In view of modern recording devices, one cannot doubt the clarity of sound(s) that are able to be captured by these devices. Computer software and understanding of waveforms has also provided us with a new dimension from which we can view sound. This has given us the ability to edit the recording to give the sound that is as specific to the sound we want it to be. Mastering as it would seem is one such activity that uses the ear of the sound engineer as a ccurate a sound as possible. The details of mastering and how one would go about it is something that is not entirely known to me, but from interpretation of various musical production recordings from various music genres and artists can give an idea of what the attempt aimed to achieve.
The evolution of electronics in the world of sound has provided the opportunity to most people today to make sound recordings of their own. The emphasis on the use of digital technology in recording was primarily to improve clarity and storage capacity. Digital storage makes use of binary coding, which is use of on/off computer switch code made of 1’s and 0’s that basically can translate into sound, which is an organic wave that has been picked up by a microphone or such other recording device. There is basically no limit to the variety of sound that can be recorded; the only limit can be the amount of space that one has to record the particular, and is represented as bits and bytes of information that are stored on a computer disk.
The more complex the sound that is being recorded is, the more space is required to represent it, and this mean that each unique sound is assigned to its particular bit, or groups of sound assigned to kilobyte or megabyte and the range is basically limited by the ability of your storage device and/or software. There is no doubt that the clarity of well recorded sounds on digital storage is unsurpassed and one can be sure that what they put down is what they get, with minimal interference from other confounding sources.
The ideal scenario of anyone that really appreciates music is to have limitless space in which to store as clear a piece of recording as can be achieved, but portability of technology has allowed for the control of the amount of space that can be utilised by any one particular track. This has led to the development of putting limits on the amount of space each sound can take, and this obviously puts limits on the quality of your sound as more and more sound is crammed into a single byte of digital space. As one imposes those limits it can be easy to see how that can compromise the sound quality to the point where some frequencies have to be left out of the recording. Fortunately for the modern age, space storage has and is increasing at an accelerating rate, which means most portable music storage can store higher quality music by achieving higher bit rates for each stored recording, but none-the-less music compression still takes place and some sound will be lost, but it is not discernible by the normal music listener hence their popularity.
Why go Analogue?
The main difference between humans and machines is their ability to make music. Machines process signals that are they are assigned to and cannot go beyond the specifics that it has been assigned which is what makes them good at what they do.
When it comes to music however, things approach a realm that is not easily put into words. People listen to music for a variety of reasons, and that depends entirely upon the listener. There are those that just want to hear the sound everybody else is listening to, some just want background music to pass the day, others background music to wild out at the party or club and there are those that listen deeply to the music to establish a connection with the artist or the emotion that music intends to portray. The focus here is for those that want to connect with the music, the listener.
This is not an attempt to compare artists, listeners or producers, but instead to explore the possibilities that are provided by technology in music production.
Feel vs. Hear; Analogue vs. Digital
Digital recordings will always be consistent in their delivery of sound, crisp clear and accurate, every sound has its place and time and this can be both a good and bad thing. Precision sound in music has its place, first of all it allows the music to be played loud with minimal distortion and secondly it can be a true showcase of an artists talent, and that talent can be appreciated when one is connected to the music. So how is this connection established? It was mentioned earlier in this article how machines cannot compose a symphony, mainly because it is not able to process emotion.
Emotion is one of the big factors in music, how it makes you feel, and one might choose to play and listen to a particular track based on how they feel. If so, can sounds, simple or complex play a role in anybody’s feelings? As it may appear, the answer might be, no, to the unsuspecting listener, but if we shift our awareness to a plane that is not directly controlled by our little minds. There are other waves tones and sounds that we do not have direct awareness of and this may likely have an influence on the way we perceive music and sound. I would like to direct our attention to harmonics.
This is where things get a little bit tricky, well mostly because of the direction this article could take, which could either be very technical or very descriptive. If we go the technical route, a lot of information could be delivered which will help those of you who have pre-existing knowledge; or we could get very descriptive and help even the most average reader to gain understanding of what is being discussed. So we shall stick with descriptive language.
Digital sounds are converterd into a wave sound that makes up the music, now very well knowing that music is a composition of different sounds to tell a story, and these sounds playing and working together form interference waves. These interference waves when not properly checked can kill or enhance the sound that one is listening to. Now in the era of electronics, a term that electronics and sound engineers often use is Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) this is what is basically a measure of clarity to the music, and the current advancements in electronics means that there can be very little to undetected levels of total harmonic distortion when the sound is amplified. This results is a song that is crisp clear, and delivers only the sounds you want to hear this is what CD and MP3 formats of music have become.
In contrast to digital formats we have solid state mediums such as tape or vinyl which were the popular mediums of storing music worldwide from the late from the 60’s all the way to the early 90’s this is however, not set in stone. The storage media produce what is known as an analogue sound, which by its nature is not prescribed a specific space for a specific sound; rather, the sounds are grouped together and stored on the material which is read in real time. This creates an interesting scenario as it allows for wave interaction between the different sounds resulting in what is known as ‘wave interference’ and when this occurs new waves are produced, and its up to the sound engineer who masters the track to ensure that this interference not encroach into the music. It can be easy to see how with analogue mastering, the reduction of interference waves can be a rather difficult and back breaking task.
This is what separates analogue from digital because, with digital music what you hear is what you get and that leaves very little mystery for the mind to comprehend; whereas with analogue the sound is usually richer and warmer due to waves that interfere in harmony, which is simply the sounds working together to give a completely new feel to the music, free of conflict. The mysterious sound that one hears is not within the direct awareness of the casual listener and this evokes a feeling in the listener which the sound may capture.