Binaurality and stereophony in 60s/70s pop #iaspm2017

Franco Fabbri: Conservatorio di Parma, Università di Milano (Italy)

Binaurality, stereophony, and popular music in the 1960s and 1970s

Mixing desk

In the early days of stereo recording, engineers would often mix without headphones, even if the final mix was intended for binaural listening.

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”! [Read more…]

IASPM 2014: Gendered Taste in Country and Americana Music Communities

Survival, Revival and the Negotiation of Gendered Taste in Country and Americana Music Communities

Dave Robinson, Leeds Beckett University

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn: “The Coal-Miners Daughter”, married at 15 and had 4 children by the age of 20. In the paper presentation we hear “Don’t Come Home a’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” (1967)

ABSTRACT: Defining marginal country music worlds as broadly either working-class survivalist or middle-class revivalist, I examine how counter-hegemonic representations of gender and sexuality have both infiltrated, and been co-opted by, mainstream ‘country culture’ during the early years of the twenty-first century.

I argue that the disruption of traditional gender roles located in the song lyrics and lived experiences of such country icons as Hank Williams and Kitty Wells, highlights a paradox of American working-class identity that takes on new relevance amongst survivalist cultures in the post-industrial, post-9/11 United States. I also connect the ethics and aesthetics of the alt.country/Americana ‘movement’ to the post-modern anxieties of middle-class urbanites, and to the construction of a more democratic narrative of nationhood from amongst the signifiers of a ‘lost’ rural past.

[Read more…]

IASPM 2014: The American Far West of the French Far East: Country Music Fans in Alsace

Elsa Grassy, University of Strasbourg

CoverABSTRACT: The Alsace region, located in the north east of France, is well known for its wines, its storks, and its Christmas Markets as well as its role in the European Union, with twelve of the Parliamentary sessions taking place in Strasbourg every year. What it is less known for is its love of American country music, unmatched by any other French region. This could be explained by specific migration patterns and by the region’s proximity to American military bases in Germany, among other factors.

[Read more…]

IASPM 2014: Vocal Style and the Southern Man

Tim Wise, University of Salford

The Hillbilly/redneck stereotype, as portrayed in Easy Rider (1969)

ABSTRACT: Although America’s south has long been associated with political conservatism and intolerance (e.g. W. J. Cash’s The Mind of the South, 1941), it was only in the 1960s that country music began overtly to express such ideas, provoked by the counter culture’s stance on the war in Vietnam. The appearance at that time of songs defending the military action and extolling patriotism served to reinforce long-held beliefs that both country music and the southern states from which it emerged were reactionary and chauvinistic, strengthening ideas that the south was a world apart.

[Read more…]

IASPM 2014: Pip, Pep, Pap, Pop: Art, Trash, Tin, Trouble

Pip, Pep, Pap, Pop: Art, Trash, Tin, Trouble 

Keir Keightley

ABSTRACT: One of Andy Warhol’s earliest Pop art paintings, “Campbell’s Elvis” (1962) is a visual mash-up that combines two kinds of commercial goods, two kinds of trash: the torn label of an old tin can that once contained Campbell’s Soup and a publicity image of Elvis Presley. Perhaps unwittingly, Warhol here invokes a long chain of signification trailing after the word “pop”: as music; as mass produced, promoted and packaged commodity; as popular art; as trash. A late 19th-century slang expression fora garbage-filled backstreet—a “tin can alley”—helps shape early-20th-century critiques of Tin Pan Alley as an industrial fount of musical rubbish. Likewise, Sousa’s (1906) indictment of “canned music” draws on the tin can’s close associations with tainted food and urban pollution. This paper will explore the materiality and ecology of tin cans and canned music as they relate to critical ideas of “pop”.

“Pop” has a longstanding presence in so-called mass culture, from the beginning of the 19th century, when it names one of the earliest individually-packaged consumer products, “ginger pop”, to late 19th century (e.g., the Boston Pops orchestra), to the early 20th century advent of “popular-priced” or “pop” vaudeville. By c. 1920, “pop” is being applied in its modern sense to “popular music.” However, as Stuart Hall (1981) reminds us, it is in this period the very meaning of “the popular” undergoes significant transformation and re-articulation, resulting in ambiguities and contradictions: does it mean “of” the people? liked by many? distributed widely? dumbed down for mass consumption? Whilst paying attention to the democratic potentials of “pop,” this paper will also recount a story brimming with trash, triviality, and trouble. Understanding the genealogy of this keyword can help situate its ongoing importance to popular music studies, from the notorious rock vs. pop binary to Lady Gaga’s most recent album.

IASPM 2014: Recording the Musical Underworld: John Loder’s Southern Sonic Style

Recording the Musical Underworld: John Loder’s Southern Sonic Style

Southern Studios in 2012, featuring much of the original equipment (engineer Harvey Birrell pictured).

Samantha Bennett, Australian National University

Recording has always been a means of social control, a stake in politics, regardless of the available technologies. – Jacques Attali

I got in touch with John Loder and said, ‘How about us doing a demo?’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ll get an 8-track.’ – Penny Rimbaud

ABSTRACT: In recent years, fora such as The Art of Record Production and scholars including Albin Zak, Mark Cunningham, Greg Milner and David Morton have made significant progress in filling the scholarly void existing between popular music performance and reception. Socio-cultural and analytical works on sound production practice[s] have, however, reinforced a ‘recordist canon’, prioritising the work of 1950s and 1960s pop and rock recordists. However, little acknowledgement has been afforded to the work of later recordists, particularly those working in non-mainstream music[s].

[Read more…]

IASPM 2014: ¿Dónde está: The Creative Role of Alfreda Benge in the Music of Robert Wyatt

¿Dónde está: The Creative Role of Alfred Benge in the Music of Robert Wyatt

Robert and Alfie (the knife is due to the fact that she was chopping onions shortly before the photo was taken, and the image became one of his main publicity shots for the album)

Marcus O’Dair

ABSTRACT: To many journalists, ‘Alfie’ is simply the woman who picks them up from the station when they come to interview her husband—or, at most, the woman who inspired Sea Song. My paper will aim to document Benge’s multi-faceted role, which may be far more active than mere muse. I will examine her role in the studio (drawing on interviews with Wyatt and Benge themselves, as well as with several other musicians and the engineer Jamie Johnson). This paper will discuss Benge’s pivotal role in securing deals (with Virgin, Rough Trade, Hannibal/Ryko and Domino) as Wyatt’s de facto business manager, and her contribution to the visual presentation of his work (she has designed the cover of every album since 1974’s Rock Bottom). Her creative contribution is evident in the work itself; since 1991’s Dondestan, Benge has written lyrics for a number of the songs that appear under her husband’s name. What is the power dynamic that governs their relationship, both professional and personal? Is the critics’ relative neglect of Benge’s contribution due to sexism, or are there other issues at play? To what extent should her album cover be seen as part of Wyatt’s—or Wyatt and Benge’s—artistic output (Machin, 2010)? Finally, what is the relationship between writing, singing and authorship, particularly in relation to the cover versions Wyatt himself records, and the increasing number of other artists who, in turn, cover his songs (Solis, 2010)?

[Read more…]