It’s hard to overstate the severity of the damage done to recorded music during in the first decade of the twenty first century. In times to come, the strata of fatally damaged recordings will be viewed much like a fine layer of radiation blasted ash, such as marks out an apocalyptic meteorite strike in the geological record.
A perfect storm of new technologies, changing consumption habits and rapaceous profiteering in an era of sharp decline saw a race to the bottom in the quality of recorded music. Not simply in terms of the information being stored (the MP3 etc) but the artisanship that went into preparing the music for release.
Buy a cult record from the UK in the post-punk era and you’re likely to see “A Porky’s Prime Cut” scratched into the run out groove. This was the signiture of record cutting engineer George Peckham, who’s diligence and skill in producing top quality master discs for vinyl production meant that even the most DIY 7″s of the 1980s have more depth and longevity than much of the expensive trash churned out in the last few decades.
Good sound is a combination of ingenuity, excellent equipment and technical skill, although the first can often compensate for a lack of the second.
Different genres require different treatment. In classical or jazz, you might want to capture the breadth and scope between the virtuoso’s lightest touch and the full band’s thundering crescendo. In rock and roll, the producer might seek to evoke the intensity and saturation experienced when facing off against a band in a jam packed concert hall. Both require entirely difference approaches and skill sets, neither requires a one size fits all deformation of the master wave form into one uniformly loud sausage.
This tape was made for me by Terminal Gods singer and close friend, Robert Cowlin. He put it together a few years ago at the height of his crusade against badly mastered and remastered recordings. I felt at the time that his obsession with the shape of the wave form was distorting his ability to hear the shape of the song. Although he was somewhat overzealous, in hindsight I’ve come to agree with him. Once you can identify this vandalism for what it is, its hard to un-hear it. The idea that, for all our advancement, we seem incapable of making anything that sounds even remotely as good nearly anything from the mid 20th century is almost offensive – a metaphor for late capitalist decline.
Never one to admit defeat on a technicality, he can take some satisfaction in knowing that this wonderfully compiled (and indeed, good sounding) tape made his point neatly.
Cowlin now works as an audio archivist for the British Library. Never was a person so well suited for such a role.
1. Miles Davis – So What
2. Tom Waits – Waltzing Matilida
3. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane
4. John Foxx – Europe After The Rain
5. Morrissey – November Spawned A Monster
6. Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue
7. Al Green – Let’s Stay Together
8. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
9. Talking Heads – Psycho Killer (Live)
10. The Sisters of Mercy – Neverland (A Fragment)
11. The Fixx – One Thing Leads To Another
12. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – A Woman In Love
13. Iron Maiden – Can I Play With Madness?
14. The Beatles – Flying
15. The Beatles – Blue Jay Way
16. Dave Brubeck – Take Five
17. Lou Reed – Andy’s Chest
18. War On Drugs – Under The Pressure