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”!
Talking tactility: Technology’s influence on ‘feel’ in popular music mixing.
ABSTRACT: One of the final creative stages in the popular music production process is mixing, and often creative brilliance not technical prowess is responsible for mix popularity. The arrival of digital technologies has affected a rapid change in mixing techniques and perhaps the subsequent overuse of various forms of technology can dominate and distract the mixers’ connection to creativity. In this instance technology should be an extension of consciousness, because mixing is a form of synesthesia and mixers should attempt to connect to creativity and emotion through their mix system. This author theorizes mixers can connect to the emotive paradigm of music via a personalized system designed around a preference of tactility and a sense of ‘feel’ when mixing. Therefore, this paper uses a qualitative comparative investigation into the popular music mixing process. This exploratory experiment involved five participants, who mixed two songs each, with varying forms of technology and tactility. The participants completed a questionnaire after the experiment so comparative data regarding the mixing experience was collected. Mix results were analyzed by the author and a thematic analysis supported by professional research completed the study.
[ABSTRACT ONLY – with apologies to Brendan for arriving late – the last few minutes that I saw sparked a fascinating discussion in the room].
I walked out of a gig last week. The bands were well-rehearsed and the front of house engineers were doing a good job. The venue was great and I was amongst friends, colleagues and students. But I walked out because I couldn’t stand the physical pain of being an audience member in that room any longer.
The gig in question was a showcase of songwriting talent (of which, say it ourselves, there is quite a lot at the University). For most of the performers, it was the first time these particular songs had been played in public. New lyrics, new melodies, new arrangements and new ideas for an audience to experience – and for the performers to reflect on and refine. Creativity in action. Exciting stuff.
Except that it wasn’t. There was no opportunity to experience the lovingly crafted lyric metaphors, exquisite keyboard melodies, subtle drum grooves and carefully programmed laptop soundscapes that the bands had worked so hard on in their writing and rehearsal sessions. Because a Fender guitar amp was one metre out of place.