Questioning progress narratives in contemporary studio production
Joe Watson, PhD candidate, University of Sussex
In 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…]