Black Magic: Shaping Audience Conceptions of Recording Practice #arp2016

Black Magic: Shaping Audience Conceptions of Recording Practice

Alan Williams, UMass Lowell


Recording practices were once closely guarded secrets – rarely remarked upon, barely acknowledged. But as public curiosity developed about the ever evolving sounds embodied in recordings, explanations and representations emerged that simultaneously served to reveal and obscure the processes that shaped the music that caught the ear of the listener. This presentation examines the formation of three distinct mythologies – technology as magical wizardry; technology as musical sham; and technology as marker of nostalgic value. In the first thread, audio technology is harnessed by creative geniuses, working in a realm far removed from the normative listener and/ or musician. In the second thread, audio technology is seen as bestowing talent where none exists, manufacturing inherently inauthentic product, and implanting the uncomfortable notion that all musical performance is potentially a sham. The third thread exhibits a selective memory that praises some forms of technology, while rejecting others, often posited as past versus present.
Building upon the work of Barthes, Théberge, Taylor, Keightley, and others, I will analyze media representations of recording practice from literature, film, television, and Internet memes to illustrate how each mythology is constructed and disseminated, and in turn how these mythologies inform the listener’s experience of recorded audio, and musical creation in general.

Alan’s first slide covers mythology and marketing, and he outlines the technological literacies he intends to discuss by playing Jerry Lewis meets the Theremin from The Delinquent Detective (1956):

He speculates that the scary/sci-fi 1950s context of the theremin was possibly a cultural allusion to the scary nature of Elvis, whom Lewis impersonates in the Theremin scene. [Read more…]

Analogue contemporary studio production #arp2016

Questioning progress narratives in contemporary studio production

Joe Watson, PhD candidate, University of Sussex


roland_tr606_lgIn our headlong rush to embrace all thing digital as synonymous with ‘the future’ perhaps we run the risk of forgetting important insights from the past. As contemporary cultures come increasingly under the rubric of ‘the digital’ might there be traction to be gained from a current, practical investigation of ‘the analogue’? This paper presents ongoing practice-based research into recording and production using analogue multi-track tape. The author has many years of experience engineering and/or producing using digital technologies (including Stereolab, High Llamas) and now turns his attention to the DAW’s analogue ‘forebears’ in self-production of his third Junior Electronics solo pop album. Given the skeuomorphic nature of the DAW, and its indebtedness to the legacy of traditional analogue engineering, what insights can be gleaned by engaging with the actual analogue equipment itself? As the DAW increasingly swallows up the whole studio (recorder, mixer, outboard, instruments, personnel) within the ‘square horizon’ (Virilio) of the screen, what can be learn by the digitally literate producer/composer from the extreme constraints of a fully analogue production process? The constraints placed on the making of this album are simple – there shall be no digital audio, or digitisation of audio, at any point in the production of the finished record – the album will be tracked to ½ inch 8 track, mixed to ¼ inch stereo tape and mastered to vinyl. Digital processes and media may be employed for purposes of documentation and demoing. What are the practical effects on the music produced if an artist used to ‘unlimited’ tracks is forced to work with only 8? What are the effects on the production process when editing is restricted to what one can achieve with a razor blade? Given the healthy currency of analogue technologies (vinyl, modular synthesis, cassette labels, traditional tape-based studios (such as Albini’s Electrical Audio)) why is ‘the analogue’ consistently periodised as digital’s early/obsolete ‘other’? This research forms part of the author’s PhD in Musical Composition. Methodology is practice- based, performative and diffractive (Haraway, Barad).

Joe’s presentation opens with a discussion of the semantics of ‘digital’ and the fact that the word can, today, be appended to almost anything. Implicit in the term, as applied, is the idea of superseding the old, analogue, outmoded model (of anything non-digital). He interestingly notes that sales of colouring books have recently increased, and speculates that some people may find an analogue activity appealing after working at a screen all day. [Read more…]

Gamifying Sonic Interfaces #arp2016

Gamifying Sonic Interfaces: an Interactive Music Engine as a Music Production Tool

By Maria Kallionpää & Hans Peter Gasselseder


pic7268039070008702154_maxAugmented- and virtual reality environments (and instruments) are playing an increasingly important role in the classical music culture of today. Even the music genres leaning on a fixed performance tradition have been affected by them. For example, the art of contemporary opera has been influenced by composers´ and stage directors´ search for new modes of expression. The use of augmented reality technologies in a stage performance is part of this development. An illustrative example is Van der Aa´s opera “Sunken Garden”, in which the live action on stage is combined with a 3D projection. Moreover, human-computer interaction has become a vital part of composing: various composers design their own music systems. For example, Karlheinz Essl has created “Sequitur Generator” which he uses in a whole series of interactive compositions. Moreover, his “Lexicon Sonate” is an independent system that can generate music by itself almost infinitely. The purpose of this paper is to provide information on how the interactive music techniques usually associated with computer game music could benefit various music professionals, such as, for example, composers, performers and music producers. We will focus on techniques and technologies used in procedural music. Certain computer game scores and sound installations represent this genre, as well as electronic real-time-based compositions that may or may not require a human performer. In the context of interactive computer games, dynamic music systems directly react to the gamers´ actions. Automatisation challenges the form, rhythm, and harmony in a musical work. Instead of a closed entity, a dynamic music composition is a never-ending story with an infinite number of alternatives; it gets created again in every performance.

Maria begins by outlining the abstract, and states that the project can be applied to two types of object – a ‘fixed’ musical object (where the goal is for the player simply to play the piece accurately) and ‘process’ objects, where a higher degree of interactivity and creativity is required. She also gives us a (long) history of generative music, observing that Mozart and CPE Bach wrote music for dice. [Read more…]

Experiences of remote ‘virtual’ real-time performance #arp2016

Jamming in The 3rd Room: Experiences of remote ‘virtual’ real-time performance and recording.

Zack Moir, Paul Ferguson & Gareth Dylan Smith

inside-front-coverIncreasingly, many of our daily tasks are carried out ‘virtually’ via digital networks, including Skype-calls, video tutorials, and collaborative editing of documents via the ‘cloud’. While these tasks can be undertaken using normal domestic internet connections, issues of latency and poor internet connection make meaningful, real-time musical collaboration problematic and impractical to the point of impossible. However, using Gigabit connections onto National Research and Education Networks such as JANET and GEANT engineers are able to establish extremely high bandwidth and low latency links. This, coupled with LOLA (a low-latency, videoconferencing system) means that engineers and musicians are beginning to find ways to facilitate real-time live performances with remote performers, across long distances. While this has been achieved successfully in a number of cases, the process is still nascent and more research is required to understand the implications, functionality, and limits of such a workflow. This is particularly important, given that companies such as AVID are leading us towards cloud-based music production.
The authors, in their capacities as musicians (Moir and Smith) and sound-engineer/producer (Ferguson) are currently conducting research into the the experience of collaborating musically using LOLA. Our research investigates the impact of this means of working on the musical experiences of collaborators, in a variety of musical contexts. We are exploring the potential for live performance, audio/video realism, integration into future workflow for record production, and teaching/education applications. Additionally, we are interested in exploring the limits of this
system by way of understanding how it may be better deployed and developed for future use. This paper will report on a qualitative study in which the authors present accounts of their musical experiences of remote rehearsal (in Edinburgh, London, and mainland Europe), pre-production, and recording using LOLA, and will discuss implications for future use in remote, real-time, collaborative record production.

[Read more…]

Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) in Popular Music Production #arp2016

An investigation into the motivation behind the use of Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) in Popular Music Production
By Austin Moore, Rupert Till & Jonathan Wakefield



Dynamic range compression (DRC) is a much-used process in music production. Traditionally it was implemented to control the dynamic range of program material to minimize the risk of overloading recording devices. However, over time DRC started to be used as a creative effect in addition to its traditional role as a preventative measure. In a professional recording environment, it is common for engineers to have access to several different types of DRC unit, each with their own purportedly unique sonic signature.
This paper sets out to investigate the following:
Which are the most commonly used types of DRC in popular music production?
Which are the most common music sources to process using these DRC units?
How do music producers describe the sonic signature of DRC?
What are the most common reasons to apply DRC in productions? Is it for dynamic range control or something else?
The research used a mixed methodology of grounded theory and content analysis to extract qualitative and quantitative data from a sample of 100 interviews spanning 14 years. The data came from a series of articles by mix engineers and producers in the magazine Sound on Sound. Content analysis was used to extract data relating to the popularity of compressor types and specific DRC units. Grounded theory was utilized to generate an overarching theory that would help to explain the motivation behind the use of DRC and also to gain insight into how producers described the sonic signature of the DRC process.
This study is part of a larger research project that investigates non-linear processing in music production with a focus on DRC and the 1176 FET compressor.

[Read more…]

The Creation of ‘Paperback Writer’ #ARP2016

Examining the Creation of ‘Paperback Writer’: The Flow of Ideas and Knowledge Between Contributing Creative Systems

Phillip McIntyre & Paul Thompson

I’ve been following both Phillip and Paul’s work for many years; it’s good to see them working together on another paper (here’s a previous one about the Mellotron). Add in the study of songwriters’ creative processes, and this was a must-see paper for me. (Though TBH they had me at Paperback Writer).


From a creative systems view nothing exists in isolation (McIntyre, Fulton & Paton 2016). Consequently, a system such as a system of recording can sometimes appear to operate independently with well-defined boundaries, but it still depends upon other systems (Skyttner 2006, p. 38). There are then multilayered systems within systems in which: ‘a system in one perspective is a subsystem in another. But the system view always treats systems as integrated wholes of their subsidiary components’ (Laszlo 1972, p. 14). This interconnectedness of systems has been illustrated by Arthur Koestler (1975) using the terms ‘holon’ and ‘holarchy’ in which a holon is an aspect of systems that is both a part of something at one scale and, at the same time and at another scale, is itself a whole system. A holarchy is the multilayered heirarchy of these holons. Inside this nested world, system within system, one system is no more or less important than the others operating above or below it. Not only are systems part of these vertically arranged holarchies but they are also often connected horizontally through complex networks of many other similar systems. For example, the system of audio engineering has deep connections horizontally to the system of producing and the system of musicianship. These holons are linked vertically to the broader system of popular record production and at a different scale to the system of western music. This paper explores the scalabilty of creative systems by examining the recording and production of the Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’ (1966). It examines Paperback Writer’s production at the various scales of creative action, exposing some of the creative processes on an individual level and the sharing of ideas and knowledge between the creative group within Studio Three of EMI’s Abbey Road studio. The flow of ideas back and forth between the various contributing vertically and horizontally interconnected systems is also studied to gain a more comprehensive perspective on the creative systems that contribute to the song’s production.

[Read more…]

Recording in the 1960s: the new (Cult)ure of the Studio #arp2016



One day, all conference programmes will look like this.

I’m here in Aalborg, Denmark for the 11th Art of Record Production conference. ARP is one of my favourite conferences, for the following reasons:

  • It’s a good mix of academics and studio practitioners
  • It has an open-access peer-reviewed online journal
  • It consists entirely of techy people, so the PowerPoints and sound systems always work
  • The entire conference programme pack can be carried in your pocket – see photo

Our first keynote speaker St John’s University’s Susan Schmidt Horning (New York). Susan’s research deals with the way musical style is shaped by developments in recording technologies. Her book ‘Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture, and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP’ is known to many ARP delegates.

IMG_1604.JPGSusan’s starting point is the technological, social and cultural upheaval from the 1960s, drawing a line from postwar technologies. Ampex tapes became the industry standard, based on the work of a company that began in Radar research. The major labels – RCA, Decca and Columbia – all began around the mid-20th century. They had a dramatic effect on recorded sound because they were monetising recordings, due in part to the empowerment of a new generation of young people with disposable income who could purchase the new pop product – the single, and later, the album. [Read more…]