With all the talk about the use of Autotuning of voices on the X-Factor, the arrival in the shops of Perfecting Sound Forever by Greg Milner is timely as a Granta paperback subtitled – The Story of Recorded Music – it explains terms easily and without specialist knowledge. There a lot of facts and history with characters coming alive on the page, you get a flavour of Edison’s early experiments with recording sound, the transmission of sound and loved the early rock and roll chapters and a detailed look at Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
With chapters about acoustic going electrical, analogue devices and magnetic and electronic tape as well as Digital, Moog Synthesisers. Sound technology is dealt with in easy to follow sections and the working of the human ear is fascinating.
Terms like amplifier distortion, automatic gain control, mix with explanations as to how Queen’s, Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded. Digital compression is discussed as are digital synthesisers, Pro Tools and MP3’s.
Did you know a record plays from the edge in while a CD plays from the centre out.
I loved the early sections as Thomas Alva Edison experimented with recording sound on a phonograph or onto tinfoil. The series of concerts as Edison used a recorded voice alongside the actual singer drew in large crowds. In 1920 alone, twenty-five singers performer 2,000 tests. Back then there was talk and accusations of trickery.
Edison came to early fame for an incandescent lamp but at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Expo he was more famous than William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and George Goethals the Panama Canal genius.
By the early ‘50’s magnetic tape gave recording the possibility of stereo and from there multi-tracking, over-dubbing and sampling in a very basic way. At the same time the move from silent movies to talkies put greater emphasis on sound capture, reproduction and the ability to master sounds to an acceptable level of loudness.
By the 1990’s the advent of Pro Tools changed again the way we recorded and how we heard music. It becomes obvious that technical adjustment, phasing, enhancement were used a lot but nobody was complaining except those at live shows who couldn’t understand why famous artists and bands didn’t or couldn’t sound the same live as on record.
The sections of loudness are fun and the rise and fall of oasis in the 1990’s is a parable for many a one hit wonder. To read the record industry’s protest against Napster, MP3’s and CD burners is almost like history of drum levels and drum machines.
After reading this book, you will listen in a new way to recorded music and think back perhaps to your heyday and first records you bought and the pulsating thrill of it all.