capturing crappy sound (xpost)

I read David Byrne’s post, “1.2.07: Crappy Sound Forever!’ this morning. It is a response to reading a book I sometimes mention here: “Capturing Sound: How Technology Changed Music” by Mark Katz.

Since Byrne doesn’t have a comments link on his website (not sure I would have the guts to engage him anyway), here’s some of the interesting things he says with my comments.

Byrne remarks that he finds the lighter vibrato of pop singers

more accessible and less weird than the fuzzy pitching of contemporary opera singers who sometimes exaggerate the wobble so much you hardly know what note they’re supposed to be singing unless you know the tune already.”

This has always been sort of my take as well. I sometimes dread working with so-called “trained” singers knowing that I will have to tone them down considerably in order to get a pleasing sound. And even then they tend to rebel in public and revert to that wobble thing.

Later commenting on the idea that the length of songs was determined by the length of 78s and 45s, Byrne writes:

To me a song length between 3 and 4 minutes seems natural, inevitable; I can hardly conceive that it could have ever been otherwise, but maybe it was. I dunno, though — even folk songs and blues, most of them don’t have too many verses….

Hmmm. I guess he hasn’t looked at many folksongs. I can walk two steps to my bookshelf and come up with hundreds of long folk songs with many many verses.

I liked this:

Artists began to use the studio as an instrument as well

He remarks that he can hear the influence of software like Akai, Pro Tools and Logic in music written in the last 10 years. He is refering to the “uncanny perfection.”


In hip hop, which might be the most radical popular music around, there is no relationship of the composition to the live performance anymore — everything, every instrument, is processed ….

Except of course for the group, Outkast.

Byrne observes that mixtapes are a kind of composing. Or recomposing.

and that MP3s return music to experience rather than being things…

Would that this were so.

MP3s, which is how many of us hear music now, are in a way like virtual music. The compression that allows their smaller file size eliminates what the software decides are redundant frequencies and sounds the ear probably doesn’t hear and won’t miss. Maybe. There is less ‘information’ on an MP3 than on a CD, and less on a CD than an LP. Where does this road end, and does it really matter that sheer information and recording quality is going down?

I love questions like this and think about them myself from time to time.He ends up pointing out that he

first heard rock and soul songs on a tiny crappy-sounding transistor radio

and it changed his life completely….

I confess that recently I bought his weird little book, The New Sins, which is written in both English and Spanish and uses a devotional format for witty and sharp comments on the modern condition.

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