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Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History…

Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

by Greg Milner

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If you love music, play music, have an interest in audio technology, and have ever wondered how we got here, this will be an endlessly fascinating read. We are at the beginning of a new era that holds out many new opportunities. Milner's work is an indispensable read for anyone who wants to know where they are on the map of audio history. ( )
  chriszodrow | May 22, 2010 |
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. There's an interesting story in British Decca's development during World War II of anti-submarine hydrophone technology that subsequently became the basis for their revolutionary ffrr, an important impetus to high fidelity music recording in the 1950's; but you'll learn nothing of that from this book. Milner can also 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. ( )
1 vote librorumamans | Dec 12, 2009 |
An informative, fascinating history featuring the inventors, scientists and musicians behind the development of recording technologies from Thomas Edison to MP3s. With Les Paul and Leadbelly, Nazi broadcasters and King Tubby’s Kingston studio, the Pixies and Shellac, this is a story of the search for fidelity, authenticity, and the perfect sound.

These were groups of musicians accustomed to playing live who were entering a twenty-four-track world. ‘Instead of a band walking into a session and playing the way they did every day,’ Albini says, ‘the band would show up at the studio and have a session constructed around them piecemeal in an alien environment. They were doing something different to create a simulacrum of what they did every day. And it should come as no surprise that if a good-looking woman comes into your bedroom and drops her clothes, that’s going to be a lot more effective than if someone brings in an arm and a leg and one ass cheek and starts bolting them together.’

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  MusicalGlass | Oct 29, 2009 |
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The first thing the universe did was cut a record.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0571211658, Hardcover)

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 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:50 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Spanning the whole of the 20th century, this definitive cultural history of recorded music will change your understanding of what you are listening to - and how you hear your favourite songs - every time you turn on the radio, switch on the ipod, or dust off the vinyl.… (more)

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