Wednesday, May 5, 2010
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ProTools.
We are supposed to respond to every new technological googah with a gleeful ejaculation. Huzzah! A new phone that will wipe your butt as it dials up Skype and recycles your used kidney stones.
Have misgivings, you Luddite? Well, no doubt those will be washed away in the tide of history. Move over, Keats, cause you'll have to share space with millions whose names will also be writ in water.
Alright, let me gently steer this tirade back to jazz. To wit: when it comes to jazz recording, put me squarely in the Luddite camp. As far as I'm concerned, the simplest approaches to recording are the best. Increasingly intensive engineering intrusion has, to me, simply debased the experience of listening to jazz recordings.
Let me interject that I'm not talking here about the evolution of microphones or sound reinforcement techniques. (It's hard for me to say when mastering began to really alter recordings). Our friends at Neumann and others, partnered with innovators like Van Gelder, gave us a much clearer audio picture of what was actually being played. No, the problem lies elsewhere.
First of all, it stands to reason that the diminution of 'alternate takes' runs parallel to the increasing manipulation of recordings through technology. At first, this was probably just a razor blade and an editing block, but even this meant that the ensemble performance experience had been-as the boys in the quarterlies would say-mediated. The first time I noticed this was in the late 50's Gil Evans/Miles collaborations. It was clumsily done, in a way that became really irksome to me in the recording "In a Silent Way." I mean, christ, "Ascension" was done in 2 continuous 40-minute takes.
I remember a time when there was a debate about whether jazz should adopt the "track layering" approach that swept the rock industry. The debate has been over for a long time. When- around 1980? After that, jazz recording became largely bifurcated. Either an album was recorded "live on location," or it was a studio production, meaning all the gizmos in the engineer's tool kit were trotted out. Yes, there were exceptions, but they have become increasingly rare (I look forward to readers bringing these and other historical recording details to light).
Let me simply wrap up by saying that, if the disc is in decent shape, the experience of listening to the 'crudest' technology-78's-can be at least the equal of the most sophisticated multi-track digital recordings. In fact, I contend that the immediacy of a great 78 has not been equaled by any format yet created by those who would capture sound for later consumption.
You can have your IC's. Give me a tube anytime.