introchapter 1chapter 2Interlude Achapter 3chapter 4chapter 5Interlude Bchapter 6chapter 7chapter 8Interlude Cchapter 9chapter 10chapter 11chapter 12chapter 13
Interlude C
Print this page
  • Rock music is recordings of songs
    • The "audio snapshot"
      1. Recordings made of live concert performances in real time
      2. Recordings made of performances in studios in real time
        • Originally all recordings were made in real time: capturing the performance
        • Goal: make the recording sound as close to a live performance as possible
      3. This approach is more common with classical, jazz, and folk music
    • The studio "assembly" approach
      1. Instruments are combined in ways that don't work in natural acoustic settings
        • An acoustic guitar
        • Drums
        • Distorted electric guitar
      2. An early example is the recordings by Les Paul and Mary Ford
        • Paul assembled the tracks individually
        • The recording is a consequence of the technology used to create it
      3. Rock music has relied on this process more than the "audio snapshot" process
        • Exploiting the possibilities of the studio
        • Live performance technology developed out of studio technology beginning in the 1970s
        • Result: possibility of combining more sounds in a live setting
  • Artificial reality: Processing the recordings to sound realistic
    • Reverb
      1. The principle behind reverb (reverberation)
        • Sound is vibrations moving through the air
        • Vibrations come from the sound source directly to our ears
        • These vibrations travel outward from the sound source in all directions
        • Vibrations reflect off all surfaces in the room and reach our ears after the original sound
        • The more porous the surfaces, the less reflection of sound
        • The delayed reflections of sound are called reverberation
      2. All concert halls are designed to create an ideal amount of reverberation that enhances the music
      3. This is a science—the science of acoustics
      4. Every room has different acoustics
        • Recording companies have designed their own studios with careful attention to acoustics
        • Certain kinds of music require certain kinds of spaces to record it
      5. Now electronic and digital devices can simulate reverberation
      6. That simulation can then be added into a recording
        • These devices have settings that can reproduce the sound of different size rooms
        • There are settings that reproduce acoustics from different surfaces in these rooms
        • There are even devices that reproduce specific buildings
    • Making use of reverb
      1. Engineers will record in a space that has very little reflected sound—called "dry"
        • These rooms have specially treated surfaces that absorb sound
        • Then the recorded sound will be fed into the reverb device, adding artificial reverb
      2. This process is used on most rock recordings to some extent
      3. Sometimes multiple reverb settings will be used
        • Vocals get one setting
        • Guitars would get another
        • Drums would get yet another
        • There are no natural conditions that would allow that in a three-dimensional world
      4. An excellent example of reverb is in the opening of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go?"
        • The clapping sound is actually two-by-fours slapped together
        • The reverb makes the clapping sound as if it's in a gymnasium-size room
    • Echo
      1. Echo is different from reverb
      2. Echo is the immediate reflection of sound bouncing back to our ears
        • Creates a "doubling" effect
        • Two sonic images of the same event
      3. Echo is avoided in the "audio snapshot" approach to recording
      4. Echo is used extensively in rock music
        • Frequently used on voices
        • Often combined with reverb on voices
      5. The combination of echo and reverb on voices adds fullness and masks imperfections
      6. One of the best examples of echo is in the Sun recordings of Elvis Presley
        • The quick return of the sound is referred to as "slap back"
        • Engineers all began to try to duplicate that effect when they heard it on Elvis's recordings
    • Equalization (EQ)
      1. Equalization is the process of controlling timbre (rhymes with "amber")
      2. Timbre is a result of combinations of frequencies and overtones generated by a sound
        • All sounds produce a fundamental sound (the sound we hear) and overtones
        • Overtones are pitches that occur in mathematically precise intervals above the original pitch
        • Though nearly inaudible, overtones are responsible for causing instruments to sound the way they do
      3. Instruments each have specific frequency ranges from high to low
      4. A flute or violin has a higher pitch range—or register—than a tuba or string bass
      5. Classical music ensembles are organized so as to utilize a wide frequency range
        • These ensembles include instruments with high registers, medium registers, and low registers
        • Rock music also uses a spectrum of instruments in various registers
        • Bass covers the low end of frequencies in rock music
        • Guitars, keyboards, and voices cover the middle and high end of the frequency spectrum
      6. Home stereo systems have a basic equalization controller: treble and bass
      7. These controls affect the volume of the frequencies and their overtones (or "harmonics")
      8. Recording engineers have a great deal of control over the timbre of each recorded sound
        • There are at least 4 EQ controls for each microphone to control the timbre of that instrument
        • The engineer can also control the timbre of the overall group (instruments and voices)
      9. A good balance of frequencies is important to a successful recording
        • Careful control of frequencies will keep instruments from covering up others (or voices)
        • Certain sounds can be brought forward in the mix with adjustment to the EQ
        • The overall result of a "well-EQed" mix is clarity, making the music clean, crisp, and more defined
    • Stereo placement
      1. Stereo sound is an aural illusion that we construct as a result of how we hear
      2. Listening to a stereo recording through two speakers is an example of this
        • Some sounds seem to come from the speaker on the left
        • Some sounds seem to come from the speaker on the right
        • Some sounds appear to come from the center, but there is no speaker in the center
        • Those sounds are mixed in equal amounts of left and right—an illusion of a "center" speaker
      3. Engineers separate sounds and place them off of center to bring out more clarity—called "panning"
        • Two instruments playing the same thing can become difficult to discern
        • One can mask the other if they are playing in the same frequency range
        • By separating them into left and right placements, they can both be heard more clearly
    • The mixing board
      1. All three aspects of processing recorded sound are accomplished using a mixing board
      2. Mixing boards are used in two ways:
        • All sounds are sent through it to a tape recording machine
        • Tracks from the recorder are played back through the mixer to a final stereo master recorder
      3. The addition of reverb, EQ, and stereo placement occurs at this playback stage—called "mixing down"
      4. More recently, tape recorders have been replaced by digital recording systems
      5. Digital recorders use specially designed software to record to the hard disk of a computer
      6. Classical music engineers use the "audio snapshot" approach, which does not utilize much processing
      7. Rock music mixdown procedures often become extremely complex and time consuming
      8. Early recording machines were only capable of recording to three separate tracks
        • A track is a physical area on the tape—like lanes on a highway
        • Three instruments or voices can be recorded—one on each track
        • The more tracks a machine has, the more instruments can be recorded
      9. During the 1960s and 1970s studio technology rapidly developed to allow for more tracks on machines
        • Eight, sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two, and even forty-eight tracks or more appeared
        • With the advent of digital recording, numbers of tracks became close to unlimited
      10. The word "track" in recording refers specifically to a recorded part
        • Fans and writers often use the word to refer to a particular song number on an album
      11. Engineers and producers are highly skilled in operation of this equipment
  • Mono and Stereo
    • Early rock music was monophonic
      1. Recorded and released in mono; stereo playback systems were not common then
      2. Stereo recordings were made for hi-fi enthusiasts only
        • The Beatles recordings were mixed in mono first
        • Stereo mixes were made without the band even present (they only cared about the mono mixes)
      3. Stereo became the preferred format for albums and FM radio by the end of the 1960s
  • Comparison between stereo and mono: Steely Dan (stereo) and Phil Spector (mono)
    • Steely Dan
      1. Steely Dan's "Josie" is structured according to the compound AABA form
        • Electric guitar introduction
        • Several measures of vamp before the first verse
        • Two verse-chorus pairs make up the large-scale A sections
        • An instrumental bridge makes up the B section
        • Guitar solo over the verse material of the next verse-chorus pair
        • Vocals returning for the chorus
        • A return to the introduction and vamp close the song in a fade-out
      2. Instrumentation:
        • Rhythm guitars, electric piano, bass, and drums.
        • Vocals are mostly solo, with harmony backups during the verse and chorus sections
        • Horns, percussion, and synthesizer strings are added to sweeten the mix
      3. The stereo mix
        • Bass drum and snare are in the center
        • High-hat is slightly to the right
        • Tom-toms and cymbals are set on the left and right
        • Vocals and bass are in the center (common for most rock music)
        • Two rhythm guitars: one on the left, one on the right
        • These guitars play a similar figure to the piano, which is set in the center
        • A third guitar plays little funky fragments—it is panned to the right
        • Synthesizer strings are panned left
        • Horns and backup vocals are panned mid-left and mid-right for clarity
        • Reverb and echo are put on the vocals
        • Heavy reverb is on the synthesizer strings and guitar solo
        • Bass, bass drum, and high-hat are dry (no reverb)
      4. Thus, a full spectrum of frequencies is presented by the instruments for this song
      5. Ambience (reverb) is used to keep the parts distinct
      6. Stereo placement also adds to the clarity of the sound and keeps instruments clearly apparent
      7. The recording sounds full, with plenty of low end and high crisp clarity
    • Phil Spector
      1. Known for his "Wall of Sound" approach to recording
      2. Spector's technique was to blend the backup instruments together rather than separate them
      3. This is the opposite approach to that on the Steely Dan recordings
      4. Most of the musicians were playing together at the same time in the same room
      5. Instruments bled into each other's microphones
      6. Lead vocal is in the "foreground"—all other instruments are in the background
      7. Backup vocals are more to the foreground than the rest of the instruments
      8. The lead singer is recorded twice for extra fullness
      9. Reverb is on everything—including drums
      10. Equalization was done during the recording rather than the mixdown

w. w. norton and Company, inc. technical supportcontact us 1920s - 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s