawn, Boards of Canada, 88 keys (featuring Kanye West) and The Pharcyde. Swain then went on to solo production work as well as A&R consultancy, eventually becoming Head of International A&R for the Universal Music Group. He has been nominated for Ivor Novello song writing and BPI production awards, was awarded a BPI technical excellence award and has also seen his work as executive producer (for Michael McDonald’s Motown recordings) nominated for a Grammy award. This interview took place in 2013, thirty years since the release of the albums True by Spandau Ballet and Night Dubbing by Imagination, which epitomise the contribution made by Tony Swain and Steve Jolley to pop and dance music production in that era.
As the title suggests, this book covers a lot of turf—encompassing the relationship of technology, culture and aesthetics to the practice of studio recording. It limits its range historically by stopping at the LP, which in practical terms takes it up to the early 1970s. The book is meticulously researched and is rich in anecdotes and individual narratives along with relevant names, dates, facts and figures. The stories and attention to detail are critical in helping sustain interest, as much of the broader technological and cultural sweeps will be familiar territory for most researchers in this field.
The practical task of sound recording incorporates many distinct activities. Microphone choice and placement, audio editing and effects processing, mixing, mastering, and the preparation of various different types of physical and online distribution media, are all topics that might fall under this heading, as are planning and running recording sessions, and successfully negotiating interpersonal relations between musicians, engineers, and producers. Add to this the broad range of theoretical knowledge required—on the premises of analogue and digital audio, on acoustics and sound propagation, on stereo imaging, on the physiological and psychological bases of sound perception—and it can readily be seen that the task of addressing the subject of ‘sound recording’ in a book must necessarily involve strict decisions about the range of topics to be covered. Such decisions will invariably involve a trade-off between breadth and detail.
Steve Savage’s latest book Mixing and Mastering in the Box: The Guide to Making Great Mixes & Final Masters on Your Computer is a companion to his 2011 work, The Art of Digital Audio Recording (reviewed in JARP #5) and is intended for a variety of audiences. Not only envisioned as a primary text for students enrolled in recording programs (whether trade, technical, conservatory, or liberal arts based), it would it would also prove to be quite useful for the home recording enthusiast, or musicians hoping to improve their self-recording and mixing chops.
Addressing production in book-length form parallels confronting the multiple options provided by a large multitrack recording console or digital audio workstation. Determining which elements should assume priority in the final mix, and how the primary components can best be integrated to achieve a satisfactory overall result poses enormous challenges for which no uniformly stable template exists. Now in its fourth incarnation, The Art of Music Production by hit producer Richard James Burgess attempts to pinpoint “the essence of music production” (Burgess: 2013, pxi), providing factual and conceptual illumination of an area often shrouded with mystique from the general public’s perspective.