The dangers of digital: Brian Eno on technology and modern music

The dangers of digital: Brian Eno on technology and modern music

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Digital technology has enhanced music production, recording and distribution in ways unimaginable just a few decades ago, but are we losing something more essential in the process? Chris May talks to ambient pioneer and friend of technology Brian Eno about the dangers of digital dependence in modern music.


Words: Chris May


Back in the early 1970s, Phil Spector launched a Bring Back Mono campaign. More of a publicity stunt than a real protest movement, it fizzled out after a couple of stories in Rolling Stone and failed utterly to change the course of history. Four decades on, another, more serious guerrilla-action is being fought, this time against the digitisation of recording and production.

Recording history since the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll can be divided into two halves, analogue era and digital era. In this model, analogue is equated with authenticity, digital with artificiality. Proponents of the model argue that, from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s, analogue recording was primarily concerned with making musicians sound as good on record as they did on stage. By contrast, since the adoption of digital technology in the late-1980s, studios are said to have been expected to make musicians sound not merely as good as they are, but better. Digital tools have made it possible for the most indifferent singer, drummer or guitarist to sound like the business. Real music made in real time by real people has become an endangered species.

The model is a crude over-simplification, of course. It ignores the conveniences and benefits of digital technology, not least the fact that affordable, home-studio set-ups have democratised recording. But is the price we are paying for digital’s upside too high? By embracing the new tech, are we losing the human factor which has been at the heart of music making? Are we ceding too much power to the machines? Is gloss replacing substance?

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Techphobics are not the only people asking these questions. Brian Eno became an early adopter of new technology as a teenager. At art school in the mid 1960s, Eno studied under the modernist art-theorist Roy Ascott, who introduced him to the idea of “process not product” and encouraged his first experiments with tape recorders. In 1972, Eno began working with Robert Fripp on the tape-looping system later known as Frippertronics, and, in mid-decade, introduced his own tech-rich, ambient music. Eno’s current enthusiasms include generative music, which, in essence, involves writing some algorithms, pointing them in the right direction and standing well back.

After 50 years at the sharp end of technological innovation, Eno is the last person you might expect to have doubts about digital recording.

Yet in an interview for Jocks&Nerds magazine recently, Eno said: “As a record producer, digital technology makes me wonder about the whole direction recording is taking.”

Eno was speaking on the eve of the release of Knitting Factory Records’ Fela: Vinyl Box Set 3, which he compiled. He has been an Afrobeat devotee since 1973, when he chanced on Fela Kuti’s album Afrodisiac. I had asked Eno if he thought it was possible to retain the human touch, so explicit in Kuti’s Afrobeat recordings, while using sophisticated, digital studio-technology.

“It’s very difficult, and it’s continually under debate actually,” said Eno. “It doesn’t just apply with African recordings. It’s a problem everybody is having at the moment. Do I resist the temptation to perfect this thing? What do I lose by perfecting it? It’s difficult. Because now it is possible to mend anything, correct anything. The rhythm’s a bit out on that bar? OK, we’ll just stretch it a little bit. We can quantize everything now, we can quantize audio so the beat is absolutely perfect. We can sort of do and undo everything. And of course, most of the records we like, all of us, as listeners, are records where people didn’t do everything to fix them up and make them perfect.

“So the question that everybody’s asking is, is it getting any better as a result of all this? But it’s such a hard temptation to resist. You’re recording a song and find a note that is really quite out of tune. In the past, you’d have said, it’s a great performance, so we’ll just live with it. What you do now is retune that note. So you’re always asking yourself, have we lost something of the tension of the performance, of the feeling of humanity and vulnerability and organic truth or whatever, by making these corrections? It does make you question the role of new technology in the studio. And, of course, there are all sorts of reactions against it. You have Jack White with his studio in Nashville, which is all analogue, he doesn’t have any digital equipment in there. And I’ve worked with bands who’ve said, we’re going back to tape. They’ve got in all the stuff, 24-track recorders, all the gear – but within half a day they’re saying, fuck, we can’t edit this stuff. They’re just not used to working that way.

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“There’s a very interesting exercise, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, not to use cmd-Z when you’re writing something. I write quite a lot on a Mac and like everybody I go back and change things. If you say to yourself, today I’m going to write exactly as if I was sitting in front of a piece of paper and writing – Jesus, it’s a whole different mind-set. Because you have to start thinking before you start writing. It’s really hard to go back to that. I’m not saying there is any advantage in going back to it, it’s just interesting to try it, to remind yourself of how completely you are now part of this new technology of writing.”

Did Eno think that belle époque West African records still sound vital and alive 40 or 50 years on because of, rather than despite, the very basic conditions under which most of them were recorded?

“I do,” said Eno. “It’s partly to do with engineers working with very limited resources and really understanding them well. If you’ve only got two mics, one compressor and a couple of pre-amps, you really know what they do, because you’re using them every single day. It’s like an artist who is extremely good with water colours. Water colour is a very limited medium but you can become incredibly good with it if that is all you have. Those old African recordings, and a lot of old rhythm ‘n’ blues and early doo-wop and so on, in many respects they were incredibly limited in recording tools. But nonetheless, the people who were using those limited tools had a real rapport with them, and knew how to get exciting results from them.

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“For instance, I once recorded in West Africa with a Ghanaian band called Edikanfo [on the group’s 1981 album The Pace Setters]. I worked with an engineer there in a little studio that was a joke by Western terms. He had a really random bundle of microphones. One of them was from a Sony cassette recorder, a really cheap mic, but he used it brilliantly. He put it over the drum kit and he got a really vibrant, lively sound from it. If you’d shown that set-up to a Western engineer then they would have laughed at you. And the same with the instruments. Sometimes the instruments the guys were using were really crappy old electric guitars. But they knew how to work with them, how to get something special out of them.”

Last year, Bob Dylan went old-school, though not across-the-board analogue, while recording his album Shadows in the Night. In an interview published in US magazine AARP this February, Dylan explained: “I could only record these songs one way, and that was live on the floor with a very small number of mics. No headphones, no overdubs, no vocal booth, no separate tracking…The engineer had his own equipment, left over from bygone days, and he brought all that in… There was no mixing. That’s just the way it sounded… We used as little technology as possible.”

Far from diminishing, the debate about authenticity and artifice is building. Artisan music is not about to roll over and surrender. Neither is digital technology going to disappear. But if commercially-successful producers such as Eno can find a humanistic accommodation between analogue and digital aesthetics, the sun will continue to shine.

  • chriswiseowl

    This…argument is slightly specious and not jus a little disingenuous. Why? Because, well, listen to some of the Beatles recording in their last days. Many times you can hear the engineer yell out the take number. “Take 31,” for example. This is because a number of Beatles songs–particularly the musical or vocal lines hooking two pieces of music together–were still being written as it was recorded. You have as many takes as you can afford. This is true of many bands and solo singers. How many takes did it take Aretha to get through “Natural Women?” One, five, eight? Few people know. How many people knew that her last song was time stretched? Everybody. So, the idea of a perfectly recorded musical take, as in say, a “performance” isn’t necessary in analogue. Second, tape splicing: in analogue there are many times a guitarist will play numerous lead parts wherein he/she and the engineer can and will cut and splice the best segments together creating a whole lead. Of course, the guitarist will ultimately have to play this live–or not (many times I’ve heard a guitarist play an entirely different lead live to the “amazement of the crowd, who thinks it’s genius)–or not, simply he/she couldn’t pull it off, but never mind. This also applies to singers. Third: “dropping in,” allows said artist to cut into a previously recorded tape and play or voice over in “real time”. Fourth: some of the worst blathering extolling the virtues of analogue has been provided by a certain guitarist in a famous band. No need to name names because if you’ve followed the argument, you know who. I lol this talk. Why? Because he plays shitty acoustic guitar; and because electric guitar, while not easy to play in many respects, can be easier to play due to certain items called “peddles”–to allow sustain in the same way that a not very experienced piano player parks their foot on the sustain peddle to disguise the fact that he/she can’t really play that well. It’s why we have synths. If you don’t know the difference between a synth and a keyboard player, I’m not going to explain it here. It is sometimes difficult to tell a good guitar player until they play acoustically. Why? Because there’s no foolin’ anyone with that. Anyway, analogue and digital. They both work. It took Fleetwood Mac 6 months, 18 hours a day, seven days a week (according to the engineer) to record “Rumours” in analogue, on tape. At that time point, tell me, what’s the difference between the two?

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      Rock/pop bands that are famous typically have big budgets to essentially spend as much time as they want and they are doing what is called a more PRODUCED recording vs a PERFORMANCE recording.

      The classically trained musicians and skilled jazz musicians simply play a piece a couple of times and that’s all they NEED to put out a recording. The Rock/Pop guys with big budgets can spend as much time diving into the crevices and that’s what they are used to. The more skilled the musician, they are much more consistent in being able to capture a magical performance whereas the rock/pop guys typically can’t. They aren’t as skilled (generalization, of course), but there are some exceptions.

      I just wish they didn’t put so much audio compression and using sampled sounds vs the real thing. I would much rather hear a REAL drum set in a good room that’s well recorded rather than some sampled/modeled drum sound that’s so phony, it’s annoying to listen to.

      As far as recording to tape or a DAW, just use good equipment, good rooms, good mikes, good miking technique and don’t try to screwup the recording by using every plug-in. A well captured recording of musicians shouldn’t NEED ANYTHING done to the original recording other than just setting levels in the mix and final mix. But unfortunately these pop producers seem to like to add as much altering as possible to make them feel superior because they ended up using 100 different plug-ins to get that “sound” of a snare drum on some meaningless dance song.

      Plus these engineers should be using high quality monitors instead of those cheap crappy sounding NS-10’s and other crappy monitors, that distorts their hearing and some of us with good stereos can spot a crappy recording in less than a minute.

    • tb303

      There’s a world of a difference between drop in rerecording and fixing the pitch and timing to a rigid tempo, and often when lots of takes are recorded they go back to an earlier one because the later ones start to become too rehearsed and lifeless, The beatles later albums are the start of pop using production as much as the playing / song writing, it was never played all in one place, so it’s not really digital vs analogue, it’s just digital makes more extreme changes much easier, also think using guitar effects on an electric is such a different art to acoustic it’s unfair to compare them.

  • chriswiseowl

    Also, what bothered me about musical non-musicians–or technicians, if you will–for years had nothing to do with digital music. I believed that technicians weren’t worthy precisely because they weren’t musicians, and had no right to make sound. What changed my mind was precisely recording into digital, and realizing that digital wasn’t just a recording vis a vis; it is–now get this, all you musicians–digital is ALSO AN INSTRUMENT–as soon as you understand this, the arguments will be over; in fact, it’s already over. I’ve been a musician since the age of five, so I don’t feel a…lack, or a resentment any more. Just accept that digital is an instrument, and…just do it.

    • the use of digital literally “as an instrument” isn’t the issue.
      Using it as an instrument would allow, for example, for one to change the pitch of a note to change a chord, or to more a phrase n time to feel different, or be in another part of a song… those are musical choices.
      But the discussion has more to do with using the technology to attempt to make things “perfect”.
      No matter how many times The Beatles, or you, drop in a word or phrase, it’s never going to be “perfect” to the degree that a computer will move something to the grid or the pitch (as it sees it).
      What we, some of us, are on the lookout for here is the DEHUMANIZING of the music; when the machine’s (the software’s, really) idea of “right” takes over for human judgment about what’s in time and in tune.
      People react emotionally to other humans; that’s natural.
      The danger is in lessening or fracturing that human-to-human emotional connection of recorded music by ‘perfecting’ to machine standards everything that is released.

      It’s not at all clear that (the article’s preamble) “Digital technology has enhanced music production, recording and distribution…” is true.

      Changed; for sure. But ‘enhanced” is entirely questionable.

      • lokey

        if you focus on the shitty 90% of any genre or any approach to creation, you’re going to be disappointed, and disappointing. Its very hard to argue that the golden 10% of digital productions are anything but utterly amazing.

      • Sean Anomie

        I’ve been using Roland drum machines and grooveboxes since I was a teenager, and I can tell you, especially the grooveboxes, are instruments, the same way a synthesizer is instrument. For example I assign the arpeggio controller to the drum track to perform live, improvisational rhythm jams by holding down the keys with one hand and manipulating the timing and quantization via knobs with the other hand. I also have my midi controllers set up to do a similar thing with my laptop. Stuff like this is not in the manual; it took me an hour to learn to use the arpeggiator, but several years to become proficient in 6/8 time (does it help that I play African drums as well?). From music technology to our cell phones, Americans just love to invent a cool new gadget and then blame the gadget (an inanimate object!) for their lack of creativity (or in the case of cellphones, their lack of social skills). Also, if you spend one day trying to make a coherent phrase of music with a modern digital instrument, you’ll get over this misguided idea of ‘what the machine thinks is perfect’ really quickly. That’s not a thing. Synthesizers are not designed to conform to some established idea, they are designed to maximize the number of things one can create with them. Example: Herbie Hancock made some electrifying music with Roland drum machines in the 80s, programming them for jazz time signatures, and then even going off his own program. If people spend their money on this expensive piece of equipment and then use it to essentially count to four, that’s not the machine ruining music, it’s the uninspired musicians.

  • drno

    I’m more worried how technology is turning music into guitar hero. Mastering an instrument is becoming less and less important. Being able to read and understand music is becoming less and less important. Youth is learning how to play ‘keyboards’ via a 64 pad controller, making the piano a relic of the past.

    Sampling has all but killed true creativity. The past isn’t something your respect anymore, its something you shoplift for your next hit. I’ve also noticed in some forms of music the concept of a band is dead, especially urban and r&b music. We need to get this back.

    Technology is wonderful, but at the same time without the right kind musical education and the people in places to bring you the best music, the 1 finger musician might become a staple of the future.

    • Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface

      who cares. seriously, getting snobby about HOW people make great music is ridiculously antiquated. and are you seriously implying that every musician needs to know how to read notation or they’re not a ‘true’ musician? it’s amazing how many compelling musicians never learned. and ‘mastering’ an instrument is not the same as musical creativity. boring virtuosity can suck the life from music.

      if the end result is good music, who cares how they got there? and your stance on sampling shows nothing but pure ignorance of how sampling works. you’re being a judgmental elitist with limited understanding of what you’re discussing. you’re probably one of those people clinging to the idea that electronic music isn’t ‘real’?

      Being a musician is not some special protected class for only the wealthy and educated, and that must drive folks like you crazy. You act as if blues, old time, punk…as if these people either never existed or aren’t real musicians.

      Oh and the concept of bands is still plenty alive. Maybe stop being lazy and look around a little harder?

      • drno

        hey…….as I listen to music today, people do seem to like ‘less’ so maybe your right lol the 2 finger technique will live on. quick hits and stuff like that. novelty stuff. ‘royals’ type songs. of course there will always be that kind of song ro hit being made, but for those that go more for musicianship combined with vocals that don’t sound like a computer algorithm was applied to it, it shouldn’t be as had as it is to find great music and great instrumentalist virtuous.

        knowing notation is very important. can’t earn in some circles without knowing it lol. wow. to disregard that is so typical;. you really want a generation of musicians who only know loops, sampling (shoplifting lol), pad controllers? really?

        the end result can be disappointing if you go to a concert and come to find out the song(s) you liked was based on a sample from a band in the 70’s and that none of the people on stage can actually play an instrument…..but will use the hell out of OFFICE 365 lol. but if that’s what get’s ya going then I guess these are the golden times.

        didn’t have to search this hard for great music and great bands. not much of a platform for non top 100 acts to be heard these days which sucks because people are more about convenience today. they don’t go on safari to find anything anymore.

        • Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface

          yeah, about what i expected. enjoy your bubble.

          • drno

            I’d birp, but you might get it lol

          • Sane Guy

            Sampling is an art form in itself…. There’s a whole genre called hip hop based off it.

          • drno

            stealing is stealing lol. even if it’s called sampling or digging. as more lawsuits come out, the more it will be beneficial to young finger banging musicians to learn how to play original music via an instrument.

            I know some samples do get cleared and artists get compensated, but there’s so much theft passed as ‘genius’.

          • Sane Guy

            i’de say it’s beneficial to be good at both and not discriminate against certain mediums when you don’t understand the art behind them:)

          • drno

            but what if you do understand the ‘art’ behind it but still think it was sorta like…….. stealing. Primo, dilla, shadow, pete rock, dust brothers, all that puff daddy stuff………ect ect. As you understand the business of music you can see how the original artists are affected by anyone using their music and music in general losing it’s creativity in regards to having actual musicians and being able to create from scratch. Pop music wasn’t always so ‘juvenile’ sounding.

          • Sane Guy

            You claim “the original artists are affected by anyone using their music” yet you don’t explain how they are so greatly affected. This is in fact, a subjective statement that lies in the eyes of the artist. I personally, don’t care and am in fact honored if someone as you say “steals” my music. I am way more keen to sharing my art for free then seeking monetary compensation for it. This seems to be a generational thing between us, so I don’t think we’ll ever agree….

            Also with your same logic, I guess we should start copyrighting chord progressions, specific guitar riffs, shit how about just single chords… Because you know, you wouldn’t want to be “stealing” from the original artist who played it

          • Sane Guy

            And hate to break it you, but being able to name a few producers doesn’t mean you understand the culture… Good list tho!

            Also, pop music had always been equally juvenile sounding. Maybe worse in the past

          • drno

            do your research. pop music used to be a source of innovation. but then again folks today don’t care about anything more than 3 years old lol. I have to remind myself of that. then these kinds of discussions make sense.

            “Apart from jazz and prog rock, I am unaware of any sophisticated type of pop music. All genres seem to follow basic formulae, with chord progressions of varying lengths from 2 to maybe 12. Can you enlighten me on this subject?”

            That was funny!!! get experienced folks.

          • Sane Guy

            Literally, nobody on here cares about what YOU care about. Stop complaining on the Internet like a whiny old man and go make something (anything) artistic in your life

          • drno

            “Literally, nobody on here cares about what YOU care about. Stop complaining on the Internet like a whiny old man and go make something (anything) artistic in your life” LOL!! so typical. You even found time to do a survey among Disqus users!

            Remember……..even your opinion counts! 🙂

          • Anono12

            So your answer is ‘no, I can’t’?

          • drno

            many of the original artists didn’t have the means to properly go after artists who used their music without permission…..but that should already be common knowledge. and believe me, they want to go after these guys taking their blood & sweat and sticking modern drums on top of it and getting labeled genius lol.

            You will care when you actually need adult money to survive if you do it as a living lol. That whole sharing my art line is truly a product of a generation that believes everything should be free. The quality of music suffers when this happens. It’s hard to balance being an artist vs working a 14 hour shift doing something you aren’t really good at. Artists have every right to get paid for their work. Sly Stone just recently got paid royalties due to him and he’s in his 70’s. Artist need to be compensated for their work, and we need youth to take the time out and learn how to play instruments instead of relying on sample packs and ‘digging’ to come up with new music. It’s like a generation of xerox copies.

            Hand’s on musicians vs button pushers. The eternal debate lol.

          • Sane Guy

            Actually, the adult money already comes in for me. Licensed my last project to HBO for a few grand:) That one was sample-pack free, all original recordings by myself on keyboard, and guitar. And yes I also pushed some buttons on my computer, and MPC (hopefully I don’t get sued for using a 909 drum machine).

            And then I have other projects I don’t mind sharing for free because I am THAT passionate about my art and just want people to hear it. I’m sorry if you don’t feel that way about anything in your life…

            I think it quite unfair how you assume to speak for ALL artists, or “they” as you broadly put it. I would circle back to your point about working 14 hour shifts, and ask if YOU are in fact a professional musician/artist?

            Before your poor attempt at patronizing me, and the opinion of a whole generation, I was merely suggesting not limiting your creative abilities by having such a closed, negative mind. Good day, and enjoy your bubble:)

          • drno

            I never claimed to speak for all artists, nor have I patronized you. That’s in your head. Have no ideal who you are or what you do.

            I was just mentioning another view of this whole music thing in a generation where copyright is kind of subjective, and free seems to be the new birthright.

            Nothing wrong with wanting music to grow via instrumentalists instead of relying on past catalogs and finger banging. I was doing a session with one of these so called MPC ‘musicians’ who had no idea what the key of D was lol. Had to show him. It drew some inner laughs.

            Having an alternative opinion than yours automatically makes it come from a closed negative mind in a bubble lol. A lot of different bubbles out there.

          • Sane Guy

            You never directly claimed, but you imply it with every statement you make. I’m cool with playing instruments, you’re the one who won’t rely on “past catalogs and finger banging”… sounds like your mind is very closed.

            In regards to the mpc producer, I guess knowing keys and music theory makes someone a real “musician’ in your eyes. Your pretentiousness regarding music is providing me with some amazing outer laughs

          • Anono12

            Apart from jazz and prog rock, I am unaware of any sophisticated type of pop music. All genres seem to follow basic formulae, with chord progressions of varying lengths from 2 to maybe 12. Can you enlighten me on this subject?

          • TJones

            Check out Sparks. Very intelligent, witty and creative pop music. Also Brian Woodbury.

  • Rory Alarcon

    ENO ON ANAL. I AIN’T HEAR NUTHIN BOUT NO ANAL, MY NIGGA.

  • James Harries

    Yes this is faulty logic – the same thing is happening in the digital world with the appeal for analog synthesisers, a kind of nostalgia. I think this issue is a projection of panic concerning the process of creativity. The Dogme movement in film was a way of tricking oneself out of procrastination which is embodied by cmd Z but as chriswiseowl pointed out this exists in the analog world too and you can take it further for example applying it to what one decides to wear or something. The opposite of procrastination is spontaneity, and THAT is the subtext it appears to me. I find it funny to think of Jack White in his studio just as bereft of inspiration as before the refit (sadly he is prolific). Eno makes much use of random methods in his albums to find his spontaneity, but with that method you can always say, ‘well the cards made me do it’, it’s not really ‘owning’ your output is it? The African musicians story is a red herring, it implies cultural stereotyping – I’m sure ABBA were just as free in their studio – but what is being said is ‘they just get on with just doing what is in their hearts’ could we all not be looking for just that?

    • Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface

      some people just like the warmth of analog vs. the chill of digital. not complicated.

    • tb303

      Digital virtual analogue synths just don’t quite sound the same as real analogue…yet, they are getting closer, but part of it is having real hardware to touch and interact with rather than clicking a mouse or using a touchscreen all day, the scope and power of the latter is actually it’s downfall because you can only display so much on a screen it takes away the immediacy away, limitations give ideas more quickly, there”s no reason given patience we cant have the best of both worlds.

  • Danny Bigelow

    They need to remember these are tools to assist, but there’s nothing stopping them from putting alternate mixes out at a later time, there was an art to tape splicing as much as there’s an art to Pro Tools. Dylan began his recording career where you didn’t waste studio time, and even though he has enough money to spend months working on an album, he wanted to do the new one in the spirit of Sinatra, so the band had to be on their A-game going in. Led Zeppelin were also pretty efficient except for the last album.

  • dohnet

    It’s not this way or that. Plug a fraking keyboard into that computer and play it. If you want it to be viewed as a serious instrument you have to treat it like a serious instrument. Learn how to play it.

    The bigger problem is that nobody is interested in music anymore. They only want content. It’s all back ground noise now…just filler. Nobody gives a damn about the work…in fact they would prefer simple premade templet festival noise. People have bigger worries in life than music, and they don’t have the time or inclination to try to train their ears to what they are listening to…they don’t care, and if they do they are in their bedrooms hitting the play button themselves.

    Music is played by people, not machines. When the machine plays the music it is simply an algorithm with no soul. It is very simple to make perfect machine music now, the hard part is making imperfect music, because the buyer is more interested in a face and a brand then the music.

    Musicians are a lonely breed right now…I have quit listening for the most part like everyone else because it is so difficult to find anything of substance. I plug a keyboard into my mac and I open up my soft synths and I play them, and play them, and play them….to nobody, because of this I believe stage rock musicians are going to find favor with the person who actually care about what goes into their ears.

  • ontol

    I am a believer in limited options being a path to more creative output, and perfection not being necessarily desirable in all recordings, but over production squeezing the life out of a recording isn’t unique to digital–it just can be done faster and with less effort. Don’t blame technology for a lack of vision on the part of the music industry.

  • almark

    The digital studio has brought out the best of the artist and the worst of the non musician. Thanks to DAW companies and software programmers, a laymen with 0 talent can now record an album that sounds like it came from the greatest of 1980s million dollars studios. But with all this digital craze happening, there is one thing certain. You can make a digital recording sound warm with the right techniques. Digital alone, sounds very cold and even harsh. Thanks to the latest in compression effects by waves and other people, we can achieve this. It might not be analog but at least it has the vibe of it.

    • Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface

      you seem to be implying that people who only have access to home DAWs and don’t have the luxury of million-dollar studios are automatically laymen with zero talent. Apologies if that wasn’t your intention, but its both wrong and frankly classist if so. It isn’t just ‘non-musicians’ who use DAWs, quite the contrary.

      • almark

        Totally not what that implies at all. It means that some people who aren’t good engineers are coming forward and making ‘bad mixes’ I’m all for digital DAW engineers.

        • Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface

          Okay, fair enough.

  • victor

    if you have tasteless, even if you have a lot of technology that put you, your result will be distasteful, and vice versa

  • joelkabakov

    the paradox of photography is that the majority of truly great photgraphic images were taken before the digital age. warm images, warm sounds on tape and vinyl, conventional film versus digital video. the analogue/digital discourse goes on and on. just make sure we are not slaves of the click track remembering what Miles Davis said after a recording session in the 80’s using click track for jazz: That’s not jazz…it’s fusion”.

  • Weird Magnetic Ray

    The idea that digital means “fixing imperfections” is asinine. The only difference between analog and digital is the way the sound is captured. What you do with it after is up to you and not defined by the medium. You can go straight to Pro Tools just like tape and never eq it or edit it. Because options are available, there is no edicts that require their use.

  • Robert Cowlin

    The Fela Kuti LPs discussed in this article are mastered from high resolution digital files sourced from vinyl during a CD reissue project in the 90’s.

  • Robin Parmar

    Eno talks intelligently about limiting your palette in order to be more creative… something that every artist already knows. The author turns this into an argument about analogue versus digital — and not a very well considered argument. Both are technologies and both can be either liberating or constricting, depending on how you use the tools. I am fascinated by the analogue fetishism that is currently in vogue. One result is my paper “Digital angst and the phenomenology of discontinuity”, available in multimedia form here:
    https://www.academia.edu/15230095/Digital_angst_and_the_phenomenology_of_discontinuity

    • dy1232

      this paper is great cheers for sharing

  • Gareth Thomas

    What was the music machine in Orwell’s 1984 called ???? Just producing general/random/ vanilla melodies without any ACTUAL musicians ???? I think George must’ve predicted Simon Cowell and Pete Waterman too !!!!! Anyone remember, or trying hard to forget JiveBunny in the eighties ???

    OK, digital has made it easy for anyone, without any musical training or knowledge to put out a hit record, even on a mobile phone app these days and I think in the sense that it enables anyone to have a go then it is a great tool.

    Having said that, so many analogue techniques have been lost, from basic tape splicing on a splice block through manipulation of the studio hardware for some truly original sounds and ‘feelings’ that digital just doesn’t seem to offer, to my mind. From sound quality to true musical inventiveness I feel digital, in the hands of the the likes of Cowell et al is, even, destroying the music scene as a whole. I understand that it is not just the digital ‘realm’ per se in the case of Cowell but it does enable some truly talentLESS people to abuse the airwaves. I am not some musical Elitist but I feel that what has been gained on one hand with digital – easier workflow, unlimited undo levels, plenty of ‘off board’ processing algorithms etc etc has, instead of enhancing music production kind of detracted from it on the whole through the ‘democritisation’ offered.

    Long live analogue !

    Long live analogue !

  • Audience does not care how record was made, how many takes, tracks, singers, efforts, producers and budget have been involved. People want excitement. There is the saying – people does not care how long artist spent on artpiece – 30 minutes or 30 years. Sound artist is free today to use any technology to make magic. What we lost during our journey – the performance. A performer today still needs talant, gift, years of education, practice, live shows. Nowadays records does not nessesarily ‘record of performing’ as it was. A rare artist is a performer. And public does not care who really ‘performs’.

  • hawaiiguy

    The biggest problem now isn’t the technology, its the unfettered access to it by anyone who wants it. The amount of bad engineering and lack of, as Eno alluded too, understanding all the 10,000’s of buttons and whatnots in a digital mixer, effects, etc. is overwhelming for most. Most end up producing stuff way before they have come close to mastering the physical tools. I have Focal speakers which expose immediately inferior recordings, and you would be amazed at how many “professional” engineers and producers put out badly produced material. As 80+% of speakers won’t produce the mistakes as they don’t have the accuracy, maybe they can be forgiven. But if they mixed with a Focal Solo or Twin some may just quit and start anew when they hear what they thought was excellent quality recording and mixing.

  • Audiogus

    VR

    I think one factor in all of this is the forthcoming boom of VR. Audio only live recordings simply may not be as compelling as being able to watch the performance while immersed in the same physcial space as the players. Very soon we will be able to 3D stream performances to people who can watch live in VR.

    Imagine watching your favorite band doing a live studio performance in VR. Want to see what the drummer is doing? Just swipe on over to the 3D drummer cams and look around. How about checking out the intricate playing of that guitarist? Hop on over to that cam and stare straight at their fingers in awe. It will be like sitting in with the band in studio and being able to instantaneously jump around the room with your location effecting what you hear. Hey why not jam along at home? It seems like it would be a great way to learn too. Playing bass while floating five feet above the drummer looking down.

    I am not saying that this would replace current live shows but it would be a whole other kind of experience that simply could not be practicaly tweaked and tuned in post. it will be raw and real and bloody awesome. What technology may seemingly be taking away or challenging us with in the present will simply fold in on itself and once again reveal and celebrate the genuine magical source of all of this. Humans playing music. Music began by being in the same space as the musicians and was like that for hundreds of thousands of years. If simple straight audio recorded music loses its magic, who cares. Put me in the same space as the magicians in VR and all that magic comes rushing back tenfold, moreso than from any recorded audio or video live performance in the 20th century.

    VR technology is going to be amazing for live music. What performer would not have wanted to be captured in this way? I just imagine an album like Bitches Brew having been captured in VR and being able to watch/listen as many times as I have but from any vantage point in the studio… my God that would have been amazing.

    These experiences are right around the corner.

  • TJones

    Yes kids, back in day we used make music with our bare hands. I still do but record it digitally because I don’t have the $$$ or room for a Studer and a honking ass mixer. I also don’t pitch-correct. If I can’t sing something I retune the instruments or transpose into a “better” range for my voice. The imperfections of an actual human performance can be more interesting unless you want to go all Kraftwerky. Whether you play spoons, pipa or a pipe organ you really have to KNOW the instrument and develop a fluid technique. That is where the hard work is and digital or analog will not help. You can record sewage with the best gear. To me the problem is folks who are too lazy to learn the craftsmanship of playing (and recording). Would you rather listen to a 12 year old read Shakespeare or Sir John Gielgud reading the phone book?