Friday, December 07, 2007

Working to capture a sound that rings true

Immortalizing a performance takes more than hanging a mike and hitting 'record.' There's an art to these engineers' science.

Rick Rubin, George Martin, Timbaland, Brian Eno, Phil Spector -- the average pop music fan, if asked, could probably come up with at least a handful of names of notable recording personnel. It seems fair to say, though, that the typical consumer of orchestral and chamber music recordings, faced with the same question, would draw a blank.

Yet just as in rock 'n' roll or hip-hop, the engineer for such music -- who is often, though not always, the producer as well -- is the person who makes or breaks an audio performance. He chooses and then places the microphones for a recording session and later meticulously splices various takes -- in the old days with a razor blade and tape, today on a computer -- to achieve the best possible version of a composition. It's a version that may well reach far more listeners than live performances of the work did even many years after its premiere.
While you can eliminate mechanical imperfections, you can't make someone an artist by making 400 splices," he says. "You can't give a violinist a more beautiful tone or a better conception of the music or a better idea of the tempo. You can make it sound mechanically and technically solid, but all the things that make 'music' can't be fabricated."

By Constance Meyer,
December 2, 2007

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