Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Influence of Recording Technology and Practice on Popular Music Performance in the Recording Studio in Poland between 1960 and 1989

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Influence of Recording Technology and Practice on Popular Music Performance in the Recording Studio in Poland between 1960 and 1989

Article excerpt


This article, with its focus on Poland, is part of a larger international study about how recording technology and recording practice have influenced the way that musicians perform in the recording studio (and outside).1 The second, more sociological aim is to discuss how material conditions, including available recording technology, have influenced not only the musical performance but-more importantly-the social relationships between musicians and recording professionals in Poland, as compared to other countries. The analysis of music performance in different conditions must take into consideration not only technical aspects, such as recording technology and live performance arrangements, but also a larger social, economic, cultural and political context. This context includes the relations between musicians and recording professionals and is of a special importance in countries such as Poland in this period where popular culture was a subject of communist cultural policy.

My sources include studio photographs, album sleeve notes, the CVs and biographies of producers and engineers, recording company and studio documents as well as interviews with participants. Let us first concentrate on music performance. The notion that musicians perform differently in the studio is in no way new: Frank Tirro discusses the way New Orleans jazz drummers altered their style to accommodate the recording process in relation to a 1923 recording of the Creole jazz band:

The sound of the bass drum is not heard. Indeed, Baby Dodds was probably not playing any instrument except wood blocks at this recording session. The powerful sounds of a trap drummer could not be accommodated by the recording instruments of the time... In live performance, Baby Dodds played differently from the way he did in the studio-normally, the trap drum player is almost omnipresent in a jazz group (Tirro 1993: 126-7).

Richard Peterson (1995) writes about how the 'crooning' vocal style grew out of microphone technology, Mark Katz (2004) has described several of what he calls 'phonographic effects' including the changing approach to violin vibrato after 1910 and I (ZagorskiThomas 2010a) have written about the interaction of recording technology and popular music kit drum performance. My current research (Zagorski-Thomas 2014) utilizes Actor Network Theory (Latour 2005) and the Social Construction of Technology (Pinch et al. 2012) underpinned by the ecological approach to perception (Gibson 1979) and embodied cognition (Lakoff & Johnson 2003) to examine how technical factors such as microphone design and placement, screening, isolation, multi-track recording, signal processing and monitoring exerted an influence on performance practice in the recording studio.

Under this approach the social activity that defines both the usage and perception of technology is defined in terms of the participants' schemata (Lakoff & Johnson 2003) based on how they identify invariant properties and affordances (Gibson 1979). A schema may exist at a very basic level, such as the notion of a container, or higher level objects or processes, such as the notion of a mixing console and what it does or an event schema such as the process of recording. The invariant properties required of a container are simply that it has physical properties such that another object can be perceived to be either inside or outside of it. A mixing console has a more complex and less universally understood or widely perceived set of invariant properties. It has inputs for a number of audio signals, some form of electrical 'summing' circuitry and a mono or stereo output. These invariant properties produce the affordance of combining a number of separate audio signals into a single (mono or stereo) signal.

Within the ecological approach to perception, this pairing of properties with potential action or activity is central to understanding human cognition. The various participants in a process will have different but connected perceptions of what their current environment affords. …

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