Sound: Engineering and Technologies In
by Paul D. Greene and
Thomas Porcello, Editors
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown,
304 pp., illus. 20 b/w. Trade, $65.95;
ISBN: 0-8195-6516-4; ISBN: 0-8195-6517-2.
Reviewed by Stefaan Van Ryssen
Over the past decade, a number of studies
by sociomusicologists, ethnographers and
anthropologists have shown that the most
important single instrument in popular
music has become the mixing console and
its technical extensions: synthesizer,
drumbox, amps, recording platforms, etc.
Producers and engineers have gradually
taken more control over the final result
that actually reaches the audiences of
bands and singers through airplay, audio
CD, cassette and the Internet. Even at
concerts, the sound is seldom
heard unmediated or entirely acoustical.
The obvious question when we think about
this evolution is: How and in what measure
areeven sometimes unnamedtechnicians
and engineers influencing the creative
process itself? Or, to what degree have
they supplanted the musicians in the artistic
creation? Has the producer become composer
In this collection of essays, these questions
are taken even a step further. The editors
and authors simply take the important
and sometimes dominant role of the masters
of the mixing console as a given and are
looking at the societal effects of this
shift in relations in the recording studios.
How do the choices of engineers and technicians
create new musical and social meanings
for the various audiences?
There is no single, simple answer to this
question, and it is only one of the many
merits of this collection that none of
the authors tries to jump to general conclusions
from the analysis of one or a few cases.
And fascinating case studies they are.
I discovered the somewhat strange reception
of heavy metal addition in Nepali pop
music by the urban middle and upper classes
of Kathmanduthey appear to
take them as eminently suitable for a
good love song (article by Paul Greene).
I enjoyed the analysis of the complex
technological issues involved in samba
rede, the samba contest at Rio Carnival,
and its effects on the production of CDs
and cassettes with samba music (essay
by Frederick J. Moehn). The technical
and spectroscopic analysis of heavy metal
musicsome of my youth and
some more recentbrought me
new insights in the meaning of timbre
and the shifting reception by the listeners
(Cornelia Fales and Harris Berger). Jeremy
Wallach made me listen (again) to Indonesian
pop and made me think again about the
meaning of authentic in Indigenous
or Aboriginal music. And so did Beverley
Diamond with her description of some practices
in the studios where Native Americans
record their songs.
It doesnt happen often that I find
myself breathlessly reading a series of
ethnomusicological essays, and I assume
the editors had a hand in refraining the
authors from too much speculation and
(postmodern) phraseology. So: three amps
for the editors: May their voice be heard
more often and more loudlywith
the appropriate accompaniment and reverb,
of course. And be sure to stay close to
your favourite search engine so you can
find and download, legally or otherwise,
some of the music discussed in the essays.
You will be listening with new ears.