For the last two weeks I was teaching a course on sound collage, focusing on Ableton Live and the materiality of sound recordings. The course took place at the University of Arts Helsinki.
Some notes/ideas/open questions about the materiality:
1. It does not matter how the sound is produced (analog/digital/acoustic/electric etc.) until we ask: How was it produced? Does the production method have a performative aspect? Is it synthesized? Is it recorded? Is it recorded on analog or digital media? Why was it recorded/produced that way? Sometimes the answer adds value to the work, sometimes not. This is a beautiful mystery.
2. Some people go really far to reach a certain sound, either physically or in terms of technical effort. But in the end a sound is a sound, and because it is a product of the brain, everyone is affected by the same sound source differently. This is the core of the debate: which sounds better, vinyl or CD? (A better question would be: how does it make you feel?)
3. Left and right stereo sound is a convention, and definitely not better (or worse) than mono or multichannel production. The history of stereo sound is less obvious than we tend to think.
4. We tend to think about a recording as a tape, even though most of the recordings are done digitally these days. A tape is a physical metaphor of time. In digital audio software we usually work on a timeline, which refers to the tape medium. A playhead tends to move in constant speed. We are used to seeing slow motion video and we can interpret it as a different representation of time, but does this apply similarly to sound — or are we bound to experience/interpret time as it happens around us when listening? If the center hole of a vinyl record is positioned not in the center but asymmetrically, the playing speed changes, alternately slowing down and accelerating.
5. Even if we work with digital audio, we still understand the recording as a two dimensional object. What kind of other perspectives to sound and time could we find? These days it is fairly simple to produce a multidimensional recording of sound, where you can navigate the playhead freely through location and time. Think about a 3d computer game with 3d sound design — it is still a recording of data, just like the tape, but the ”playhead” is operated by the player.
6. What about some multidimensional sound collage? No doubt someone will do it. Probably it has been done already.
7. Mono sound makes sense. I could easily consider releasing my next album in mono instead of stereo.
8. In digital sound productions ”materiality” is often added to the sounds by using effects processors and plugins. Tape saturation, vinyl noise and distortion and various other effects add a sense of materiality to the digital sound. Maybe in future the productions will be full of effects, that aim to create a retro ”mp3” or ”spotify streaming” vibe to the sound, you know, because once that sound felt so real, so warm, so authentic.
PS. Speaking of recordings, my new album Real Music for Unreal Times will be released on next Friday, March 6th 2015! You can order it now on Bandcamp. Digital download and CD are available now, vinyl will be available later this spring.