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.

Panel – recording aesthetics #arpOslo2014

IMG_0807Panel – Amy Blier-Carruthers, Royal Academy of Music; Phil Harding, PJ Music Ltd; Pytten Hundvin, Norwegian Record Producer and Sound Engineer; Serge Lacasse, Université Laval; Susan Rogers, Berklee College of Music; Simon Zagorski-Thomas, University of West London. Moderator: Alan Williams, University of Massachusetts Lowell.

We begin this panel with a discussion of ‘pet hates’ in recording. The panel rises to the task impressively. Some hates include the loudness wars and issues of track compression (Pytten); horrible tracking rooms in the interests of authenticity; being precious about your ideas and resisting stretching them (Susan); and the boxy frequencies between 400Hz and 900Hz (Phil – “can anyone in this room tell me a good reason for boosting these frequencies, and tell me what instrument to do it on?”).

Vintage Instruments and Retro Technology in Popular Music Culture #arp13

Röyksopp – keeping it vintage – but why?

ZEINER-HENRIKSEN, HANS T. (University of Oslo)

Vintage Instruments and Retro Technology in Popular Music Culture

[abstract] On the cover of the Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp’s 2009 album Junior, Svein Berge is carrying a Korg SB100 synthesizer from 1975, while his partner Torbjørn Brundtland is holding a vinyl record. At concerts and in interviews regarding their production techniques the duo also emphasizes their use of a 1978 Korg MS synthesizer. Röyksopp exposes and celebrates instruments and a technology that in many ways are outdated – they may use these analogue synthesizers together with samples from old vinyl records, but the digital computer with a sequencer and software instruments is definitely playing a more central role in their productions. The celebration of old technology seems to be important even in music genres where a rather modern sound is being produced. I will discuss this fascination with old technology and ask whether it is stable and lasting, or constantly changing as David Pattie argues concerning the discourses on authenticity in rock culture (Pattie 2007). All types of technology or old instruments are not celebrated in the same manner. Using Wiebe E. Bijker’s theory of sociotechnical change (Bijker 1997), I will investigate processes within genres that lead one instrument or a type of technology into an elevated “vintage” position, and discuss to what extent its position is established once and for all or if it is an area of constant change and modification.

Hans begins with some audio from Parliament’s ‘Do That Stuff’ followed by Røoyksopp’s ‘Happy Up Here’ (see whosampled link);

Brazilian electronica of César Camargo Mariano & Prisma: hybridization or tradition? #arp13

Many, many keyboards were required for the Prisma project


The “Brazilian electronica” of César Camargo Mariano and Prisma (1984-7): hybridization or tradition?

[abstract] In 1984, keyboardist César Camargo Mariano proposed the adoption of electronic musical instruments and MIDI systems in a Brazilian popular music repertoire. The successful first concert seasons in São Paulo led to a long-term project, named Prisma, which has been extended over the next thirty months encompassing the recording of two albums, each one followed by a nationwide concert tour. The main feature of the music was the mix of typically Brazilian musical elements with electronic sounds never heard attempted before in the country due to trade barriers on musical instrument imports and the unfamiliarity of local musicians with the new studio and stage practices. In spite of the fact that the Prisma participants focused on expanding the sound palette of a previously existing tradition, they eventually dealt with matters such as non-tempered noises as music composition materials, sequencer programming, tape editing and sound design. Hence one can ask about the nature of that concoction and its products. Would they fit perfectly within the borders of a previously constituted aesthetic territory or place themselves in an intermediate zone defined by indefinability and multiplicity? This last option leads us to the concept of hybridization, frequently approached by authors under a national perspective. Starting from the statement that there is no cultural purity but stabilized cultural traditions, this paper proposes a concept of cultural hybridization based on an intersection of texts and studies, to investigate a possible hybrid state resulting from the presence and influence of electronica in the music of Prisma.

The UK Sound: British Hip Hop Production Practice #arp13

Diggin’ in the crates

STEVENSON, ALEX (Leeds Metropolitan University)
The UK Sound: British Hip Hop Production Practice

[abstract only] The emergence of localised sub-genres of Hip Hop around the world has been well documented, however the genre of UK Hip Hop (or British Hip Hop) has been largely overlooked in scholarly research. Although largely an underground music scene with very limited commercial success, UK Hip Hop has been recognized as being pivotal in the development of the more commercially successful genres of Grime, Trip Hop and Drum’n’Bass. Existing research into UK Hip Hop has often been from a cultural or sociological perspective, and although there is existing research analysing the compositional approach of Turntablist groups within in UK, little research exists into the production processes of UK Hip Hop.

Whilst many UK Hip Hop producers acknowledge the influence of American producers in the development of their style of production, there is recognition of UK Hip Hop having its own unique sonic characteristics. This uniqueness has been attributed to the experimental nature of the genre, partly due to its underground status, and its incorporation of a wide range of other musical genres.

This paper aims to identify and explore the unique aspects of UK Hip Hop through analysis of the composition and production processes. Through the use of interviews with key UK Hip Hop producers, and the sonic analysis of key musical works, this research will focus on three key themes which impact on the production process; these are:

  • Access to and utilisation of technology

  • The influence of specific US Hip Hop producers

  • The integration of elements of other music genres

1967: the year of the “Ambient Machine”: (Italian film sound post-production) #arp13

Fellini was one of many Italian film directors to use the Ambient Machine for background foley after 1967.

MEANDRI, ILARIO (University of Turin)

1967: the year of the “Ambient Machine”: Local adaptation of global technologies in the Italian film sound post-production process of the late Sixties

Ilario Meandri academic profile

[JB note – this was a Skype-in session. Kinda weird at first, but as with all videoconferencing we all settled into it pretty quickly. Ilario did a great job communicating his paper through the tricky medium of live streaming video – especially as his subject was cinema foley!]

[abstract only] One of the main revolutions of the sound post production process in the Italian cinema of the late Sixties was the birth of independent Foley studios. Before 1963-1964 ca. foleys were employed as freelance artists working at the Foley-stages of the sound post production facilities in Rome. By the end of 1965 the Foley artists formed a cartel and founded a new independent business. The new Foley companies would now provide to the studios all the required post-production sound effects: Foley-stage sounds (hereinafter: FFX), non-sync ambient sounds loops (AFX) and moviola-synchronized special sound effects (SFX) – the last two had previously been the responsibility of the film’s editor or/and the direct-sound editor. This novelty led rapidly to a series of technical and process innovations. The first noteworthy one is the foundation of the Foley AFX and SFX sound archives. Over the following years, in building AFX and SFX for movies by Fellini, Leone, Risi, Rosi, Petri, Pasolini, and Monicelli – to cite but a few – Foley companies formed the core of the new archives which ended up by becoming one of the richest and finest sound collections in the world.

AHRC Research Network on Performance in the Studio (PitS)

AHRC Research Network on Performance in the Studio (PitS)

  • ZAGORSKI-THOMAS, SIMON (London College of Music, UK)
  • BLIER-CARRUTHERS, AMY (Royal College of Music, UK)
  • WILLIAMS, ALAN (University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA)
  • HOWLETT, MIKE (Queensland University of Technology)

[abstract] This session would be a presentation of the results from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council funded network that has been run in conjunction with the Association for the Study of the Art of Record Production. The session would include presentations from five of the researchers involved in the network plus the producer of the recording session that was studied, followed by a discussion of the way that this research contributes to performance and production pedagogy and practice and how the project will continue after the funding term is over.

The project involves the documentation (with video and audio of the event, participant interviews and the session files from the recording) of a recording session held in Dec 2012 and produced by Mike Howlett. The session involves a singer / songwriter, a rhythm section and a string quartet and the aim is to study the way the musicians work in the studio – as distinct from the way they work in rehearsal and in concert. The project involves three weekend colloquia and an online conference as well as the recording session itself whereby the network members and a group of invited guests examine and discuss the issues that arise from the session. The network members will study the session from a variety of perspectives: performance studies, ethnomusicology, phenomenology, communication studies, historiography, the analysis of micro-timing, Actor-Network Theory and Systems Theory among others. A further unique feature of the project is that the video and audio content will be made available via the Art of Record Production website to allow other researchers to build on the work started by the network members.

Dr. Amy Blier-Carruthers, Dr. Alan Williams and Dr. Simon Zagorski-Thomas will each give a presentation on their own particular analytical perspective on the project. Work by the other members of the network, Prof. Anne Danielsen (University of Oslo, Norway), Prof. Mine Dogantan-Dack (University of Middlesex, UK) and Prof. Morten Michelsen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), will be available on the ARP website. Mike Howlett, the producer of the session, will also be present to discuss his reaction to the research outcomes and his experience of the process.

For more about the project, see this link.