Surround Sound Auteurs and the Fragmenting of Genre


Multi-channel sonic experience is derived from a myriad of technological processes, shaped by market forces, configured by creative decision makers and translated through audience taste preferences. From the failed launch of quadrophonic sound in the 1970s, through the currently limited, yet sustained niche market for 5.1 music releases, a select number of mix engineers and producers established paradigms for defining expanded sound stages. Whereas stereophonic mix practices in popular music became ever more codified during the 1970s, the relative paucity of multi-channel releases has preserved the individual sonic fingerprint of mixers working in surround sound. More- over, market forces have constricted their work to musical genres that appeal to the audiophile community that supports the format. This study examines the work of Elliot Scheiner, Bob Clearmountain, Giles Martin, and Steven Wilson to not only analyze the sonic signatures of their mixes, but to address how their conceptions of the soundstage become associated with specific genres, and serve to establish micro-genres of their own. I conclude by arguing that auteurs such as Steven Wilson have amassed an audience for their mixes, with a catalog that crosses genre boundaries, establishing a mode of listening that in itself represents an emergent genre – surround rock.

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