Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rolling Stone on the death of high fidelity

Check out this link to a fascinating piece in Rolling Stone by Robert Levine on the ten-year-old philosophical shift in mixing records that is responsible for producing a sound that might, as Levine says, truly mean "the death of high fidelity."
The basic point is that record producers, using dynamic compression, are now mixing records at a very high volume, with little variation between the different instruments, and between the highs and lows. Apparently, this makes the records sound brighter and therefore more likely to sound good on the radio. However, it can also cause the records to sound peculiarly monosonic. If you look at the sine wave of some of these songs (like Arctic Monkeys, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor.") it's one thick black line.
The article quotes a bunch of leading producers, split about half and half between those who like the New Loud and those who bemoan it. (Guess which side of the argument Butch Vig comes in on. Now guess what Donald Fagen thinks.
In the extensive list of links at the end of the article, I came across an article from Wikipedia that reported the following:
"In 1997, Iggy Pop assisted in the remix and remaster of the 1973 album Raw Power by his former band The Stooges, creating an album which, to this day, is arguably the loudest rock CD ever recorded[Cite]. It has an RMS of -4 dB in places[11], which is rare even by today's standards[Cite]."
Oddly enough, I had been contemplating the idea of posting the original and the remixed versions of "Search and Destroy" as part of a discussion of the current drama surrounding Raymond Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish, as discussed in a piece in the recent Fiction issue of The New Yorker. But I think posting the two is more appropriate for this:

The Stooges - Search and Destroy (Original version)
The Stooges - Search and Destroy (Remixed/remastered)

I am kind of torn on the issue. I love the original "Search and Destroy," and I remember saying to myself when I first heard it, "this is the loudest, hardest rocking song I have ever heard." It would have been hard to imagine how the song could have gotten more intense. But I gotta say, the remix is kind of cool.
(I would also love to see an analysis of some high volume classics, like Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water, or Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," or the Clash's "White Riot.")

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