Blog 1 - The Beatles’ Recording Technology
The Beatles began to use new and improved recording processes in their music in the 1960’s. These technological advancements in the recording studio have revolutionised the way contemporary music albums from the 60’s era onwards have been produced.
In the early 1960’s, EMI’s Abbey Road Studios was equipped with British Tape Recorders, twin track valve based machines. This machine provided limited opportunity of overdubbing meaning the recording was basically that of a live performance. After the band’s first two albums were recorded using this basic machine, the introduction of a four-track machine in 1963 allowed for tracks such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to be built up layer by layer, which made experimentation prominent.
The Beatles also experimented with the way their instruments sounded such as creating organ sounding guitars by extreme compression on Lennon’s rhythm guitar. There were also times where the group deliberately manipulated situations and techniques which would promote chance effects such as the chaotic assemblage of “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
The group always had the conscious desire to be different which pushed EMI’s recording technology through overloading the mixing desk from 1964 in tracks like “Eight Days a Week”. It began with a gradual fade-in, a device that was ahead of its time and rarely used in rock music. This technique is now one of the most commonly used in music of today’s generation. The Beatles song “I feel Fine” recorded in October 1964 was highly significant, as it was the first rock record that used feedback. It started with a feedback note produced by the A-string on McCartney’s bass which was picked up by Lennon’s semi-acoustic guitar creating a unique and complex sounding note that buzzed and swelled in volume. This paved way for the technique to be one of the most commonly used on albums by other bands in the modern era.
As their work developed, classical instruments were increasingly added to tracks. Part of the groups influence was bringing the classical and pop worlds closer together highlighted in “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the mix of classical strings, electric guitars and drums. This paved way for the creation of bands such as Electric Light Orchestra and Muse and a changed attitude of how pop music could be produced.
Artificial Double Tracking was also first used by the band in 1966, after Ken Townsend invented the technique during the recording of “Revolver”. Lennon didn’t like singing a song twice - necessary when double tracking vocals - so Townsend came up with a way of duplicating the vocal part on a second tape machine and manipulating its speed so the part didn’t have to be sung twice. ADT, heard on “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Eleanor Rigby”, greatly influenced recording and is still widely used for instruments and voices.
During the recording of “Eleanor Rigby”, microphones began to be placed closer to the instruments in order to produce a fuller sound. The bass drum microphone was positioned very close to the drum itself and the microphones used for the strings sat so close to the strings that they were almost touching. In 1966, this was considered a radical new way of recording strings; nowadays it’s common practice.
The Beatles’ use of these revolutionary recording processes and techniques and, has heavily influenced the way contemporary music is recorded and produced. Without their attitude for change and attention to detail, contemporary music would never have developed like it did.
- The Beatles’ Recording Technology, Wikipedia, viewed 26th April 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles%27_recording_technology
Blog 2 – “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis
Released by Columbia Records on August 17, 1959, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is often considered the greatest album in the history of jazz and a “defining moment of twentieth century music.” (Pape, 1999). It has played a vital role in revolutionising a new genre of music, post-bebop modal jazz, and has heavily influenced musicians all over the world.
By 1958, Davis had one of the most profitable working bands pursuing the hard bop style. They would play pop standards and bebop originals by artists such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and improvise on the chord changes of a given song. However, Davis became dissatisfied with bebop seeing the complex chord changes as limiting creativity. So he decided to make an album completely based on the theory of modal music by George Russell. Davis and his sextet of legendary jazz players produced an album which threw away conventional song and chord structures, to create “a sublime atmospheric masterpiece.” (All About Jazz Publicity, 2008)
The entire album was composed as a series of modal sketches, in which each performer was given a set of scales that defined the parameters of their improvisation and style. Chordal movement would be kept to a minimum to allow the music to stretch more freely. This style was contrast to the more conventional forms of jazz where musicians would be provided with a complete score or chord progressions and harmonies. Davis once said “No chords...gives you a lot more freedom...and you can do more with the melody line” (Kahn, 2001)
The album not only created a new form of jazz music that is still prominent around the world today, but influenced many other musicians in their music. Several of the songs from the album such as “Freddie Freeloader” and “ have become jazz standards – musical compositions that are widely known, performed and recorded by jazz artists. Many improvisatory rock musicians of the 1960’s looked to the album for inspiration. Guitarist Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band said his soloing in songs such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” comes from Kind of Blue. The album’s chord progressions also influenced the structure of the introductory chords to the song “Breathe” on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”.
The album has also been recognised as an introductory jazz album because the music is very melodic and the relaxed nature of the tracks makes the improvisation easy to listen to, without having to relinquish artistry and experimentation. “Fifty years after its release, Kind of Blue continues to transport listeners to a realm all its own while inspiring musicians to create new sounds – from acoustic jazz to post-modern ambient” (Barber, 2004)
Artists including the Velvet Underground, James Brown and Brian Eno were influenced by the album in their music because it encouraged an active experience inviting the listener to find fresh patterns of music. It popularized modal jazz and inspired a mini modal jazz revolution during the 60’s including the rise of pan-tonal/free jazz and musicians such as Bill Evans and John Coltrane produced their music based on the influential tracks.
The album heavily influenced the way jazz music was created in the 1960’s and how other musicians would create their own music. It has been a catalyst for the development of contemporary jazz, as we know it today.
- Kind of Blue, Wikipedia, viewed 26th April 2010, http://en.wikpedia.org/wiki/Kind_of_Blue
- Pape, P, 1999, Miles Davis – Kind of Blue, All About Jazz, viewed 27th April 2010, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=3786
- All About Jazz Publicity, 2009, Miles Davis - Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collectors Edition Coming in September, viewed 27th April 2010, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=21627
- Kahn, A, 2001, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, Da Capo Press.
- Barber, G, 2004, 1959: A Great Year In Jazz, All About Jazz Publicity, viewed 27th April 2010, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=15310
Blog 3 – Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is often considered the greatest guitar player of rock music and one of the most influential musicians in music history. Through his amazing technique and unique application of new guitar effects, he inspired musicians across a range of genres and transformed popular music, as we know it today.
Hendrix was a musical ‘magician’, transforming the world of rock music and turning electric guitar playing into an art form. His creativity and technical ability helped revolutionise the sound of rock and roll and his 1967 debut “Are You Experienced?” helped usher in the age of psychedelic rock. Putting Hendrix above his peers was his ability to realise that the fullest range of sound could be obtained from an amplified instrument. He pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source, rather than merely an amplified version of an acoustic guitar.
Jimi Hendrix had a profound impact on popular music as he established a change in the way rock music sounded using numerous effects and techniques, which furthered the development of hard rock and paved the way for heavy metal. His music also had a great influence on funk rock and its musicians such as guitarist Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers and Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic. He managed to build the bridge between true blues guitar, heard in Eric Clapton’s music, and modern sounds such as the screaming guitar sound that made U2 a prominent band, blending the two together brilliantly. His influence has even reached hip hop artists such as Ice-T and Wyclef Jean and jazz legend Miles Davis who was impressed with Hendrix’s improvisational skills.
He often used his thumb to fret bass notes, leaving his fingers to play melodic lines meaning he could play lead and rhythm parts simultaneously. His blend of hard rock riffs such as “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady” with tender ballads like ”Little Wing” emphasise his brilliant yet unconventional playing style, which has lived on in the works of guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen and Vernon Reid.
Hendrix was a catalyst in the development of modern guitar effect pedals. Without his desire to experiment with new technology in the recording studio, the effects that are so commonly used in rock music today may never have come into fruition. His feedback, wah-wah and high use of fuzz in his solos developed guitar distortion from a novelty into a fluid and controlled vocabulary of rock music. His Stratocaster and Marshall amplifiers played a vital role in shaping his heavy overdriven sound, allowing him to master the use of feedback as a musical effect which is now used by rock bands all over the world. Hendrix’s experimentation of other guitar effects led to the creation of devices such as the Axis fuzz unit and Octavia octave doubler which are now prominent in rock music.
Jimi Hendrix has inspired and will continue to inspire musicians across a number of genres for years to come. His freakish playing ability, unique style and his experimentation of new guitar effects have heavily influenced the way popular music around the world is played today.
- Jimi Hendrix, Wikipedia, viewed 28th April 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_hendrix
- Jimi Hendrix – Are you experienced?, 2007, http://www.classic-rock-legends-start-here.com/jimi-hendrix.html
- Simon, Schauster, 2001, Jimi Hendrix Biography, The Rolling Stone Encyclopaedia of Rock and Roll, viewed 28th April 2010, http://www.zimbio.com/Jimi+Hendrix/articles/147/Jimi+Hendrix+Urged+Get+Together+Change+World