THE BLOG

Where Is This From?

13/11/2014 17:56 GMT | Updated 13/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Architectural gentrification seems to be full throttle at the moment. Unique, beautiful and historical buildings being bulldozed every minute by greedy demons. The sad truth is, some people actually like all that tasteless shit which allows them to do it, the kind of people who say, "Actually, I quite like The Shard"...should have gone to Specsavers.

Anyway, forgetting this prelude to a nightmare, I'll leave this subject for another time... let's talk about a similarity in music which, on the contrary, I think is a great revolutionary turn.

If you go to the website SoundCloud, which I was recently introduced to and is a currently popular online place for hearing new trendy music, click explore. You will then be presented with popular songs that other people online are listening to. If you click play on some of them, you will most likely hear some kind of synthesised sounds (modulated frequency tones/modified samples/naturally unrecognisable sounds), usually accompanied by a drum machine pulsing out something which has now taken the place of the drum kit. This not being the kind of music which resonates with me, I couldn't even begin to imagine where these records were recorded or made. Which is neither good nor bad...

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Like many people, I grew up listening to music in the 1990s. This included music being played and sung in the house, my parents' records, music played at school, my own records once I started buying them and everywhere else. Some of it I loved and some of it not so much.

However, through listening to all various kinds of music, I began to notice there was one aspect of music which seemed to have ended at some point in history and will never come back. This was having a sense of where something was from and hearing how music changed with its geographical location. The thing being, musicians had their own sound which was different depending on where they were or were from. The recording studios had their own sound. And certain groups of musicians could make a sound that represented certain parts of a country (for example The Wrecking Crew, west coast or The Funk Brothers, Detroit, The Skatalites, Jamaica...). Record labels also played a big a role here too of course. I think this all still does exist but to a far lesser extent.

As to why the musicians had their own sounds in different locations, without going into great detail, seems pretty simple off hand for two main reasons.

Firstly, if we look at 1950s America, for example, specifically black culture, geo- musical communication was far less. Comparing to a time before national broadcasting of music, television and the Internet, hearing music from a neighbouring country or city could have generally been a great challenge. And secondly, people had to have a skill in order to be listened to meaning they had to play their instruments well or they would have no chance of being recorded or getting gigs. For example, if you were a bad drummer, chances are no one was going to record you. Of course, we can only go by what we hear on records, as

some of us were not lucky enough to have been there to hear those who were not. Also, bearing in mind that this is a pre-rock era, skill of playing is relied on rather than the technology to make the music.

In contrast, anyone making a record today can know exactly what is out there at any time and be influenced by it and have a crack at it. And they don't need much money at all to record something and put it out to the world. This is obviously a good thing as it allows people to express themselves and do something that they enjoy and want to do.

Recording studios and labels are interesting too. Some labels had their own studios (for example Chess (Chicago), King (Cincinnati), Tamla Motown (Detroit), Sun (Memphis) ...). In those days, you couldn't buy everything you needed to record a track and then start operating. Firstly, just buying the tape recorder meant taking out a bank loan. If you wanted to buy recorders, microphones, amplifiers... you would be looking at mortgaging your house and taking out a MASSIVE bank loan. Secondly, depending on how you wanted to record, you would most likely have to build your own equipment or/and start modifying existing equipment (usually ex broadcast equipment). As a result, every studio had its characteristic sound (some great and some not). This was because of their own room acoustics, their custom equipment, the people running them and obviously down to a lot more factors.

Records made in Jamaica sound completely different to records made at Motown or in Britain or Columbia of the same era but they were all using the same basic technology, just quite differently.

In contrast again, anyone today can go to their local shop and buy some things for not much and plug into their computer and hey presto, everyone has the gift of recording. Great. As for most of the recording studios now, they all have the same computers and the same mixing consoles (not actually necessary anymore) with the live room (where the musicians play) being the only main real variable. I have also seen studios with no live room! Studios are also dead cheap to record in compared to years ago. Great. But, these systems technically all sound the same because they are all the same.

Musicians (people playing instruments), are not used much at all anymore on pop recordings or on the songs that were presented on the trending music page of SoundCloud meaning the music now comes from machines, usually with vocals over the top. Again, everyone using the same machines. I often hear more machine music when I'm in public spaces than I do people playing on recordings.

So, now we can all have musical accessibility and make tracks after tracks and put them up for the world to hear in a few clicks of an apple mac track pad, which is amazeballs. This is all great and may seem a little obvious but, I feel something precious has been lost along the way somewhere. People's sense of owner ship and proudness of a sound or feel. How different people could all do different things with their music that was their own and no one could touch. And to stack all those different records on a shelf next to each other makes listening, for me, a never-ending pleasure.

Respect, Lewis

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