There’s a news story right now about the ‘Happiest Christmas song’, a commerical research project I was asked to undertake recently to provide statistics about the characteristics of the UK’s favourite Christmas songs (Spotify streams, Christmas 2016). It resulted in the following song, penned by the remarkable Harriet Green and Steve Anderson, two super-talented and mega-credited UK songwriters. The song is below – I think it came out great, but judge for yourself.
Academics who are interested – here’s the analysis paper – a simple list of musical and lyric traits by popularity, with some speculative commentary about cultural trends (complete with extra-Christmassy red and green data charts). There’s also a ‘making of’ video at the bottom of this post.
Bennett, Joe (2017). Musical and Lyric Traits in the UK’s favourite Christmas songs. Boston/online. joebennett.net.
Here’s the behind the scenes video of the recording session, with commentary from songwriter Harriet Green.
Bill Brunson, Royal College of Music, Stockholm
[JB note – I type this sitting under the Sound Dome in ‘Lilla Salen’, one of the Royal College’s lecture theatres. It appears to be an array of 13, 8 and 4 speakers arranged in concentric circles above a non-raked 100-ish seater auditorium in a large black box space, with options additional floor-level speakers in a circle. We can also see a big stereo FOH ceiling PA and four subs in the corners of the space. I’m sure we’ll hear more – in both senses of the phrase – soon].
Bill begins with a description of his own background, and like many at ARP he traces his first inspiration back to the moment he first heard the Beatles. He tells stories about his enthusiasm for acquisitiveness in audio, having recently bought three SSL desks after using one for a particular session in an opera house (he notes that, as a Texan, he believes everything should be big).
Read More “The Sound Dome at KMH #arp #arp2017”
Kai Arne Hansen: Interpreting Sound Recordings in a Time of Media Convergence: Aesthetics, Technologies, and the Migratory Behavior of Audiences
Abstract: While recent technological developments have led to a range of new possibilities for the recording, production, and distribution of sound recordings, equally significant changes have ensued with regard to audiences’ usages and experiences of music. These changes concern not only how we access and listen to sound recordings, but also how we make sense of them.
In light of what Henry Jenkins (2006) has described as the migratory behavior of media audiences, this paper considers the multi-modality of our present-day music experiences. By attending to the primacy of the artist persona in a contemporary pop music context, I call attention to how sound recordings are interpreted vis-á-vis other pop commodities and discourses surrounding the artist. I suggest that, as the representational strategies that promote and aestheticize the artist persona across multiple platforms become increasingly pervasive and sophisticated, listeners become accustomed to enriching their musical experiences by seeking out additional content and information through various media. By merging recent theories of intermediality and transmediality with a critical musicological approach to interpretation, I attempt to demonstrate how symbols and signs dispersed across multiple media platforms are aggregated in the experiences of listeners and fans. To this end, I focus on the recent output of one commercial pop artist to take up how recorded sound operates alongside other media content to imbue our musical experiences with various meanings.
Kar begins with a statement: present-day modes of consumption are now accessed mainly online, and he cites the recent increase in the proportion of streaming vs other formats, with streaming now being (per RIAA) the dominant distribution medium for music. He cites several scholars who point out that media convergence is not purely a technological defined phenomenon – it is effectively a form of ‘audience migration’.
Read More “Sound recordings & media convergence #arp #arp2017”
Tor Halmrast: Sam Phillips: Slap Back Echo, Luckily in Mono
Abstract: “Slap back echo” was created by Sam Phillips for Elvis Presley´s early Memphis recordings. Using cepstrum and autocorrelation, we find that the tape delay used in Sun Studios was 134-137 ms, which is so long that the echo is perceived as a single, distinct echo in the time domain, and not the comb filter coloration of timbre in the frequency domain defined as Box-Klangfarbe. Such coloration would be perceived if a distinct, separate, reflection gave a comb filter with a distance between the teeth (CBTB: Comb-Between-Teeth-Bandwidth) comparable to the critical bandwidth along the basilar membrane in the cochlea. When Elvis changed to RCA Victor´s studio in Nashville, “RCA was anxious to recreate the “slapback” echo…To add them to Elvis’ vocals Chet [Atkins] and engineer Bob Farris created a pseudo “echo chamber” by setting up a speaker at one end of a long hallway and a microphone at the other end and recording the echo live”. Analysis of these recordings gives that the echo is somewhat shorter (114 ms and 82 ms), and much more diffuse, so “slap echo” was not actually recreated. The main findings is that even though the delay time of the Sun Studio “slap tape echo” is long, the echo is still perceived as rather “close”, because the echo is in mono. Panned in stereo, the feeling of being inside a small room would disappear. In addition, we analysed also a shorter delay, as for a possible reflection from the floor of the studio back to the singer´s microphone. These results are more unclear, but we found that such shorter delay would have given Box-Klangfarbe, but if this actually was a floor reflection, the measured deviation of the delay time must mean that the singer moved his head during the recordings (a highly reasonable assumption for Elvis!)
[JB note: Tor’s presentation was outstanding, but it was also extremely technical in terms of physics and data, so I’m not sure I fully did it justice with this live blog post. With this limitation in mind, I’ve posted several of his slides to help the more technical reader].
Tor begins (after a disclaimer that he is not an Elvis fan) with some background about Sun Studios and their recording environment, and some technical analyses of slapback parameters – comb filtering, phase, delay and frequency. We hear the delay from Heartbreak Hotel, leading into a more detailed discussion of how a very short delay creates comb filtering. If you are 1.751m from a wall, ou get a time delay of 10ms, and a Comb Between Teaath Bandwidth (CBTB) of 100Hz. Importantly it is not possible to get rif of this effect with EQ. So if you put a source/mic this close to a wall you will hear this artefact.
Read More “Slapback echo #arp #arp2017”
Alex Case: Oops, Do It Again – Gated Reverb From the 80s to Today
Abstract: Among the more absurd sonic concoctions to come out of the recording studio, gated reverb offers a unique aesthetic possible only through loudspeaker-mediated sound. Born in the 80s, it relied upon creative, even counterintuitive application of some of the newest signal processing technologies of the time. The genesis of gated reverb was part discovery, and part invention. Its further development was motivated by rebellion, and confusion. Peter Gabriel did it first, with “Intruder” (1980). Phil Collins made it famous, with “In the Air Tonight” (1980). But David Bowie likely inspired it all with tracks like “Sound and Vision” (1977). This paper tours the development of gated reverb, with audio illustrations showing when, how, and why. What began as a radical reshaping of timbre has evolved into a more subtle form. Gated reverb remains relevant in contemporary music production, not just for 80s pastiche, but as a tool for overcoming masking through the strategic leveraging of its unique psychoacoustic properties.
We begin with the world’s most famous example of gated reverb – the drum fill from ‘In The Air Tonight” and Alex comments… “Before texting, this is what caused cars to swerve”. We then look a signal path diagram and see transient images describing the dynamic properties of a compressed and gated reverb.
Read More “Gated Reverb 80s to today #arp #arp2017”
Stereo to 5.1–Creating an Immersive fold-out
Paul Novotny, York University, Toronto
Abstract: Look Ahead is a jazz piano and bass, duo recording of performance-music, tracked, mixed and mastered at 24 bit/96khz for stereo and 5.1 playback. Esoteric microphones and pre-amps contributed tonal diversity and contrary to standard practice, the stereo mix was folded-out to 5.1, rather than folded-down to stereo. It was pre-determined that a “sympathetic openness” in the playing and sound was a desirable aesthetic, thus the “performance oriented” physical setup was a blending of the traditional Oscar Peterson and modern Keith Jarrett piano/bass set ups. These choices set forth a coherent foundation toward an intimate, immersive and dynamic performance recording. The stereo sound-field begins at the phantom center position of bass and the 5,1 mix builds outward, maintaining a natural coherence between both versions. The upright bass was recorded with a carefully centered stereo ribbon microphone, a mono hyper-cardioid condenser and a “DI”— the piano utilized two outside mics (U87’s), providing a cohesive center image that is blended into an inside-placed “ultra-wide-stereo” Calrec-Soundfield mic, limited to approximately 90% of pan-width, reserving the outer L/R edges for reflections and reverb. Multiple reverbs were mixed and panned to avoid a dead-spot between the R-RS and the L-LS. Since there are no drums this “chamber” became a featured participant of the ensemble, providing unexpected and contrasting responses to percussive attacks.
The conclusion asserts that a stereo sound stage built on traditional performance and recording values provide a connecting foundational coherence when folding-out. A stereo to 5.1 fold-out, rather than a “5.1 fold-down”, offers additional immersive enhancement—specific to 5.1—resulting in diverse custom masters that share strong foundational innate commonality.
Paul begins with an anecdote of the first time he ever heard surround sound at a live performance, and he recounts the experience of looking for a sense of ‘ensemble’ when hearing early surround mixes. His creative goal with this project was to discover what his own music might sound like engineered properly in 5:1, and, as a researcher, to undertake a comprehensive autoethnographic case study and document the process.
Read More “Stereo to 5.1 – Immersive fold-out #arp #arp2017”
Differences and Similarities in the Creative Agency of Producers of Pop, Rock and Classical Music
Tuomas Auvinen, University of Turku
Abstract: In my presentation, I will explore differences and similarities in the creative agency of the producer in the production process of urban pop music produced in a home studio, rock music produced in a conventional studio facility and classical concert hall music produced in a concert hall setting. Starting from the premise of record production being a collaborative effort, I approach agency as the capacity to make and effect decisions within a structure or even to alter it to some extent, and creativity as contributing to the domain of existing works through exercising aesthetic decision-making. Based on these understandings of agency and creativity, I will examine how different cultures in different production settings and different studios conceived as cultural spaces affect the construction of the producer’s agency within creative communities in the production process. Furthermore, I will discuss how differences in understandings of the ontology of the music contribute to the level of creativity, i.e. the contribution to the domain of existing works, that a producer agent can possess. I base my presentation on extensive ethnographic fieldwork of three case studies on production processes, which took place in the course of 2015-2017. The presentation will summarize and discuss some of the central findings of my forthcoming PhD dissertation. This presentation is intended to be in the short presentation format.
Tuomas’s PhD research, which is nearing completion this year, relates to music producers – what kind of creative agents are they, and how is creative agency formed in production environments?
Read More “Producers of Pop, Rock and Classical Music #arp #arp2017”
Phil Harding & Paul Thompson: Collective Creativity in Commercial Pop Music Production: A Service Model
Abstract: In his introduction to The Art of Record Production: An Introductory Reader for a New Academic Field (Frith & Zagorski-Thomas, 2012), Simon Frith proposed that producers in pop and dance music genres have a significantly different role to music producers in other music genres such as rock. A prominent difference is that pop music producers are often part of a production team that involves direct collaboration and participation with songwriters, programmers, musicians, artists, management and record company representatives. Pop music songwriting and production teams are therefore more frequently part of a larger creative collective (Hennion, 1990) in creating a musical product. The following paper describes the creative production workflow system at Pete Waterman Ltd. (PWL) Studios during the 1980s and investigates the way in which Phil Harding and Ian Curnow (P&E) worked with manager and entrepreneur, Tom Watkins in the 1990s. Drawing upon a series of interviews and data gathered during an extended ethnographic and auto ethnographic study, this paper presents the pop music ‘service’ model, which underlines collectivist rather than individualist thinking and illustrates how evaluation is present (and co-current) at the ideation stage in the generation of creative ideas (Sawyer, 2003) at various stages of the commercial pop songwriting and production process.
Phil begins with his personal bio, as a producer-engineer with (PWL) Stock, Aitken and Waterman in the 1980s and 1990s, and uses this as context for Paul’s description of this research, which deals with pop production and agency. This area, he says, is relatively underpresented in musicology research. He references Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital and Csikszentmihalyi’s Systems Model [JB comment – IMO this is particularly applicable to pop, given the market forces acting on creators]. Paul also cites Susan Kerrigan’s 2013 adaptation of Csikszentmihalyi’s Systems Model to be more applicable to a wider range of creative systems.
Read More “Collective Creativity in Commercial Pop #arp #arp2017”
The producer’s vision: A study into the multi- faceted cognitive design of the popular music recording aesthetic
Brendan Anthony, Griffith University
Abstract: Research into popular music record production and its associated creative practice has highlighted that a song’s production is often influenced by a multitude of stimuli and these can be musically, sonically and socio-culturally diverse. Technology’s influence on musical aesthetics is also at the forefront of scholarly investigations because the democratization of recording technology suggests that the musical spaces producers operate in have changed. Artistic direction however, is still the producer’s responsibility and the current landscape for record production is filled with a multitude of creative practice options that shape the recording aesthetic. These can include live or overdubbed performances and electronic programming versus acoustic instrumentation and when combined with technological choices these decisions ultimately frame the creative stages of pre-production, recording, and mixing. So how does the producer ensure a production process that engages appropriate influences, and subsequently manifests a suitable musical result?
This paper theorizes that the producer’s vision is the constant underpinning of the production rationale and therefore this subsequently designs the recording process and affects musical and sonic aesthetics. It is here that the producer uses multi-modal perception to target genre related outcomes of musicality and the sonic palate, and nurture the capturing of appropriate performances. However the paper argues that this cognitive vision is an individualised trait that is inspired by a ‘field of knowledge’ from which producers innovate. This paper reports on a qualitative investigation into the producer’s vision via a survey of five producers whose experience range from national success in Australia to international acclaim. The paper demonstrates how the data analysis unpacks the discourse surrounding the producer’s vision and is supported by research from the fields of creativity, musicology and popular music production.
Brendan begins by siting his personal research within the producer’s ‘vision’, and he opens with a clip from the movie Begin Again, which describes the producer’s thoughts as he hears a low-key live performance and mentally adds instruments.
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For the first time ever, this ARP opens with a rather lovely piano recital by our hosts, which serves as a (surprisingly romantic) introduction to our keynote speaker, Swedish producer Bernard Löhr (discog).
Bernard greets us by noting that he has two great interests – recording music, and cars. He promises to focus on music today, and talk about cars only if time allows!
Read More “Keynote: Bernard Löhr #arp #arp2017”
Welcome to Sweden! For the next three days I’ll be at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, which is hosting the 12th Art of Record Production conference. As before there will be live blogs from some of the sessions, and I’ll be presenting my own paper later today. More to follow – see #arp hastag.