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Monday, December 10, 2007

Sound without the e-numbers

In the course of researching a piece about Toumani Diabate, I talked to the engineer Jerry Boys. Boys is widely regarded as the master of the natural sounding recording. He's the bloke who makes people look round to see where the band is when they enter a room where "Buena Vista Social Club" is playing.
He explains that it's a question of recording the room as well as the instrument and then mixing the two together. I won't pretend that I fully understand it but it seems to explain why most digital recordings are so exhausting to listen to. If there are gaps in the sound, he explained, you are drawn towards it. If it's overly dense you stay away.
The first person who flagged this up for me was Neil Young. I interviewed him in 1991 and he made this same point. You listen to an old record you feel good in a way that is to do with the sound, not just the music. I think he was right. That's why I still listen to "Harvest" but haven't heard "Harvest Moon", the album he was plugging at the time, in years.