On critical listening, musicianship and the art of record production
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A popular discussion point in recent literature is that of the role of the record producer, variously described as music arranger, artist-industry interface, liaison between band and sound engineer, confidant, trainer and more. In many ways however, these ideas would appear to stem from assumptions about a Fordist production line assembly model more reminiscent of the late 20th century recording industry and less so of present day decentralized, independent arrangements. This becomes clear in contemporary music technology university training where important historical considerations are easily explored, yet prove more difficult to exemplify and place in an authentic context where many now work in home studios, as independent musicians, and as their own agents of communication and distribution. While there may be a role for professional divisions of labour under certain circumstances, as Mike Howlett notes (2012), "Put at its simplest, the producer's task is to produce a satisfactory outcome" (p. 190). This paper draws upon earlier research by the author (2012a; 2012b; 2011) concerning improvisation and the composition of new musical works to explore the ways in which a sole operator may develop production skills in an independent home studio environment. It also examines the author's recent delivery of seminars designed to interact with and promote critical listening skills in undergraduate music technologists, but which reveal a variety of sometimes incongruent approaches and tacit assumptions relevant to this paper. The project therefore identifies and examines critical listening in terms of various schema that are argued across a number of musical sub-disciplines. These include: 'new' musicology and semiotic considerations; audio engineering perspectives; composition and analysis approaches; performance, improvisation and artistic research judgements. Broadly, this provides a framing for the piece as critical thinking in music, as 'thinking through sound' where various aspects may be drawn upon according to specific intent or stage of the production process. The paper explores a number of practical 'in studio' examples in turn and draws upon the work of Hans-J沧 Rheinberger (cited in Borgdorff, 2012) in the philosophy of science and its experimental systems by theorizing about the shifting interplay of so-called 'technical objects' and 'epistemic things'. This is shown to reminiscent of a recording studio research setting where epistemological questions may be directed to certain outcomes, but are often intertwined with evolving technological processes and applied skills. Overall, this paper aims to reveal a little more about this idea of 'producer', and especially as this relates to the modern 'jack of all trades' context. In this there is shown to be the on-going interrelationships between the role of the ear, one's musical aims and personal 'aural library' (Schippers, 2007), and the gaps to be bridged in the refinement and operation of an array of technical devices as expanded musicianship, as 'producer' - "That recording is itself a way of music-making. It is not something done to music but a process in which sound becomes music" (Frith & Zagorski-Thomas, 2012, p. 277).
The Journal on the Art of Record Production (JARP)
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