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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
Franco Fabbri: Conservatorio di Parma, Università di Milano (Italy)
Binaurality, stereophony, and popular music in the 1960s and 1970s
ABSTRACT: Stereophonic headphones were first marketed in the USA in 1958. Binaural listening (via headphones) became one of the favourite ways for fans to listen to rock albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Stereophonic mixes, however, were not necessarily designed for binaural listening. Sound engineers rarely used headphones, and generally preferred to mix without wearing them, with some explaining that they couldn’t get a proper balance if they didn’t listen to the studio monitors. Often they would listen to the result of a mix with cheap shelf loudspeakers, or even car loudspeakers, claiming that those would be the most common sound sources used by the audience; strangely enough, headphones were not used for this purpose in the studio. While the association and historical overlap of stereophonic mixes, advances in studio technology and consumer audio, and the rise of psychedelia and progressive rock have been commented (more in accounts on or by individual artists/bands/producers than in general terms) the issues of binaurality, of stereophony, and of their relations with popular music has seldom been explored. The paper will focus on the musicological aspects of binaurality and stereophony, both at poiesic and aesthesic levels.
Franco opens with a history of the study of binaurality, leading us to the development of stereo audio in the 50s/60s, which provided two [and this is key to what follows] separate channels. He makes the point about the difference between binaural listening on headphones (which separates the signals completely) and binaural listening (which includes phase/delay between the signals). In the earliest experiments in binaurality, headphones were used first – and listeners considered headphones more ‘realistic’ than speaker-based stereo. Headphones were also not an option in the early days of cinema (he cites Disney’s Fantasia as one of the earliest movies with 2 channel sound)… because of the social aspect. Franco illustrates “it was difficult to kiss your loved one in the cinema wearing headphones”!
Daniel Akira Stadnicki: University of Alberta, Canada
Towards a ‘Global Folk’ Drumming Pedagogy?: Percussive Innovations and Legacies in Swedish Folk Music
ABSTRACT: This paper explores the drumming and percussion techniques found in Nordic ‘global folk’ music (Hill, 2007), emphasizing some of the pedagogical questions, issues, and opportunities that emerged in this research. Concentrating primarily on the ‘innovationist’ branch (Kaminsky 28-30; 2012) of Swedish folk music and the work of drummer Petter Berndalen, this presentation expands upon some of the key features of contemporary Nordic folk drumming as potential resources for ‘world’ drum kit performance and instruction. These include: timbre as a pedagogical resource; the subordination to melody instruments; and the distinct melodic rhythm of the polska as a radical drumming paradigm. This presentation will incorporate stylistic analyses, interviews with Swedish and Norwegian folk drummers, and reflections on my own performance-practice (including brief demonstrations). Drummers are often musical outliers in many established folk traditions, and drumming—particularly in trap/kit configurations—remains an overlooked topic in folk/roots music scholarship. However, Nordic drummers have crafted unique ways of accompanying folk musicians, generating new percussive traditions, often on modified kits using mounted and hand- held tambourines. Through highlighting the work and oral histories of Nordic folk drummers, this paper will contribute new research on folk musicianship and music pedagogy.
Hill, Juniper. “Global Folk Music” Fusions: The Reification of Transnational Relationships and the Ethics of Cross-Cultural Appropriations in Finnish Contemporary Folk Music,” in Yearbook for Traditional Music 39 (2007), 50-83.
Kaminsky, David. Swedish Folk Music in the Twenty-First Century: On the Nature of Tradition in a Folkless Nation (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012).
After a brief contextual intro, we see a selection of kits, which include traditional kits, augmented with djembes, cajons, plus various Indian and Japanese drums etc.