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Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

by

Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music Cover

 

Review-A-Day

The story goes that, late in his life, Guglielmo Marconi had an epiphany. The godfather of radio technology decided that no sound ever dies. It just decays beyond the point that we can detect it with our ears. Any sound was forever recoverable, he believed, with the right device. His dream was to build one powerful enough to pick up Christ's Sermon on the Mount.

"Thus begins Perfecting Sound Forever, Greg Milner's cultural and technological history of the sound-recording industry. As far as I know, the original-cast album of the Sermon on the Mount has not yet been released on CD, but plenty of acoustic waves emitted in our own era have been captured and preserved, to become the golden oldies of future generations. Neil Young said it: Rock and roll will never die." Brian Hayes, American Scientist (Read the entire American Scientist review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro Tools and digital samplers now allow musicians and engineers to create the illusion of performances that never were. In between lies a century of sonic exploration into the balance between the real and the represented.

Tracing the contours of this history, Greg Milner takes us through the major breakthroughs and glorious failures in the art and science of recording. An American soldier monitoring Nazi radio transmissions stumbles onto the open yet revolutionary secret of magnetic tape. Japanese and Dutch researchers build a first-generation digital audio format and watch as their compact disc is marketed by the music industry as the second coming of Edison yet derided as heretical by analog loyalists. The music world becomes addicted to volume in the nineties and fights a self-defeating loudness war to get its fix.

From Les Paul to Phil Spector to King Tubby, from vinyl to pirated CDs to iPods, Milner pulls apart musical history to answer a crucial question: Should a recording document reality as faithfully as possible, or should it improve upon or somehow transcend the music it records? Perfecting Sound Forever is an exhaustively researched, extraordinarily inquisitive book that dissects the central question within all music criticism: When we say that something sounds good, what are we really saying? And perhaps more important, what are we really hearing? (Chuck Klosterman, author of Downtown Owl )

And in the beginning, there was no recorded sound. For millennia, music lovers had to play songs for each other in order to hear their favorite music. Because of this, perhaps — as Greg Milner points out in his exhaustive, technically precise and fascinating survey Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music — the primary objective of the earliest sound recording was verisimilitude. Hence, the term 'high fidelity, ' created for the listener who might fret about impurities that could arise as a consequence of reproducing music.

Perfecting Sound Forever frames the divide between authentic reproduction and the willful manipulation of sound as the 100-year dialectic that has spurred every new technological advancement in recording. Certainly, it has stoked an ongoing debate among fans and industry professionals, like a fractal tape loop . . . Perfecting Sound Forever is best when it takes readers on the labyrinthine journey through the tiny warrens and corporate-sponsored laboratories of the inventors, musicians and hustlers who helped advance sound recording. We learn, for example, that microphone technology was perfected at Bell Telephone Labs in the early 1920s, as part of an extensive experiment to improve the reception of telephone transmissions. Soon after, Bell Labs became the most important incubator of recording technology in the world, aided in no small part by the barnstorming efforts of a classical maestro named Leopold Stokowski. Milner describes, in compelling detail, how Stokowski became the world's great proselytizer of microphone recording, producing the first commercial electrically recorded performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1925, then enthusiastically cooperating with Bell Labs when it separated the orchestra's high and low frequencies in two separate channels — the first example of Stereophonic sound . . . If the first half of Perfecting Sound Forever tracks a fitful trajectory toward the apex of analog recording glory, the second half — at least by Milner's lights — maps its decline and fall into the garish hyper-realism of digital recording.

Review:

"Recording gadgets evolve with dizzying speed, but debates over their effects on music never change, according to this fascinating study of technology and aesthetics. Journalist Milner (coauthor, Metallica: This Monster Lives) surveys developments in recording, from Thomas Edison's complaints about those new-fangled Victrolas to the contemporary controversy between CD and vinyl. With every advance of hardware, he notes, comes accompanying shifts in the sound of music: the sense of physical space implied by stereo sound; the advent of rock 'n' roll reverb; the 'big obnoxious ambient drum sound that defined the '80s' under the Phil Collins dictatorship; the 'unsettling robotic tone' imparted to vocals by today's Auto-Tune pitch-correction software; the arms race toward ear-grabbing, distortion-heavy loudness that leaves us 'surrounded by music that does nothing but shout.' Perennial arguments about the fidelity of new technologies, he contends, miss the point: now that every record is digitally spliced together out of multiple tracks and far-flung samples, there is no authentic musical performance for the sound engineer — contemporary music's true auteur — to 'record.' Milner combines a lucid exposition of acoustics and technology with a critic's keen discernment of the pop-music soundscape. The result is a real ear-opener that will captivate fans and techies alike. (June 16)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Exhaustive, technically precise and fascinating." Marc Weingarten, Los Angeles Times

Review:

"A personal yet informative interpretation of recorded music that will appeal to students and professionals in the music industry as well as general music-loving readers." Bradford Lee Eden, Library Journal

Review:

"[P]rovides insightful commentary and possesses a solid grasp of pacing and a light touch with the technical aspects....Milner especially excels at revealing the human side of each story." Kirkus

Synopsis:

From CDs at Virgin Records, to the hallowed vinyl of DJs and audiophiles, to the MP3s cramming college servers, recordings are by far the most common way we experience music. Yet their ubiquity has deafened us to the way the processes that create them shape our understanding of what music is.

Perfecting Sound Forever tells the history of recorded music, from Edison's quest to perfectly capture the sound of a live performance to the state of affairs one hundred years later where the armada of producers who turn Jennifer Lopez into a recording artist want us to believe in a performance that never actually happened. Along the way, the music journalist Greg Milner takes us through the major recording achievements, breakthroughs, and failures, focusing on the innovators, musicians, and producers who changed the way we hear our favorite songs from Les Paul to Phil Spector to Neil Young and King Tubby (the inventor of the dub remix). He charts the key points in a debate that spans the past century: Should a recording document reality as faithfully as possible, or should it improve upon or somehow transcend the music it records? The answers he uncovers will change the very way we think about music.

Synopsis:

In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro Tools and digital samplers now allow musicians and engineers to create the illusion of performances that never were. In between lies a century of sonic exploration into the balance between the real and the represented.

Tracing the contours of this history, Greg Milner takes us through the major breakthroughs and glorious failures in the art and science of recording. An American soldier monitoring Nazi radio transmissions stumbles onto the open yet revolutionary secret of magnetic tape. Japanese and Dutch researchers build a first-generation digital audio format and watch as their “compact disc” is marketed by the music industry as the second coming of Edison yet derided as heretical by analog loyalists. The music world becomes addicted to volume in the nineties and fights a self-defeating “loudness war” to get its fix.

From Les Paul to Phil Spector to King Tubby, from vinyl to pirated CDs to iPods, Milner pulls apart musical history to answer a crucial question: Should a recording document reality as faithfully as possible, or should it improve upon or somehow transcend the music it records? The answers he uncovers will change the very way we think about music.

About the Author

Greg Milner has written on music, film, and technology for Spin, Salon, The Village Voice, and Wired, among other publications. He is the co-author with Joe Berlinger of Metallica: This Monster Lives.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780571211654
Author:
Milner, Greg
Publisher:
Faber & Faber
Author:
ilner
Author:
Greg M
Subject:
Popular Culture - General
Subject:
General
Subject:
Popular Culture
Subject:
General Music
Subject:
Recording & Reproduction
Subject:
History & Criticism - General
Subject:
Musical perception
Subject:
Sound -- Recording and reproducing -- History.
Subject:
History & Criticism *
Subject:
Music-Recording Techniques
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20090631
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes 18 Black-and-White Illustration
Pages:
432
Dimensions:
9.00 x 6.00 in

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Music » General
Arts and Entertainment » Music » General History
Arts and Entertainment » Music » History and Criticism
Arts and Entertainment » Music » Recording Techniques
History and Social Science » Sociology » General

Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music Used Hardcover
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$12.95 In Stock
Product details 432 pages Faber & Faber - English 9780571211654 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Recording gadgets evolve with dizzying speed, but debates over their effects on music never change, according to this fascinating study of technology and aesthetics. Journalist Milner (coauthor, Metallica: This Monster Lives) surveys developments in recording, from Thomas Edison's complaints about those new-fangled Victrolas to the contemporary controversy between CD and vinyl. With every advance of hardware, he notes, comes accompanying shifts in the sound of music: the sense of physical space implied by stereo sound; the advent of rock 'n' roll reverb; the 'big obnoxious ambient drum sound that defined the '80s' under the Phil Collins dictatorship; the 'unsettling robotic tone' imparted to vocals by today's Auto-Tune pitch-correction software; the arms race toward ear-grabbing, distortion-heavy loudness that leaves us 'surrounded by music that does nothing but shout.' Perennial arguments about the fidelity of new technologies, he contends, miss the point: now that every record is digitally spliced together out of multiple tracks and far-flung samples, there is no authentic musical performance for the sound engineer — contemporary music's true auteur — to 'record.' Milner combines a lucid exposition of acoustics and technology with a critic's keen discernment of the pop-music soundscape. The result is a real ear-opener that will captivate fans and techies alike. (June 16)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by ,
The story goes that, late in his life, Guglielmo Marconi had an epiphany. The godfather of radio technology decided that no sound ever dies. It just decays beyond the point that we can detect it with our ears. Any sound was forever recoverable, he believed, with the right device. His dream was to build one powerful enough to pick up Christ's Sermon on the Mount.

"Thus begins Perfecting Sound Forever, Greg Milner's cultural and technological history of the sound-recording industry. As far as I know, the original-cast album of the Sermon on the Mount has not yet been released on CD, but plenty of acoustic waves emitted in our own era have been captured and preserved, to become the golden oldies of future generations. Neil Young said it: Rock and roll will never die." Brian Hayes, American Scientist (Read the entire American Scientist review)

"Review" by , "Exhaustive, technically precise and fascinating."
"Review" by , "A personal yet informative interpretation of recorded music that will appeal to students and professionals in the music industry as well as general music-loving readers."
"Review" by , "[P]rovides insightful commentary and possesses a solid grasp of pacing and a light touch with the technical aspects....Milner especially excels at revealing the human side of each story."
"Synopsis" by , From CDs at Virgin Records, to the hallowed vinyl of DJs and audiophiles, to the MP3s cramming college servers, recordings are by far the most common way we experience music. Yet their ubiquity has deafened us to the way the processes that create them shape our understanding of what music is.

Perfecting Sound Forever tells the history of recorded music, from Edison's quest to perfectly capture the sound of a live performance to the state of affairs one hundred years later where the armada of producers who turn Jennifer Lopez into a recording artist want us to believe in a performance that never actually happened. Along the way, the music journalist Greg Milner takes us through the major recording achievements, breakthroughs, and failures, focusing on the innovators, musicians, and producers who changed the way we hear our favorite songs from Les Paul to Phil Spector to Neil Young and King Tubby (the inventor of the dub remix). He charts the key points in a debate that spans the past century: Should a recording document reality as faithfully as possible, or should it improve upon or somehow transcend the music it records? The answers he uncovers will change the very way we think about music.

"Synopsis" by ,

In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro Tools and digital samplers now allow musicians and engineers to create the illusion of performances that never were. In between lies a century of sonic exploration into the balance between the real and the represented.

Tracing the contours of this history, Greg Milner takes us through the major breakthroughs and glorious failures in the art and science of recording. An American soldier monitoring Nazi radio transmissions stumbles onto the open yet revolutionary secret of magnetic tape. Japanese and Dutch researchers build a first-generation digital audio format and watch as their “compact disc” is marketed by the music industry as the second coming of Edison yet derided as heretical by analog loyalists. The music world becomes addicted to volume in the nineties and fights a self-defeating “loudness war” to get its fix.

From Les Paul to Phil Spector to King Tubby, from vinyl to pirated CDs to iPods, Milner pulls apart musical history to answer a crucial question: Should a recording document reality as faithfully as possible, or should it improve upon or somehow transcend the music it records? The answers he uncovers will change the very way we think about music.

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