Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

Greg Milner, Author
Greg Milner, Author . FSG/Faber & Faber $27 (416p) ISBN 978-0-571-21165-4
Reviewed on: 03/30/2009
Release date: 06/01/2009

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)

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