Technology, Time and Place

Our original call for articles suggested a broad topic scope, from philosophical considerations of determinism to scientific approaches to technological change; a diverse set of propositions representational of our interdisciplinary area of discourse. The resulting articles, whilst by no means a narrow reflection of the subject area, consider the relationship between technology, time and place from four key perspectives: history, analysis, environment and dissemination.

The development of sound recording and music technologies has occurred over more than a century. Situated firmly at the beginning of this remarkable history is Paul Fischer’s exploration of ‘The Sooy Dynasty of Camden, New Jersey.’ Whilst Fischer acknowledges the well-documented influences of Thomas Edison, Emile Berliner and Eldridge Johnson on early sound recording, he adds an important new focus with a study on brothers Harry, Raymond and Charles Sooy. As three of Johnson’s first employees at the Victor Talking Machine Company, the Sooys were amongst the few sound recordists working at the turn of the 20th century. In this enlightening article, Fischer draws upon both Harry and Raymond’s memoirs to illuminate the small, yet influential workforce at Victor, the struggle with emergent recording technologies and the inter-relationship between recordist, recording medium, and performer. Moving on from early analogue recording, Dr. Simon Barber cites an equally revolutionary point in history in ‘Soundstream: The Introduction of Commercial Digital Recording’, taking as his case study the first commercial digital audio recording company in the United States. Navigating the complex political, cultural and economic territory surrounding new, digital recording in the 1970s, Barber informs his article with much ethnographic work conducted with Soundstream associates. Barber highlights the influence of yet another oft-overlooked engineer in Soundstream founder Dr. Tom Stockham. In tracing the company’s trajectory from inception to demise, points of focus include the manufacture of the first DTR, the use of a Soundstream 2-track on early 1980s Fleetwood Mac records, as well as the effect of digital recording on the wider, popular music industry. Reasons behind industry take-up (including classical recording and ‘cutting edge’ development) as well as issues surrounding resistance (including analogue aesthetics and economics), are critically examined in a study that expands existing historical scholarship. In the context of today’s recording industry, early technologies often appear anachronistic or irrelevant. The notion of obsolescence is challenged in Dr. Samantha Bennett’s article, ‘Endless Analogue’. Here, the use of technological precursors and ‘vintage’ systems in the contemporary workplace is explored via three case studies. Bennett’s article illuminates the ongoing necessity of ethnographic study in our field of research, drawing upon first-hand interview material with studio manager Marco Pasquariello and recordists/ studio owners Lewis Durham and Liam Watson.

In JARP Issue 1, Albin Zak pointed out in his editorial, ‘The inclusion in this journal of interviews with significant figures in record production represents an ongoing history project, for the oral accounts of practitioners, though problematic, are among our most useful resources.’ Two new, insightful contributions are made to Issue 7, adding to JARP’s repository of research material. Russ Hepworth-Sawyer, Dr. Jay Hodgson, Craig Golding and Daniel Rosen’s interview with former Abbey Road engineer Ken Scott, and Ted Peacock’s discussion with Kevin Doyle, both consider issues of technology, time and place via the career trajectories of two renowned recordists.

Thus far, notions of technology, time and place have been considered from a broadly historical perspective. In ‘What Studios Do’, Dr. Eliot Bates contemplates the recording studio itself as a multi-faceted space. Part laboratory, part container technology, part meeting place and part acoustic environment, this thorough and in-depth assessment of the recording studio’s meaning broadens existing typology of the studio as simply recording facility. Bates’ methodological approach fuses sociological and gender theories with ethnographic work conducted in the US and across Europe. Simultaneous considerations of acoustic design, isolation, containment, communication, interaction and heritage combine into an informative, cohesive, vital analysis of the studio’s role. Paula Wolfe approaches the study of the recording studio from another angle in ‘A Studio of One’s Own’. Once again drawing upon extensive ethnographic work, Wolfe investigates the ‘gendering’ of music production, exploring issues of power, domesticity and control amongst what is traditional ‘male’ territory. A key correlation is made between self-producing, female artist-producers and early feminist writers, such as Mary Wollstonecroft and Virginia Woolf. Accessibility to the ‘tools of the trade’, or, as Woolf famously said, ‘A room of one’s own and five hundred a year’, is one explanation of the comparatively low numbers of female producers. Significantly, Wolfe cites class as an overarching factor impacting upon females in music production and rightly acknowledges this area as one for further study. Such scholarship contributes to a growing area of discourse surrounding the recording and production workplace, which has undergone a remarkable transformation over the course of more than a century. The evolution of the ‘studio’ – from in-house, record label-owned acoustically-treated facility, through church conversions and the ‘Westlake’ style, to the portable, laptop-based production suites of today – has recently attracted more scholarly investigation. As cited by many scholars, a significant turning point in studio development was the proliferation of ‘home studios’. Alice Tomaz de Carvalho deconstructs the notion of democratisation (of both technology and workplace) as embodied in home studio discourse. Through iterative analysis of the music technology and sound recording press, alongside various online fora, the ‘pro’ home recordist emerges as central character, who follows a distinct set of ‘rules’ established by professional recording facilities. ‘Democratisation’ is enunciated as a power assertion by a select few individuals intent on guiding and controlling the behaviour of home studio practitioners.

Through historical and ethnographic studies, the interactive triad of technology, recordist and workplace has formed a cornerstone of the study of the art of record production. In documenting the history, cultural and sociological impact of recording technology, recordists’ working practice(s) and workplace, we have established a fundamental grounding in our area of discourse. But what of the impact of these elements upon sound recordings themselves? Dr. Mike Howlett contributes a review of Allan Moore’s new book, Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song.

Indeed, analytical studies of record production provide us with valuable details into recording and production aesthetics and their impact upon recordings. Marshall Heiser further contributes to production analyses with ‘SMiLE: Brian Wilson’s Musical Mosaic‘. Here, the concept of record-making as ‘collage’ is explored in detail, lending further support to production being a constituent part of the compositional process. Heiser considers Brian Wilson’s SMiLE as a production noteworthy for its technicality, complexity and innovation; rightly concluding that Wilson be considered as part of the established 1960s ‘producer canon’, alongside luminaries Phil Spector, Joe Meek and George Martin. Arguing that Wilson took a ‘modular’ approach to producing SMiLE, Heiser adds another perspective to existing studies of 1960s record production. Close readings of recorded popular song that focus on production aesthetics are rare in our area of discourse. In ‘The Meaning in the Mix: Tracing a Sonic Narrative in ‘When the Levee Breaks”, Professor Aaron Liu-Rosenbaum builds upon existing scholarship by examining embodied meaning in the recording and mix attributes of the Led Zeppelin track. Deploying a visualization tool he calls a “mix map,” Liu-Rosenbaum implements a fascinating and original methodological approach, organising spatial, timbral and gestural aspects of the track into ‘protagonist’ and ‘antagonist’ characters present in the sonic narrative. This article offers an important and welcome addition to analytical studies in our field.

In recent times, digitised sound recordings have presented new challenges to the music and audio industries alike. The ‘invisible’ nature of today’s sound recording and, in many cases, the absence of a present artefact allow for new means of interaction, dissemination and reception. In ‘Examining the Impact of Multiple Technological, Legal, Social and Cultural Factors on the Creative Practice of Sampling Record Producers in Britain.’, Dr. Philip McIntyre and Justin Morey study a range of factors resulting from digitalisation. Drawing upon extensive ethnographic work, McIntyre and Morey consolidate valuable insights from sampling producers Aston Harvey, Andy Carthy, Martin Reeves and Richard Barratt into a cohesive and informative study. Arguing that each producer exhibits an individual ‘habitus’ amongst a wider, structured social organisation, the authors illuminate an oft-overlooked set of recordists and their working practices. Continuing with issues of digitalisation and dissemination, ‘An Audience in the Studio: The Effect of the Artistshare Fan-Funding Platform on Creation, Performance, Recording and Production‘ by Mark Thorley examines audience-funded production. Thorley argues that, over time, the performer has been both isolated from and [re]connected to their audience as a direct consequence of technology. Here, our issue comes ‘full circle’, as Thorley draws key correlations between pre-sound recording models of audience and reception with today’s, digitalised models of audience involvement in the creative recording process. Referring to qualitative data charting the actual effects of the Artistshare platform upon writing, recording and performing, Thorley demonstrates both the potential and challenges associated with fan-funded recorded music.

We are proud to present a diverse and insightful set of articles in Issue 7 of the Journal on the Art of Record Production; charting a spectrum of technology, over more than a century in time and across a spectra of social, economic and geographical place.