The Politics of Digitizing Analogueness #iaspm2017

Pat O’Grady
: Macquarie University

The Politics of Digitizing Analogueness

Plug-in hardware emulation – are looks as important as sound to the user?

ABSTRACT: In the field of pop music production, audio companies such as Waves and Universal Audio claim to reproduce the sound of ‘vintage’ analogue signal processing recording technologies. They use software to emulate the form and sound of technologies that, in their hardware form, became highly valued parts of recording studios from the 1960s and 1970s. These digital technologies are marketed towards the increasingly capable and more affordable personal computer market, often used in home studios. The companies claim to provide the user with the comparable results to analogue. Since the 1980s, similar changes to the recording technology landscape have been understood as ‘democratization,’ as music production trended towards a digital economy. However, these emulations also exist alongside a reemergence of the use of analogue technologies in music production, particularly in large studios. In this paper, I explore how the popularity of digital emulations can be partly attributed to shifting attitudes towards analogue vintage technologies. I draw from an analysis of industrial discourses within music production in order to show that rather than democratize the field of music production, they reinforce the social order of the field of recording. In doing so, they continue to promote within a discursive space the importance of large studio music production.

Pat begins by leading us quickly through the development of the technologies that led us here, through the rise of digital recording in the 80s, the rise of the workstation in the 90s and the plugin in the 2000s and beyond. We are now, he suggests, in the ‘Analogue Comeback’ era, and he cites both analogue hardware and UAD emulation plugins in some Australian professional studios’ advertising. He notes that due to the four-decade establishment of digital recording, there now exist professional studio practitioners who did not grow up with analogue equipment.

Passive Studio-based Songwriting #arp13

The Bee Gees in the studio, early 1980s

O’GRADY, PAT (Macquarie University)

Passive Studio-based Songwriting

[abstract] Studio-based composition is the use of a studio environment and associated recording technology to compose a piece of music. Brian Wilson and Brian Eno exemplify this process, where structure, timbre and textures are altered – sometimes drastically – by recording technology. This paper will examine “passive” use of recording technology for songwriting. By passive, I mean uses of equipment and studio production processes that, although creatively important, do not obviously alter the sonic aesthetic of the finished work. This paper seeks to broaden the concept of studio-based songwriting and composition.

A number of scholars have pointed out the importance of studio work to creative product. Cunningham describes Wilson as conceptualizing the studio as an instrument like a piano or guitar (1998, p. 75-76). Moorefield states that for Eno “what is being made is not a replication or extension of a concert experience, but something altogether different.” (2005, p. 54). Theberge adds that a “sound recording has become productive, not simply reproductive.” (1997, p. 216). These approaches involve an intensive use of recording technology, where it plays a significant role in the sound of the completed work. This paper argues that this conception of studio-based composition confines such practices to more experimental music styles such as electro-acoustic, or psychedelic rock or pop.