'Realistic' is not the object in modern recording

I'd like to bring up a subject that I've had rattling around in my head for a long time. I mean 40 years long time. I don't really know why I've never broached it, but I'm going to get into it now.

The main point is encapsulated in the thread title.

Bear with me if some of this seems a rehash of the obvious to you.

Much of modern music is made in a recording studio. It doesn't sound realistic. Realistic in the sense that it conjures up an audible recreation of a live performance. This is not a flaw. It's a positive advantage. It's a degree of artistic freedom that simply wasn't available to previous generations. Even 'live' albums seek to create an artificial 'ambience'. They're often patched together from multiple performances. As such they partake of different mileaux available in different venues. You can't necessarily expect one track to have the same 'sound' as the next.

'Live' recordings, however, are not my principal concern. Very many of the great recordings of the near past were made in the studio. The example that immediately springs to mind is the Beatles, but even decades before them 'multi-tracking', artificial modification of technique (changing speed), echo, reverb and doubtless other effects grew up with advances in electronics. Multiple copies of the same person singing or playing in harmony with themselves is just one of the things we get when we don't cling too rigidly to the idea that things should sound realistic.

"Sergeant Pepper's" is a studio album. It could never have been produced as a live performance. You can't expect it to sound 'real', whatever that is. What you have to do is appreciate the mix, an artform in it's own right, and the overall result.

Now, I know that many people listen almost exclusively to orchestral works, but I feel that that is a great loss, and it speaks to me of a mind mired in the past. One incapable of facing up to the challenges of living in the present. If Beethoven were alive today he would not be scratching spider tracks on ruled paper with a quill. He would be leading the charge, throwing TVs out of his hotel window. I appreciate that this particular example may seem dated to some.

Many classic modern albums employ sounds that never existed anywhere other than in the track of which they become characteristic, and by which the track becomes instantly recognizable.

There is much criticism of modern recording techniques, in particular the levels of compression employed, but my strong feeling is that this is a passing fad. It's unfortunate that it gives ammunition to the clique who would like to insist that the obvious numbers of people listening to MP3 on DAPs are devoid of musical appreciation. This is a bankrupt argument. When computer-generation of music first became possible, it looked for a time as though skilled musicians had forever gone out of fashion, but fashion it turned out to be, and if anything approaches the certainty of death and taxes, it is that fashion will change.

Anyway, disagree with me if you will, I hope that at least somebody reading this will be given cause to pause for thought.
 
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Nicely presented. I would go along with you, that many albums should be appreciated as a creative production in their own right, incapable of being rendered 'live' in the old-fashioned way with any sort of integrity. A lot of the work of the 80's is of this ilk: Yello, Jarre, etc.

The main "problem" is that systems have to working at a high quality level to ably present this sort of music: the types of textures and effects push the envelope in a number of areas, and often the albums come across as being over the top, because the inner strands are insufficiently resolved and it all sounds very cluttered ...

Frank
 

pinkmouse

diyAudio Moderator Emeritus
2002-04-03 7:15 pm
Rotherham, England
Agreed. You also have to remember that people are basically the same now as then. Does anyone actually believe that if a Mozart, Wagner or Bach were around today they would not be using every possible studio technique available to create their vision? They pushed the limits of what was achievable then with the technology they had, why would they be any different now?
 
Not an outrageous, or even unreasonable, proposal, though I could quibble with a statement here or a statement there in the OP.
An example that comes to mind is that if I can listen and recreate John Lennon singing, why is it out-of-bounds to also recreate another Lennon singing harmony? The previous post had me thinking of Frank Zappa and his Synclavier compositions.
 
Much of modern music is made in a recording studio. It doesn't sound realistic. Realistic in the sense that it conjures up an audible recreation of a live performance. This is not a flaw. It's a positive advantage. It's a degree of artistic freedom that simply wasn't available to previous generations

...

There is much criticism of modern recording techniques, in particular the levels of compression employed, but my strong feeling is that this is a passing fad. It's unfortunate that it gives ammunition to the clique who would like to insist that the obvious numbers of people listening to MP3 on DAPs are devoid of musical appreciation. This is a bankrupt argument. When computer-generation of music first became possible, it looked for a time as though skilled musicians had forever gone out of fashion, but fashion it turned out to be, and if anything approaches the certainty of death and taxes, it is that fashion will change.
you are an wise man :)

electronics (devices that create and modify) sounds simply make possible new ways of expression. some of my favorite, most emotion-inducing records are heavily processed and I'm glad they are.
the "I only listen to minimally-miked, non post-processed baroque music" clique simply amuses me :)
and the guys at the audio shows or showrooms that play music with huge-sounding acoustic guitars and then say it's realistic sounding... well, nevermind :D
not to mention the "Spanish Harlem" types... God be my witness, I'd rather really listen to sine-waves :D

really, don't get me started.
 
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I agree largely - I have argued elsewhere that studio recorded music in itself is an artform separate from trying to recreate something that happened in a concert hall or something. It's the 'here and now' versus the 'there and then'.

Where I probably DO differ is that I cannot accept mutilation of sound through agressive compression and clipping. I believe that does take away from the musical enjoyment irrespective of the source or artform, so that should be avoided, except maybe if the clipping and compression is part of the artictic rendering but my hunch is that it isn't in the majority of cases. It's just a byproduct of shabby production or trying to be louder then the next guy.

jan
 
counter culture said:
Now, I know that many people listen almost exclusively to orchestral works, but I feel that that is a great loss, and it speaks to me of a mind mired in the past. One incapable of facing up to the challenges of living in the present. If Beethoven were alive today he would not be scratching spider tracks on ruled paper with a quill. He would be leading the charge, throwing TVs out of his hotel window. I appreciate that this particular example may seem dated to some.
Disagree. You are merging two quite different ideas here. What did Beethoven do (with what he had back then)? What would Beethoven do (if he were alive today)?

I would like to hear (roughly) what Beethoven would have heard. That means appropriate acoustic instruments in an appropriate space, with simple miking just sampling the sound field as an audience member would hear it. This can't be done perfectly, but it can be done reasonably well. The reason for this is simple: Beethoven wrote his music for that situation.

My mind is not 'mired in the past', and you do not support your argument by making silly insults to those with different musical tastes.

The claim that the studio processing is part of the music-making is valid (for modern popular music), and is part of the reason why I believe that such music is wholly inappropriate for judging the quality of a music reproduction system. As the performance never actually existed as a sound field in a real audience space, there is nothing to compare home reproduction against; you are merely comparing what the mixing engineer heard (in his headphones?) against what you hear at home - but you cannnot know what he heard because you were never there so you cannot tell whether your own system is reproducing it. Essentially, your own system becomes another instrument. Fine for you, but don't pretend it is a reproducer.
 
Sorry, DF96, I don't seek a head-on confrontation with you, but I recall all too clearly the insistence of more than one music teacher of my past acquaintance who tried to tell me and my contemporaries that the jazz, folk and popular music we enjoyed were 'degenerate' forms incapable of being media for the transmission of the highest artistic sensibilities. It is this mindset to which I object and its existence the reason I chose to set up an antithesis.

English teachers similarly decried the work of modern authors by comparison with the authors of the past.

I can still appreciate orchestral music, but I do not limit myself to listening only to orchestral music, believing it to be superior to all other.

It behooves a person to expect as much of modern literature or music as might be expected of the literature or music of the past, and to cultivate a taste for it, lest they 1) miss out on one of life's pleasures and 2) become out-of-touch with the society of which they are a member.

Art is no respecter of convention, and historically artists are seen to be as likely to emerge from the ranks of the poor and mean as from the rich and privileged.

World population in 1590 when Shakespeare was in his mid-20s was estimated to be of the order of 5~600 million. In 1990 it was approaching 5,500 million. We might reasonably expect that today there might be as many as 10 literary talents of the order of Shakespeare currently extant. Of course such playing with numbers is of limited value, the emergence of genius follows no hard-and-fast rules, but we would still do well not to ignore the artistic outpourings of the current population. I admit that I myself have little taste for the works of modern painters, but I think this has much to do with the replacement of visual representation by photography, believing that the Michelangelos of the present use HDTV cameras or computers, rather than brushes. (Don't get me started on charlatans, 'artists' and audiophiles.)

As for your point regarding whether modern studio music affords a basis for comparing reproducing systems, it is not necessary to know what the recording engineer heard, all that is necessary is to know that the sound is to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from that produced by another system. I hope you will not indulge in a nit-picking exercise here, we could easily expand the statement to include one or more other systems, at some point the likelihood that all the systems are transparent must be admitted.

---

It's encouraging to discover that what I wrote was so well understood.
 

FrankWW

Member
2004-07-29 7:59 am
n/a
Agreed. You also have to remember that people are basically the same now as then. Does anyone actually believe that if a Mozart, Wagner or Bach were around today they would not be using every possible studio technique available to create their vision? They pushed the limits of what was achievable then with the technology they had, why would they be any different now?

Today's possibilities are amazing. Eg:

Andrea Young

http://www.andrea-young.ca/?p=163

http://www.andrea-young.ca/?p=149
 
I too had a tactless music teacher. However, what he said contains a grain of truth.

I listen mainly to orchestral music and 1970's rock, with some 1960's too. My personal view is that 'classical' music largely took a wrong turn in the early 20th century; I can't stand atonal stuff, for example. Messaen's Turangalila Symphony is about as modern as I go. Pop music largely lost the plot in the 1980's, with a few exceptions. Very little chart stuff of today will still be listened to in 50 years time, let alone 150 years time.

I have similar (but stronger) views about modern 'art', much of which is either silly or just cynically exploiting rich fools. Rubbish carefully arranged by an 'artist' remains rubbish. Paint splatted onto a canvas as though by a 3-year-old has all the artistic merit of the scribblings of a 3-year-old: his parents think it is beautiful, everyone else knows it is not.

I believe this decline in the arts is a reflection of a declining civilisation. The same decline can also be seen in the wilful ignorance that many have of science.

It was not my idea to start this discussion! I am inclined to leave it at that.
 
I too had a tactless music teacher. However, what he said contains a grain of truth.

I listen mainly to orchestral music and 1970's rock, with some 1960's too. My personal view is that 'classical' music largely took a wrong turn in the early 20th century; I can't stand atonal stuff, for example. Messaen's Turangalila Symphony is about as modern as I go. Pop music largely lost the plot in the 1980's, with a few exceptions. Very little chart stuff of today will still be listened to in 50 years time, let alone 150 years time.

I have similar (but stronger) views about modern 'art', much of which is either silly or just cynically exploiting rich fools. Rubbish carefully arranged by an 'artist' remains rubbish. Paint splatted onto a canvas as though by a 3-year-old has all the artistic merit of the scribblings of a 3-year-old: his parents think it is beautiful, everyone else knows it is not.

I believe this decline in the arts is a reflection of a declining civilisation. The same decline can also be seen in the wilful ignorance that many have of science.

It was not my idea to start this discussion! I am inclined to leave it at that.
why the dichotomy? I mean classical vs modern crap. there's much in between. one of my all-time favorite artists is Peter Gabriel. his records are anything but acoustic. many of his songs create an atmosphere which would be impossible to create with acoustic instruments and zero post-processing.
 
mr_push_pull said:
why the dichotomy? I mean classical vs modern crap.
No dichotomy. I like some music styles. I don't like others. Some I like even though they are fairly trivial, such as the 1960s stuff I grew up with. Generally I prefer music (and art) which has some creativity in it, which excludes much modern stuff (which often uses a good story to hide lack of substance - the woffle accompanying modern art could easily be written by the same people as audio gizmo marketing).
 
Precisely!

As I reported in another thread:
artist: "That's my good work; will sell for £100 each. Over there is my rubbish; I can get £1k each for those!"

A few years ago I saw a TV programme which interviewed a master sculptor. You know, the old-fashioned type of artist who, with great skill, makes beautiful things with his own hands. He did secret classes for art students. They had to be secret as the art tutors at the nearby college would ridicule any of their students caught learning such stuff. For them, art has to be ugly, tasteless, and trivial; perhaps that is all the tutors were capable of so didn't want to be exposed as the charlatans they were.
 
"Sergeant Pepper's" is a studio album. It could never have been produced as a live performance. You can't expect it to sound 'real', whatever that is. What you have to do is appreciate the mix, an artform in it's own right, and the overall result.

I agree with your post but I want to point something out. This was true when the album was created but now a days there are many tools available to musicians. With these tools it would be very easy for an album like Sergeant Peppers to be performed live. Because of this, the very definition of what live sound is has been changed.

With tools like ableton, reason, traktor, reaktor, etc. live and studio style albums have meshed. IMO sampling is the instrument that changed everything.

I break down albums more in this way now.

1. sounds like Musician(s) is(are) playing in my room
2. sounds like I am where the Musician(s) is(are) playing
3. sounds like a mixture of both 1 + 2 (and sometimes 4)
4. sounds like none of the above

you can view these as moving from live style recordings to studio style recordings in descending order but the truth is that they all can be perfectly reproduced on stage live with the right tools.