Multi-Track Recording and new levels of abstraction in contemporary music.
Multi track recording technology shifted the goal of recording from capturing a live event faithfully to informing greatly the representation of ideas in a composition and the degree of abstraction with which they are represented. Forging a clear dialogue between creation process, representation and new potential for abstraction.
The new levels of control as well as the means for abstraction and experimentation multi-tracking introduced would govern the representation of music and create new expectations in representation of recorded sound (Warner 2003 p21).
Pioneer Les Paul began experimenting with multi-track recording in the 1930’s with modified direct to disk recording systems (Paul, 2005). These experiments involved multiple machines in order to a achieve multiple tracks, a modus operandi shared by many of the music concrete composers... (Chadabe 2007 p28).
In 1949 Paul invented multi-track recording by adding an extra record head to a tape machine (Paul, 2005). His mode of invention was simple ‘user-centric innovation’ (Hippel, 2005 p33), modification of existing technology which was then commercially adopted.
Tape as a medium offered new editing capabilities (Miller, 2005).. The ability it to edit content post broadcast and form an abstraction of the live performance. Multi-Track recording provided a level of control over the final output of a recording ‘which would be impossible ‘live’ (Warner, 2007 p23).
The fundamental purpose in the examples of Warner and Miller, being to edit unwanted content or achieve ‘perfection’ post the event, marking a clear change in representation of musical performance and broadcast.
Those directly involved in the production of pop music were often more interested in the creative possibilities it afforded ‘I discovered that it was possible to use my imagination...when I heard 'How High the Moon”
(Engineer Bruce Swedien quoted by Buskin, 2007). ‘How High the Moon’ Les Paul and Mary Ford is one of the earliest commercial recordings to employ multi-tracking to tape ‘there were 12 guitar parts and 12 voices,’ (Buskin, 2007). There is not twenty four distinguishable parts but the same source recorded multiple times. The vocal is almost never without an overlaid harmony. The guitar has effects as well as multiple musical variations.
Bruce Swedien (Sound Engineer). alludes to the high degree of creative abstraction and ‘imagination’ presented by multi-tracking. The clear shift from the goal of recording being simply to capture a performance to recording becoming an inherent part of the creative process. Though the example of ‘how high the moon’ remains within the domain of popular music and commercial success the degree of abstraction is clear.
The creative and technical intersection exemplified in ‘How high the moon’ formed a piece of music that was only possible with multi-tracking, commercially viable and successful and highly abstract in its representation of the voice, a new degree of imagination had been introduced into popular music and the creative and technical process that govern it.
Once tape was introduced as multi-track capable and widely available ‘Traditional concepts of studio design reached their zenith as both a general-purpose recording medium and a primary tool for shaping and manipulating sound material’ (Manning, 2003).
Multi-Tracking had changed the future of the creative process of music making forever, representation and process had become inter-dependent and would never again be separate.
‘multi tracking wasnt all that easy‘ Les Paul May 2005
http://mixonline.com/Multitracking_Wasnt_Always_Easy/ last viewed May 2011
‘Bing Jack & Les’ Steve Miller, August 2009
http://mixonline.com/ms/les_paul/articles/bing_jack_les/index.html last viewed May 2011
‘CLASSIC TRACKS: Les Paul & Mary Ford 'How High The Moon' , Richard Buskin, Februay 2007
‘Pop Music - Technology and Creativity’ Timothy Warner 2003 Page 23
‘Electric Sound- The past and promise of electronic music‘ Joel Chadabe 1997
‘Democratizing Innovation’ Eric Von Hippel 2005
‘The Influence of Recording Technologies on the Early Development of Electroacoustic Music’ Manning, Peter, Leonardo Music Journal, Volume 13, 2003, pp. 5-10 (Article)
‘Pop Music Technology & Creativity’, Timothy Warner
Ashgate Publishing, 2003