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's Perfecting Sound Forever 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.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||8.30(w) x 5.66(h) x 1.13(d)|
About the Author
GREG MILNER has written about music, media, technology, and politics for Spin, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Slate, Salon, and Wired. He is the coauthor, with the filmmaker Joe Berlinger, of Metallica: This Monster Lives. He lives in Brooklyn.
Table of Contents
Liner Notes ix
Intro: "Testing, Testing ..." 3
1 The Point of Commencement 29
2 From the New World 50
3 Aluminum Cowboys: A Pretape Parable 77
4 Pink Pseudo-Realism 104
5 Presence 129
6 Perfect Sound? Whatever 185
7 The Story of the Band That Clipped Itself to Death (and Other Dispatches from the Loudness War) 237
8 Tubby's Ghost 293
Outro: "Testing, Testing ... (Reprise)" 347
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Parts of this history of recorded sound are fascinating; other parts become tedious. The title of Milner's book is misleading and explains some of my disappointment. This account is not a history of music recording; primarily it's a survey of the developments over the past fifty years in the recording of American pop music.It's the omissions that irk me. Although he acknowledges recording's initial start in France, Milner really examines only American advances in equipment and recording techniques. Surely the British, the French, or the Germans (at least) contributed something to the challenges of transferring sound waves to a persistent medium, but you'll learn very little of their accomplishments from this book. Milner can, for example, spend several pages on the Beatles' innovative recordings without ever mentioning George Martin; Ricky is the only Martin who makes it into the book's index. What's with that?Edison's goal, according to Milner, was to make an objectively accurate record of an individual performance. The through line of Perfecting Sound Forever follows the wandering path from that ideal to recent decades when a CD produces sounds that may never have had any prior physical existence at all. Organizing the book around such a notion requires Milner to virtually ignore classical music after Stokowski's recording of Fantasia (on page 71 of 371) and almost all of acoustic jazz. Fidelity may have vanished in the 1990's from certain types of pop music, but it's grossly over-simplified, even in the era of MP3s, to imply that fidelity has ceased to be a goal of digital recording in general.Rating the book at two stars would be harsh, but I give it three only because, despite its shortcomings, I found some interesting content in most chapters.
This has got to be the first "footnoted" book I've ever read that I couldn't put down! I'm sure that has a lot to do with my own background as a semi-pro musician and performer, but really, the logical target for this book is basically any halfway-curious person who's sought out and enjoyed any recorded music at any time between, say, 1880 and 2010. Milner affably and casually presents a very engaging narrative of the development of recorded music, covering in depth the evolution of what "fidelity" has meant, historically, but also the psychoacoustics of the listening experience and how that's evolved as technology has taken us from Edison's wax cylinders to MP3's compressed into those dinky little iPods. With the exception of a very few pages of supra-layman's techno-speak, this is highly accessible nonfiction for the masses (like me). If you like John McPhee, you'll have a great time with Milner! Highly recommended!