The Analogue Renaissance (part 3)
Analogue tape as we know it has been around since the 1940s and all recordings between then and around 1980 were made using analogue technology. After that date, an increasing number of recordings have been made digitally, but by no means all - not by a long way. This brings me to an important point. The sound of popular music is the sound of analogue tape. The sound of analogue tape is the sound of recorded popular music. While not subscribing to that hokum about the medium being the message, which couldnt be any more plainly untrue, the intrinsic sound quality of analogue tape is an integral part of the sound that all of us, even teens and twentysomethings, recognize and accept subliminally, and we accept it as wholeheartedly as the diatonic scale that is the basis of Western music. So what happens when you record popular music without the benefit of analogue technology? You have to find a way of substituting for it, and why else are valve microphones so popular; why has there never been a better time to buy a distortion box, valve emulator, psychoacoustic processor - whatever you might call these things that are simply not necessary when the recording is made onto analogue? One could argue that the reason why many feel that digital sound is hard on the ears is because it doesnt correspond to their mental model of what a recording should sound like. And it is going to be many years before digital technology has replaced analogue to the extent that the majority of people (who are of course yet to be born) develop their mental model in the digital mould rather than the analogue. Let me give you an exception that, in the true sense of the word, proves the rule: classical music. Classical music is universally recorded digitally, and sounds better for it. And the reason why classical music sounds better on a digital format? Because our mental model of the sound of an orchestra, and the individual instruments of which an orchestra is comprised, is based on hearing them acoustically (and people who have never heard these instruments acoustically never come to appreciate classical music anyway). If you accept that digital is really more accurate than analogue, and has fewer distortions, then it is really the most appropriate medium for classical music, and all other types of acoustic recording.
Lastly, what about the die-hards? Some people just cant bear to be parted from their analogue technology, and why should they? Most people, when they see a classic car in the street, well-polished and maintained to possibly better than new condition, say, Wow, look at that as their head spins round. And just for a moment they wish they were driving that car rather than their Volvo-badged Ford. Same with analogue. For many purposes, digital is simply more practical, whatever you might think about its sound quality. But how many heads turn for a passing digital recorder? None, I feel. It is of course a normal part of human development for the young to sneer at the old for the strange ways from a bygone era they cling to. And as the young themselves age they realize how silly such an attitude is. It is no more acceptable for a young person to sneer at someone who is older for wearing a tweed jacket and corduroy trousers than it is for the senior person to comment unfavourably on the youngers nose ring. Likewise with recording technology, we may enjoy a few jokes and a bit of banter - but if someone really wants to use analogue, well why not? We are all human beings and we have the right to pursue personal fulfillment in our own way.