Producing the Modern.

Since the 60’s, “jazz culture” has been in constant distress attempting to come to terms with the what trends would be considered a development of the genre; especially as so many new musicians challenged widely held conventions. Not surprisingly, the same long standing point of contention has also caused a rift in the philosophy of how to properly capture, record, and produce a jazz recording. Does the belief in natural/pure performance necessarily mean that the recordist must be completely minimalist in his approach. Does the mix stage of the production loose value? The attitude of a large majority of mix engineers reflects the ideology that the ideal jazz recording is a stark and true representation of the performance so as not to get in the way or alter the intended dynamics of the group. This, of course, varies quite considerably when considering the many different styles but is a widely held stereotype none-the-less. Compared to the pillars the of modern pop recording (such as the Lord-Alge brothers, Brendan O’Brien, and Andy Wallace) the jazz recordist may seem elementary in his/her mixing approach and must instead be a master of the tracking session primarily. However, this is simply wrong. What is not understood is the necessity of interpretation. The carefully crafted and fragile performance will loose all emotional intensity when translated onto loudspeakers without the skills of the engineer. This is what makes audio engineering a true art-form; the engineer who believes that a lack of production on a jazz record is always the best way to convey the artistry of the performance is acting on a pretentious thought process. Necessity must govern the recordists art. As Wagner states, “art is born out of necessity” and the recording process is its own form of communication. If the recording truly benefits from minimal mixing then that is what is appropriate. However, in the contemporary studio environment the performance may often benefit from an extensive mix; whether this “extensive” mix is subtle or aggressive is the actual question. Sweetening and trimming may involve considerable editing and processing but is not easily heard as a defining element of the recording. On the other hand, aggressive mix moves which can be audibly identified by the average listener are often reserved for pop music. With jazz in its current state the aggressive mix and use of modern recording techniques (such as full isolation during tracking) is becoming a more necessary element in the development of jazz in popular culture. Young audiences do not crave antiquity but appreciate culture through entertainment which invokes response/reaction; and recordings are the primary form of musical dissemination. How could the whispers of the quartet be expected to move the young listener unless they are amplified to stand next to the overbearing and often laughable trends of popular music today. The fear and bitterness that emanates from many traditionalists are the weaknesses that such a powerful music must overcome. If jazz hopes to survive as an influential art form, not only must the music advance but the production as well.


Producers and the Band.

Often, the relationship between producer and artist can be appropriately described as strained. Creativity, job roles, live sound, and the finality of a recorded project tends to causes personalities to pop out once in while, and this is when the tension starts. The producer, looking at the band as a disorganized jumble of creative potential may sometimes feel the need to take too much control over the project and insert him/herself in an intrusive way. On the other hand, the band, never lacking ego, charges forward in whatever way they are turned, and more often than not, lacks the fines, patience and creative maturity that masters of the classical arts are so well known for.

Being around rock venues and young Boston bands you start to get a feeling of mutual disrespect that lingers in the space between “sound guys” and musicians. Both understand that without each other, the other would not exist, especially in modern technoculture. But they view each other as necessary evils that exist simply to push the Sisyphean boulder back down the mountain in the endless ups and downs of their struggles in the music business. In other words, they are the sources of continuous contention and struggle in an already heartbreaking business.

When such an environment becomes too strenuous, one may find a solution in the one place where solutions often lie; the past. With the modern influx of affordable recording equipment, digital workstations, synths, loops, and terrible sound quality encoding, the amount of bad “musicians” rose while the jobs for trained technology professionals dwindled. Musicians lost sight of producers and producers lost sight of good musicians as the studios started to close and wannabe DJs flooded the market with crappy Garageband beats.

When you get right down to it, the great recordings have been a result of a relationship; a relationship between individuals who held the music as the highest goal and recognized when personal aspirations were getting in the way. The engineer must be a competent musician in his own right with the ability to read scores, improvise, and talk intelligently/passionately about the technicalities and visceral properties of a performance. Likewise, the musician must be patient and humble enough to work with professionals in the recording field and should have a proficient understanding of the technology that is eternalizing their performance.

The following is a video of Janis Joplin and her band in the studio working with their producer/engineer. While there are disagreements, the importance is that there is real dialogue between professionals.

The only known recording of Sigmund Freud’s voice

Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939), was an Austrian neurologist who became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis. He spent the last year of his life in Britain, before succumbing to jaw cancer. Even though he had trouble speaking because of the unbearable pain due to his cancer, A BBC radio crew managed to get a recording of him speaking on Dec 7, 1938. Here’s a transcript of what he said:

I started my professional activity as a neurologist trying to bring relief to my neurotic patients. Under the influence of an older friend and by my own efforts, I discovered some important new facts about the unconscious in psychic life, the role of instinctual urges, and so on. Out of these findings grew a new science, psychoanalysis, a part of psychology, and a new method of treatment of the neuroses. I had to pay heavily for this bit of good luck. People did not believe in my facts and thought my theories unsavory. Resistance was strong and unrelenting. In the end I succeeded in acquiring pupils and building up an International Psychoanalytic Association. But the struggle is not yet over.

hehh..heheh..hehhehh, he said “urges“.

Cryoacoustic orb

Cryoacoustic Orb is a sound installation involving multiple illuminated acrylic orbs filled with slowly melting ice. Hydrophones frozen inside the ice amplify the sounds of the melting process, which are electronically processed and spatialized throughout the darkened gallery space. The result is a unique ambient soundscape that evolves over the course of several hours.

This is a short clip – just turn up your volume, and throw it in the background while you browse.

The audio camera

This is a product that I just want to love, but can’t quite “get” it.  It just seems like a handheld audio recorder, but I so want it to be much more.

Laurence Veitch’s Audio Focus is an audio recording device, which utilises parallels in the cameras and photography of the 60’s and 70’s as a way of capturing cherished moments and evoking further appreciation of our surroundings. The product is aimed at anyone who might also be interested in snapshot photography for nostalgia’s sake and those who would care to deepen their experience of sound as a sensory input.

If you can figure it out, please let us all know in the comments.  More on the audio camera here.

Record player that translates the rings of a tree into sound

“Years” is a Schmiede Hallein exhibit by Bartholomäus Traubeck, a native of Munich, Germany, currently residing in Rotterdam, Netherlands and Linz, Austria.  It’s an art installation that translates the year rings from a slice of wood into music.

This video shows the record player in action:

Bartholomäus explains:

A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

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