History Music Production Part 4b – Experimental practice changes the approach to mainstream music-production
This blog is a continuation of a series. See here (Page 2016a) for the previous blog.
Mainstream popular music-making practitioners draw on broader lineage
Musical hybridity is prevalent in most approaches to music-making, particularly roots-based approach music. Mainstream music developed out of traditional roots-based forms of music such as blues, country, folk, bluegrass and jazz musical styles. Fused into an ever-growing range of hybrid musical styles such as rhythm and blues, soul, pop, rockabilly, rock n’ roll, and its various hybrids of country rock, folk rock, progressive rock, psychedelic rock and rock n’ soul. With large record labels in control of studios, mainstream music-making was a commercial venture. Innovation of technology or workflows would generally not be considered until the early adopters of such technology and workflows had demonstrated the benefits (Martin & Hornsby 1979, 58-61). Mainstream music-making benefited from inventive creative practice in the studio by a range of innovators and early adopters in the 1950’s and early 1960’s such as Les Paul, Phil Spector and Frank Zappa (Moorefield 2005, i; Cotter 2002, 593-594).
However, it was not until 1966 that mainstream music-making – such as the Beatles and George Martin, and Brian Wilson – adopted the creative practice of Paul, Spector and Zappa.
(Beatles, 1966) (Beach Boys,1966) (Beatles, 1967)
In the mid to late 1960’s, mainstream music connected with the lineage of experimental music forms. Holmes describes the merging of roots-based approaches to music, and electroacoustic and sonic art-based approaches to music in his Chapter “Rock, Space Age Pop, and Turntablisim” (2012, 442) from the era of the Beatles. Holmes notes McCartney and Lennon’s interest in experimental forms of music-making such as Cage and Stockhausen, their adoption of the Moog Synthesiser (2012, 443-446); discusses Pink Floyd (2012, 448); Emerson, Lake and Palmer (2012, 450); and the Beach Boys, and their adoption of the electro-Theramin (2012, 455).
(Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1970) (Pink Floyd, 1973)
It was perhaps Brian Eno who continued on the legacy of inventive creative practice in the traditional studio that Paul, Spector, Martin and Wilson had laid (Moorefield 2005, 51). Eno has produced a large number of albums that are stylistically diverse: pop, rock, and progressive rock. Eno’s body of musical work is heavily dependent on technology – so much so, “it could not have existed in any previous age” (Tamm 1988, 63). Eno conceives the studio as an instrument, using the technological devices for purposes that the original manufacturers may or may not have originally intended. His “sound-altering devices are always changing” (Tamm 1988,73).
(Eno, 1974a) (Eno,1974b) (Eno, 1975a)
However, it is the musical style that he created that he is now perhaps become best known for: ambient music (Tamm 1988, 1). This form of music was not roots-based music-making. This was a form of music that drew on a lineage of music-making very distant to that of roots-based music and traditional instruments such as voice, guitars, bass and drums.
(Eno, 1975b) (Eno,1978a) (Eno, 1978a)
Eno released his first solo ambient album in 1978, Ambient 1: Music for Airports. This album’s music hinges “not on what a musicologist might be inclined to call their ‘purely musical qualities’ of melody, harmony, rhythm and so on – but rather on aspects of production and engineering, on how the recording studio was used to produce a particular kind of sound texture” (Tamm 1988, 63). As a self-confessed non-musician, Eno commenced composing in the studio, rather than the traditional method of arriving to a studio with a completed composition, in order to record the piece. “(I)n-studio composition’ is the result of the multi-track idea ‘that composition is the process of adding more’“ (Tamm 1988, 64).
“In his 1979 lecture “The Studio as Compositional Tool,” first given …. in New York, Eno shared his ideas about recording, composing, and producing in the studio. His talk makes clear that he is already at that time quite aware of the implications of his work, ….. and ….. the history of making records. He places the beginning of his involvement as producer-composer at the dawn of the sixteen-track studio, circa 1970” (Moorefield 2005, 53).
Eno in his London studio in 2014 (Dark Shark 2016)
With the exponential development of technology over the past four decades, the contemporary DIY music-making practitioner can now access – at an affordable price – a very wide range of digital or digital virtual technology capable of producing cultural productions to an industry standard. There are infinite choices of: technology, and combinations of technology; different sites, and combinations of sites; workflows, and combinations of workflows; a contemporary DIY music-making practitioner can compose with. There is infinite choice in which to create one’s own unique sound, in order to express one’s own unique voice. Progressing the legacy of the likes of Paul, Spector, Martin, Wilson and Eno, the contemporary studio – irrespective of a project studio or a portable studio – is now more than ever a creative compositional workspace:
“(T)he studio is where composition (not just recording or even arranging) takes place, and what is being made is not a replication or extension of a concert experience, but something altogether different” (Moorefield 2005, 54).
Eno believes the process actually likens music-makers practice to that of other creative practitioners, such as painters. Using a studio and its technology as a compositional tool affords the practitioner a high degree of flexibility to add, subtract, or to rearrange aspects that have already been laid out (Homer 2009, 91).
Martin was a practitioner who understood the idea of “painting with sound” (Kleon, 2016)
(Eno & Byrne 1980) (Eno & Byrne, 1981)
As the decades advanced, the legacy of Paul, Spector, Zappa, Martin and Eno gathered momentum. Music styles and approaches to production were appropriated; drawing on different technologies; using many and varied unconventional sites; using converged and conflated workflows. Hybridity was gathering momentum…..
 I will discuss Frank Zappa’s impact on mainstream music-making in a later section on experimental music-makers