Sound Of Song (2015) s01e03 Episode Script

Mix it Up and Start Again

1 MUSIC: Autobahn by Kraftwerk That lilting melody first drifted into my consciousness about 40 years ago.
It's pretty minimalist songwriting, yet combined with cutting edge technology, the effect was shockingly new.
You might remember it better like this.
MUSIC: Autobahn by Kraftwerk Autobahn by Kraftwerk showed that the song no longer required the sweat and toil of real musicians - machines could do the hard work for us.
The robots had arrived.
From now on, songs would be made in a completely new way.
In this episode, I'll show how technology met with playful creativity to carve out new sounds.
The very machines that were once used to play songs were now creating extraordinary new music - from old records.
In the hip-hop world, we wanted to have our own sonic signature.
MUSIC: Love Train by The O'Jays The dance floor beats of disco were also reshaped by the amazing alchemy of the remix.
MUSIC: Believe by Cher And I'll explore how a smash hit like Believe, by Cher, was created with the help of software that could completely transform the sound of a singer's voice.
# No matter how hard I try # You keep pushing me aside and I can't break through There's no talking to you But there was a reaction to all this sonic trickery.
I'll find out how Nirvana craved a more authentic feel to their songs with a stripped-down sound.
MUSIC: Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana This desire for more earthy-sounding recordings can even be heard in stadium rock.
I'll reveal the surprisingly lo-fi beginnings of Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA.
MUSIC: Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen And I'll experience how the way we've listened to songs has been through just as radical a change - arriving at an online world, where the entire history of the recorded song is available to us at the touch of a button.
MUSIC: Good Times by Chic If you make easier for people to get a hold of music and listen to music, more people will listen to music and you have a greater likelihood that if you're making music, you have a greater likelihood that somebody who likes it will find it.
Let me take you back to a time when you didn't just listen to music, you communed with it.
And there was an entire ritual to how you experienced your favourite songs - and it had to be done right.
Carefully remove the disc from the sleeve.
Place it on the turntable and remove any dirt or dust with your special brush.
Adjust the volume and settings on your expensive amplifier.
Carefully lower the stylus into place, sit back and luxuriate in the big hi-fi sound.
MUSIC: Breathe by Pink Floyd In the 1970s, I started listening - really listening - to music.
When you popped a pair of these on and sealed yourself off from the world, the vocals were so warm, the production values so high you could hear every single little moment.
It was very hard to believe you could actually get any closer to the real sound of song.
It was just a few years since The Beatles and The Beach Boys had begun their adventures in multi-track recording.
Bands like Pink Floyd and Yes had picked up the baton, creating records where musical virtuosity was just as important as the songwriting.
This is the era of the concept album - intricately plotted and produced works that sounded a little bit like sung film soundtracks.
I grew up with these.
And it has to be said, they were the children of the technology.
There was no way that a band could embark on anything as big as this, even two or three years previously.
MUSIC: Yours Is No Disgrace by Yes Songs like Yours Is No Disgrace by Yes broke free of the shackles of the three minute pop song.
They jettisoned the "verse, chorus verse" structure and moved into a territory previously inhabited by jazz or classical music.
These rock symphonies were musically dense, lyrically unfathomable and often very long.
Cards on the table - I wasn't a fan of Yes, but I was a huge fan of the man who brought us keyboard players out to the front of the band - Rick Wakeman.
And the machine that allowed him to do that was the legendary Minimoog, brainchild of one Robert Moog.
Up until the Moog, what used to happen was, if you were in a band, you had a Hammond organ or a piano, an electric piano, or whatever you did And it came to your solo.
The rest of the band would all have to go on the floor - they'd all sort of come down to tippy-tappy-tippy-tappy, while you did your best to go And they'd all be looking at him going, "Oh, isn't it sad?" HE LAUGHS And even the audience would go, "Oh, it's the organ solo.
" And then "Finished, have you? "All right, great.
" Crank up the guitar and away you go.
This came along and I remember at the first I remember at one of the first rehearsals we did, where I brought it along and I thought Steve Howe was going to die, bless him.
Steve's one of my great friends and he went "What?" Because of the nature of how it's made up, with the waveforms, it's thicker than any guitar can ever be.
It'll cut through concrete, that thing.
It's the It's the keyboard equivalent to a tambourine.
Yeah, yeah.
It will For whatever reason, it will cut through anything.
Suddenly, Bob Moog had given keyboard players a solo instrument that we could turn round to the guitarist and smile and go, "Up yours, sunshine.
" The little Minimoog for me is the cleverest, finest and most important electronic keyboard instrument ever made.
It's basically To put it into layman's terms, it consists of three oscillators So they're creating each sound? That's three sounds .
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so, for example, this is just one oscillator on its own.
HE PLAYS A NOTE You add another one, which is a bit like playing the same note twice, except that you can have the ability to tune it NOTES OSCILLATE And then you have the third one THREE NOTES INTERWEAVE You can also cheat somewhat, a little bit - you can actually tune one of the oscillators, if you want, up a third.
HE IMPROVISES So you can give the impression of playing more notes than you are.
The Minimoog could generate sounds to fill arenas with music that fitted the epic tales that Wakeman's band wanted to tell.
It could just as easily be very silly.
You can do the Clangers.
SQUEAKS, WHISTLES .
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which used to drive the guys at Yes nuts.
John would be trying to talk out the front and I'd be going SQUEAKY NOTES .
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and John would be going, "We're now going to play" And I'd go SQUEAKS AND WHISTLES Prog rock, really, was breaking the rules.
Yeah, we made mistakes - it's not like everything we did was perfect or right, but we believed it was at the time.
And if you're pioneering on something, you're never going to get it right, because you can't go back and go, "Well, actually, how did they do it, or they do it?" Because there wasn't any "they" behind us to do it.
And when I look back, I can look at some music and I go, Do you know what? I'd be proud to do that today.
And you look at others and go, yeah, went slightly slightly wrong there.
40 years ago, it wasn't just keyboard wizards like Rick Wakeman who were changing the sound of song with the synth.
In Germany, a group dressed like stockbrokers was using the instrument in a much more minimal way.
MUSIC: Autobahn by Kraftwerk In 1974, Kraftwerk put out a piece of conceptual music to rival anything by Yes.
Running the whole 22 and a half minutes of one side of an LP, Autobahn was music for driving down the motorway to.
Kraftwerk co-founder Ralf Hutter hoped it would help us discover our car was a musical instrument.
Kraftwerk were enthusiastic drivers and the inspiration for Autobahn came from a real life journey they took in their VW Beetle.
The band's Florian Schneider said, "We came off the Autobahn after a long ride "and when we came in to play, we had this speed in our music.
" The sound of the Moog mimicked the feel of a road trip - the shimmering, gliding notes mirroring the car as it drives through the city streets, anticipation mounting as it moves towards its destination - the Autobahn.
Kraftwerk loved their Beetles and they had this real thing about the car and man being in a kind of mechanical harmony with each other.
And I have to say, driving a Beetle, you really do feel like you're part of the mechanics.
It's quite hard work, both turning and moving the gears.
But it feels like the real thing.
Kraftwerk on the radio, this sensation of driving a Beetle - it's pure 1974.
They caught it in that music.
Then, at around the three-minute mark, as most traditional songs would be winding down through the gears, we hit the motorway - and a new melody, packed full of hope, takes over.
A rare non-electronic instrument makes an appearance, reflecting the lush countryside, passing by in a blur.
1974, of course, new music technology was pretty pricey.
I think it's brilliant that Kraftwerk paid about the same amount of money for their first Beetle as they paid for their first synthesiser.
Kraftwerk were interested in creating something completely new - something specifically German.
Although they can't help cheekily referencing the ultimate American pop group - The Beach Boys.
The song's lyrics conjure up a sunny Californian world of "fun, fun, fun" and the chorus echoes their hit, Barbara Ann.
Bar-bar-bar Bar-Barbara Ann # Fun fun fun auf der Autobahn Fun fun fun auf der Autobahn.
Of course, no motorway driving is all "fun, fun, fun" and the synth sound takes on a much darker, more chaotic feel to it, as the road fills up with big trucks and cars, whooshing past, beeping their horns at the slow-moving Beetle.
It's a scenario anybody would recognise who'd ever driven on the M25.
Night falls, and in the final section of the song, a drum machine, playing a 4/4 rhythm, kicks in.
This beat, that the band dubbed "Motorik", would become the engine of much of their subsequent music.
Autobahn struck a chord far beyond the busy arteries of Dusseldorf - it became a worldwide hit, even finding a following on the dance floors of Manhattan.
The glamour of disco and the Teutonic aloofness of Kraftwerk appear to be worlds apart .
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but they shared a devotion to the never ending 4/4 beat.
Dancers just couldn't get enough.
However, there was a problem.
In the early days of disco, DJs were bound by the limitations of the 45 single.
It may have been the perfect format for the three-minute pop song, but you got through an awful lot of them to keep people dancing into the small hours.
The old sound of song was simply too short.
MUSIC: Back Stabbers by The O'Jays Disco was about to instigate a radical shift in how the song was created.
You know, two and a half minutes would go by and all of a sudden, you would hear this other song come in and if it didn't work exactly right, then most people would get off the floor.
And me - I was already up and I'm saying, "Why can't we, like, go higher?" Because you could tell people were liking it.
Tom Moulton was a New York model turned producer.
His experiences in the discos of the early 1970s led him to think up a radical solution to give people more time to dance.
That's when I got the idea to make things longer.
MUSIC: Never Can Say Goodbye by Gloria Gaynor Tom's idea was to remix the songs he was hearing, extending elements like the instrumental bridge, to suit the needs of the dancers.
One of the first artists to receive a "Tom Moulton Mix" was an emerging singer called Gloria Gaynor.
He extended and mixed together three songs across one side of her 1975 album, Never Can Say Goodbye.
A remix is taking the multi-track, which you have a bass on one track, a kick on another - meaning a bass drum - and then have a guitar track then you have the strings, you have the background vocals and you have the lead singer.
So, by taking that combination, you're putting it together the way you feel.
If it makes me move emotionally, then I'm on the right path.
That's a remix.
The song was no longer the product of a group of musicians and a producer.
In some cases, the recording was just the beginning of the story.
The real magic happened after the band had left the building.
And it wasn't just the dancers who benefitted from Tom's remixes.
People were always complaining to DJs, like You know, I just wish something I could put on where I could go to the bathroom, or take a lunch break and I went Oh, OK.
I'll justyou know? I'm working on Gloria Gaynor now, just put the three songs together and put a lot of instrumentation and make it a whole thing.
And everybody thought that was so brilliant and I said, "Yeah, but I did it for the DJs, so they could go to the bathroom "or have a smoke break or something.
"Oh, is that it?" And I go, "Yeah, why?" But there was a potential issue here.
With the increase in instrumentation in these songs, what happened to the singer - the star? What was Gloria's reaction? Oh, God.
I remember that like it was yesterday.
I went over to Jay's - J Ellis, he was her manager - and he said, OK, you've finished it in the studio, let me hear it.
I said, "OK".
So he put it on, he goes, "Gloria, come on in here.
" OK, so she's standing there and we listen to the whole thing.
And so Jay goes, "Gloria, what do you think?" "I don't sing much.
" I almost died! I almost died.
I didn't know I said, "Well, Gloria, the reason I did it that way" And I thought, I can't tell her I can't tell her I made your record sound like that where you don't sing much so the DJ could go to the bathroom.
Well, that's not saying much for her and I said "Gloria, all you've got to do is brush up on your dance steps(!)" I didn't know what to say! Despite her reservations, Tom Moulton's remixes for Never Can Say Goodbye provided Gloria Gaynor with her breakthrough album.
She went on to become the Queen of Disco and quickly learned how to dance.
Once a style icon, Tom Moulton was now setting musical trends.
He invented the 12 inch single, the remix, and pioneered the art of the continuous mix.
He helped shape much of the dance music that was to come.
Disco itself wouldn't outlive the decade, but its influence was to continue into a new era.
And one song in particular, from 1979, illustrates this - Chic's Good Times.
MUSIC: Good Times by Chic Good Times perfected the disco formula.
Nile Rodgers' insistent guitar and Bernard Edwards' addictive bass line got so far under the skin that musicians just couldn't keep their hands off them.
Queen's bass player John Deacon borrowed the bass line for their number one hit, Another One Bites The Dust.
MUSIC: Another One Bites The Dust by Queen So now, you could break a song down to its constituent elements and use those elements to create something new.
Good Times was also the basis for the very first record to come out of a new music scene that had been emerging in some of the poorest boroughs of New York.
MUSIC: Rapper's Delight by The Sugar Hill Gang The Sugar Hill Gang's 1979 hit, Rapper's Delight added another startling element to the mix - spoken or chanted rhymes, that became known as rap.
# I said a hip hop Hippie to the hippie # The hip, hip a hop and you don't stop, a rock it out # To the boogie bang bang The boogie to the boogie, the beat # Now, what you hear is not a test # I'm rappin' to the beat # And me, the groove, and my friends Are gonna try to move your feet # You see, I am Wonder Mike And I'd like to say hello To the black Recorded in a single 15 minute take, this, like many early rap songs, was partly improvised.
It reminds me of another African-American innovation - Louis Armstrong's scat singing.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG SCATS SUGAR HILL GANG SCATS The rapper wasn't the only star in this world that became known as hip-hop.
This was a form of music built around the dazzling skills of the DJ.
In the late '70s and early '80s, in places like New York's East River Park, something revolutionary was happening.
People who had little access to traditional musical instruments were creating something remarkable, using just two turn tables and their record collections.
This early scene was captured in the film, Wild Style.
DJs like Grandmaster Flash used small snatches of their records, looping and scratching them to suit the needs of the dancers.
Hank Shocklee, a young DJ from Long Island, New York, was one of the pioneers of this new form.
In the hip-hop world, we wanted to have our own sonic signature that was different from the DJs that were playing records That was playing like, the whole record, all the way through.
The GrandMasterFlash! Grandmaster Flash and all these guys, they were just playing these little parts of the record.
And the little breaks of the record, they would just play for a long period of time.
In the early '80s, Shocklee formed a partnership with rapper Chuck D, becoming a producer of Public Enemy.
MUSIC: Don't Believe The Hype by Public Enemy # Back Caught you lookin' for the same thing # It's a new thing Check out this I bring # Uh-oh, the roll below the level Because I'm livin' low Next to the bass, come on From the beginning, they took advantage of a new piece of technology - the sampler - that allowed them to use other people's music in their recordings.
Using this kit, Hank created a rebellious new sound - and there wasn't a more anti-authority expression than sampling.
If Public Enemy wanted a sound, they just took it.
MUSIC: Funky Drummer by James Brown Sampling allowed Public Enemy to use old records in a much more sophisticated way, creating songs that were like audio collages.
The artist who made it onto Public Enemy's sampler most often was James Brown.
The song Funky Drummer was named by Brown, after the inspired work of his drummer, Clyde Stubblefield.
Hidden amid Brown's grunts and groans was a two and a half second fragment of clean drums.
But that was quite enough for Hank Shocklee.
I call Funky Drummer "milk".
THEY LAUGH You put milk in everything! THEY LAUGH Clyde Stubblefield hit on what I consider to be the perfect beat.
And the thing that's so incredible about that beat is its ghost snares.
What do you call "ghost snares"? You have the On the one, two, you have like the The thing on the back beat.
And everybody just has that one back beat.
But because he would have the back beat and he would have a lazy bringing it off the snare, it would be very lazy, you get this like, "bumbrrrajaba"! That right there and He keeps going and he keeps doing it, you get this percussive thing that's happening, but it's not percussion, it's snare.
And it gives Everything that we put that in, it gave it a lift.
That extra little ccrrrttit-tit-ta! Gave it that extra That little extra That extra push that it needed to make the record have thatdrive.
MUSIC: Rebel Without A Pause by Public Enemy # Yes - the rhythm, the rebel Without a pause, I'm lowering my level Funky Drummer can be heard on the Public Enemy track, Rebel Without A Pause.
It illustrates brilliantly their approach to building songs, piling on different sounds and textures.
Bum rush the sound I made a year ago With Funky Drummer as the bedrock, Shocklee adds a high-pitched wail - a trumpet glissando sampled from another James Brown production, The Grunt.
MUSIC: The Grunt by The JBs As Funky Drummer briefly drops out, MOR soft rockers Jefferson Starship step into the breach.
MUSIC: Rock Music by Jefferson Starship Wedded to Chuck D's powerful rapping, it was a visceral, physical experience.
PE was not about order.
It was about disorder and it was about the chaos that's happening all around us, all the time.
So, with that point particularly, tell me about Fight The Power.
Fight The Power was an attempt at being .
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very positive - more solution-oriented.
MUSIC: Fight The Power by Public Enemy # Our freedom of speech is freedom or death # We got to fight the powers that be # Fight the power # Fight the power Fight the power Great songs, to me If you listen to a lot of bands, they all build around the singer.
CENSORED LYRICS CONTINUE Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamp I give Chuck just the I call it the meat, which is just the It's our loop of the track, that's over and over.
Nothing spectacular, nothing's done on it.
Just so he can use that as a canvas, so that he can paint what he sees.
And then, we will organise that in the form ofa song.
Fight The Power was written for the Spike Lee film, Do The Right Thing - in which it plays a central role.
That film and that track came to symbolise that time.
There is There is something extraordinary about it.
At the time, there was a lot of racial tension that was happening in all the inner cities.
PE was the spark that brought back civil rights in a totally different fashion, because now, the civil rights wasn't about whether or not we could sit in the front of the bus or drink from a water fountain or not.
Now, it was our fight for freedom of expression.
That was the fight of the police violence that was running supreme in the black communities.
So now It offered people that spark of like, "Yeah, we can do this!" The boombox that took music onto the streets of Brooklyn in Do The Right Thing was a classic piece of lo-fi technology.
Its sound quality wasn't perfect, but it gave users the freedom to listen to and spread their music wherever they went.
It would also play a key role in the creation of one of the most iconic rock songs of the 1980s.
MUSIC: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen In 1981, Bruce Springsteen was canoeing up a river near his home in New Jersey.
Like his contemporaries on the streets of New York, he liked to take his music with him everywhere and so, he had his trusty boombox - even on the water.
On this particular occasion, somehow, the tape player ended up at the bottom of the muddy river.
Springsteen hauled it out, dried it off and hoped for the best.
The following year, Springsteen unpacked a brand-new piece of machinery - an early four-track home recording system, which frankly, neither he or his roadie really knew how to use.
However, they persevered and eventually managed to record a whole set of new demos on it.
After the sessions, Bruce realised he'd got nothing to play those songs out onto, until he remembered the boombox.
Yes, that boombox.
He switched it on and it magically sprang back to life again.
He then made a master recording of the demos on the tape player.
MUSIC: Reason To Believe by Bruce Springsteen Springsteen put the resulting cassette in his jeans jacket pocket and forgot about it.
And there it rattled around for a couple of months, without even a case to protect it, eventually making its way to the studio in New York.
In 1982, Springsteen was already well known for rousing small town anthems like Born To Run, backed by an enormous wall of sound.
But here, he'd created something new - rural noir, a raw, unadorned style that reflected the misfortunes of his cast of down-on-their-luck characters.
# Now the jury brought in a guilty verdict The judge he sentenced me to death One of the first people to hear the wonky-sounding cassette was his band-mate and producer, Steve Van Zandt.
I said to him, "I have to tell you something.
"This is "extraordinary.
This is not "This is not hitting me as a demo.
" You know? He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "This sounds like a record.
" He said, "Nah, I just did it on a cassette with my roadie, here.
" I said, "I don't care how you did this.
" Maybe because he never intended for it to be released, it's the most intimate record I've ever heard by anybody.
Springsteen and his band attempted to re-record the demos, but the recreations, in one of the world's most expensive studios, somehow failed to capture the rough-hewn magic of the originals.
Instead, Springsteen decided to release the cassette just as it was, on an LP called Nebraska.
It became obvious at some point that there was something extraordinary going on with what became Nebraska.
I just felt it was an amazing piece of work, that I was so glad actually got released.
There was one song from the folky Nebraska sessions that didn't make it onto the album.
MUSIC: Born In The USA (Acoustic) by Bruce Springsteen Another bleak story, this time about the fortunes of a Vietnam veteran.
But Bruce heard the potential to make it a much bigger-sounding record.
Born in the USA came out a couple of years later, in a rather different form.
Out went that mournful lo-fi recording, in came a rather minimal chord structure and one of the most memorable synth lines in all of pop history.
MUSIC: Born In The USA MUSIC: Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen Keyboard player Roy Bittan was playing one of these - it's a Yamaha CS-80, big old beast, weighs a tonne, cost about eight grand to buy back in the day, as I remember - but has a vast amount of controllability.
I mean, look this section along here.
The sound they got on it was part sort of Oriental, part military trumpet, all '80s.
Add to that a devastating snare drum sound with so much reverb on it, it sounded like bombs dropping and you basically have a recording that pummels the listener into submission.
# Born in the USA # I was born in the USA # I was born in the USA Born in the USA With the chorus hitting so hard, the song's powerful message was hidden in the verses.
That tale of a man hitting rock bottom after returning from the Vietnam war, which had been so affecting in the original demo It was still there, only it had been completely overwhelmed by the production.
# Come back home to the refinery # Hiring man said "Son, if it was up to me" # Went down to see my VA man He said "Son, don't you understand?" The pumped up sound and the pumped up appearance of Springsteen gave many people the impression that what they were hearing was a pro-USA anthem.
President Reagan even adopted the song - without permission - for his 1984 re-election campaign.
Then, in late 1984, the hit album was chosen as the first CD to be manufactured in the USA.
The patriotic symbolism of the title song and the huge '80s production sound made it the perfect candidate to launch this new format in America.
The compact disc was the biggest sonic revolution since magnetic tape.
It introduced the public to the idea of digital music for the first time.
CDs were presented as delivering "perfect sound forever" and the allure of crackly old vinyl was quickly tarnished by this buff new format.
What was your feeling about hearing it on CD, as against on vinyl? It was shit, like all CDs.
Brittle and thin andhorrible.
MUSIC: Brick Is Red by Pixies The actual reason that CDs were favoured over vinyl never had to do with sound quality.
The principal advantage to compact discs was that they were more convenient than LPs.
Like, you could put more music on them, you could carry them around easier, you could play them in a car.
The manufacturing costs, in bulk, were dramatically lower than LPs, yet you could sell them for more, at a higher retail price, so the profit margin on them for the record labels was astronomical.
Record labels made an absolute killing during the CD era.
MUSIC: November Rain by Guns N' Roses What the CD did offer was clean, noiseless sound.
This was reflected in the huge, slickly produced rock songs of the day.
Everything got bigger - the sound, the profits, even the hair.
MUSIC: Here I Go Again by Whitesnake Goin' down the only road I've ever known.
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In the history of recorded song, each new sonic revolution has been seen as a progression.
But, for the first time, some were beginning to question this.
MUSIC: Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana Musicians were asking whether the embrace of all new technology was necessarily a good thing for their song-writing .
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including the biggest rock band of the day.
Nirvana were unhappy with the way their record label had remixed their 1991 album, Nevermind, to make it more commercial-sounding.
MUSIC: Come As You Are by Nirvana Soaked in bleach As I want you to be For the follow up, In Utero, they were determined to produce a record that stayed true to their raw punk sound.
And they knew exactly who to turn to - producer Steve Albini.
The band were fans of some of the records that I'd recorded.
So when they contacted me The first thing that Kurt said was that he liked the Pixies album and wanted to make a record with a similar sound quality.
Most of my effort is expended in trying to make an accurate recording, rather than trying to manipulate the sound that comes into the studio with the band.
MUSIC: All Apologies (Demo) by Nirvana Albini's approach was to let the band control the creative decisions, allowing songs to develop organically during the recording sessions.
I think principal recording was done in six or seven days.
Over the course of an evening, basically, Kurt sang the whole album.
For a lot of the vocal recording, he would have a somewhat broken acoustic guitar that he would just strum along with.
And for example, the acoustic guitar that you hear on the record .
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that was just the guitar that was sitting on his lap, that he was sort of strumming along while he was singing.
It wasn't a separate recording I don't know that the band intended to have an acoustic guitar on the record, but he was more comfortable singing while he was strumming a guitar and so, that made its way onto the record.
The guitar at the beginning of the song Rape Me directly references Nirvana's biggest hit - Smells Like Teen Spirit.
MUSIC: Rape Me by Nirvana # Rape me Rape me, my friend It's an ironic musical nod to the song that had made the band - a song that had brought enormous success, but which Cobain was now reacting against with their new compositions.
MUSIC: Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana # Hey, wait, I got a new complaint # Forever in debt to your priceless advice Hey, wait 12 days, done and dusted, everybody left happy.
I didn't do anything special or magic on that session.
All the special magic walked in with the band.
Nirvana returned to Seattle, having recorded their album the way they wanted, capturing the essence of their sound without the glossy finish of Nevermind.
But not everybody was happy with the results.
Kurt called me and told me that everyone he played the record to hated it.
There were millions of dollars riding on it.
There were countless people whose livelihoods were depending on Nirvana's next record and all of those people were telling them they were making a mistake.
People in the administrative side of that record label and in their management company were talking to the press and bad rapping me, saying that this record is terrible, it's all Albini's fault, they need to do it all again but they're being stubborn - that sort of thing.
They were trying to generate a kind of public pressure on Nirvana, to get them to play along with their plan - the plan of redoing the record in a more conventional way.
And, you know, I think it's remarkable that the band - in the position that they were in under the pressure that they were under - that they chose to put the record out the way they wanted to.
Nirvana were ultimately vindicated.
In Utero went on to sell 15 million copies.
Not bad for an old-fashioned recording.
Yet all Steve Albini and Nirvana's efforts meant nothing in the pop world.
Throughout the 1990s, studios eagerly embraced digital recording techniques, giving even more power to the producers.
# No matter how hard I try # You keep pushing me aside and I can't break through # There's no talking to you.
It's so sad This classic pop song sounds like it could have been written at any time since the days of Tin Pan Alley.
But when Cher recorded Believe in 1998, classic pop writing met with a new piece of technology that had a startling effect on the sound of song and created one of the biggest hits of the decade.
MUSIC: Believe by Cher I really don't think you're strong enough, no.
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Producer Bruno Ellingham has recreated Cher's track for us with singer Patricia Hammond, using some magical digital tools.
I really don't think you're strong enough, no.
Great stuff, thank you very much.
That was great.
So what we're trying to do is to find out what happened when Believe was created - and to do that, we've started off You've recorded me and Patricia, our singer, yes? Yes, shall I play that for you? Yes, please.
PLAYBACK No matter how hard I try Our contributions to the song are now digital files, recorded and played back through the software.
Digital recording has been around since the 1980s, but by 1998, the software had become much more sophisticated.
It works very well as a traditional Surprisingly well, isn't it? # You're gonna be the lonely one, oh Do you believe in life after love? So, what have you added that's from the Cher version? If I just play that same section again, I'll just slowly bring some elements in.
Fantastic.
PLAYBACK Now, there's our pad .
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which instantly puts it in that space.
SYNTHS LAYER ONTO PLAYBACK The drums and the bass there Fade your piano out The major impact on how music is now created is the ease with which this way of working allows a producer like Bruno to alter fundamental elements of the song.
In the digital world, everything can be manipulated.
So very rapidly We're getting there.
.
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we've turned from the simple piano Absolutely.
And the voice is sounding different because of what's there, but actually, there's something still missing, isn't there? There is.
There's something in there that is with Cher's voice that we haven't got with Patricia, our singer.
Yes.
What might that be? Well, this is our fantastic autotune here.
Oh.
In effect, it's a vocal tuning plug-in, which has different levels of pitch correction, so that you can actually try and correct the vocal in as natural as possible way.
So it doesn't make any difference to the sound of the voice, it just moves the pitch? It just move the pitch around and nowadays, you can also move the time, as well.
So you can move vocals around, stretch words out and So there is absolutely nothing you can't edit now, including the sound The physical sound of the human voice? Pretty much, yeah.
Pretty much.
I mean HE LAUGHS If I just show you roughly how that works You can choose the key you're in F sharp.
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so Believe is in F sharp.
And here, we just hit "set major", so that will then default to the notes within the major scale.
What it does is to actually remove any notes that aren't within the scale.
Right, OK.
The effect with this is just to put the retuned speed up very fast.
AUTOTUNED: # No matter how hard I try # Oh, yeah.
You keep pushing me aside and I can't break through And a lot of what you're hearing Wow.
.
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is it jumping between the notes in the scale and missing out the notes in between, which normally, a singer would glide through.
That's amazing.
I could set it to the minor scale and AUTOTUNED: # No matter how hard I try # You sort of get a different thing.
So let's hear our singer.
In context MUSIC: Believe # No matter how hard I try # You keep pushing me aside and I can't break through # There's no talking to you It's so sad Bands like Kraftwerk, U2 and Daft Punk had long been manipulating the human voice, but autotune took this one stage further.
Producers could now do anything with the voice and take the song in any direction.
Do you believe in life after love? That's brilliant.
Obviously, we all remember Believe as being "the autotune song", but actually, when you listen back to it, they were really rather tasteful with it.
It was only used on lines within the bridge.
So it's sort of used as an arrangement effect That's brilliant.
.
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which is actually very clever.
So I guess the accusation that could be levelled is that with this amount of editing available, you don't have to be any good as a musician to make it in the pop world.
Would you buy that? Not really, no.
I mean, I think in terms of songwriting, you still have to have a good chord structure, you still have to have a good arrangement.
There is The one thing that has done and just digital recording in general has done, is to open up recording to the masses.
Yeah.
Anyone can make a very professional-sounding record with very little equipment.
IMPROVISED ELECTRONICA In the last decade, recording technology has evolved at a dizzying pace.
Musicians have been able to create songs at home for some time.
Today, the explosion in mobile apps means it's possible to craft a song without even getting out of bed.
MUSIC: Get Lucky by Daft Punk For consumers too, music delivery has reached new levels of convenience.
The invention of the ultra-portable MP3 player has effectively made the physical format redundant.
Just as people ditched their vinyl in the '80s, now CDs have landed in the technology graveyard.
But does this convenience come at a cost? An MP3 is a piece of digitised music, from which all but the bare minimum of the original information is discarded.
You might be able to carry your music collection around with you, but it's been estimated that you're losing up to 90% of the recorded sound.
It will surprise no-one to hear that Steve Albini doesn't own an iPod.
So we asked him to listen to a track from the new album by his band Shellac as an MP3.
MUSIC: Dude Incredible by Shellac Yeah, uh That wasn't enjoyable.
Essentially no bass information makes it through the ear buds, There's a lot of low-frequency information on this record - I would imagine on other records, but I mean, it's a record It's our record, so I'm quite familiar with it - and it sounds odd and alien, coming through ear buds like that.
MUSIC: Fight The Power (Part 1) by The Isley Brothers For Albini, the only way to listen to music is still on vinyl.
And he's not alone - vinyl has seen a huge resurgence in recent years.
It's once again becoming a significant part of the music business - worth ã20 million in 2014.
People who are who listen to music seriously, people who want to have collections of music typically buy vinyl records, because it's the same format stretching back 50, 70 years, So you can have music covering a very long time period in that same format.
So you can listen to a Nat King Cole record or an Ella Fitzgerald record or a Buddy Holly record, or a Beatles record, or a Sex Pistols record, or .
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name someone from this week.
For me, the sheer physicality of vinyl and the warmth of the sound is hard to beat.
But equally, the idea that I can carry my entire collection of songs with me in my pocket still boggles the mind.
For song writers too, the instant access to the history of the recorded song has been a creative boon.
MUSIC: Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant Singer-songwriter John Grant draws on a century of influences.
His song, Pale Green Ghosts, melds traditional songwriting techniques and new technology in his modern take on the classic pop song.
# Pale green ghosts at the end of May # Soldiers of this black highway Helping me to know my place I come at it from all sorts of different angles.
I come at it from where I sit down at the piano sometimes and just think about words and write the song.
And then I also love to start with the computer and come up with bass lines, synth bass lines and just beautiful progressions and beautiful loops.
The idea behind that track, or what I heard first when I did that track was just some of these old, beautiful synth bass lines from Cabaret Voltaire - and that was the backbone of that track.
There was also the idea from the outset to have orchestra, strings, James Bond-esque You know, the John Barry I had little bit of that feeling.
But I love the brass.
# Pale green ghosts must take great care # Release themselves into the air Reminding me that I must be aware.
Pale Green Ghosts has the second movement of the, you know Prelude in C sharp minor from Rachmaninoff superimposed over the top of that last section.
And so, it's just begging for an orchestra to come in there.
In John Grant's world, the gravitas of Rachmaninoff sits comfortably alongside the frippery of novelty pop.
Do you remember the song Popcorn? Oh, yeah.
Pop-pop-pop-pop.
That was something that I know has influenced me.
Yeah.
That keeps popping up.
I think the band was Hot Butter.
Hot Butter, that's right! Yeah, I remember it was in Tennessee, I believe, when I heard that for the first time and we had a 45 of it.
And it was my cousin Tammy and my sister Susan and me, and we played it over and over and over and over, which is probably why my mother had a Valium problem.
THEY LAUGH Can you imagine? "They're playing it again!" # You could probably say I'm difficult I probably talk too much.
John Grant is clearly a product of the contemporary musical landscape, but I can hear a line that runs right back to Irving Berlin - songwriting craft combined with emotional depth.
Your songs are A, very melodic, B, quite confessional as well.
That's not a new thing.
I mean, they were doing that all the time back then and I suppose that's what makes sense to me.
It's like, why wouldn't you talk about As an artist, why wouldn't you talk about your particular experience, because what else do you know about, except for your particular experience? Because that is the one thing about you that nobody can duplicate.
# I am not who you think I am I am quite angry, which I barely can conceal Why not have an electro dance hit and why not have a torch song and why not mix it up? Because that is who you are as a person, so that makes sense.
So in the context of who you are as an artist, this makes sense, so just do it.
# From the top of my head, down to the tips of the toes on my feet # So go ahead and love me while it's still a crime # And don't forget you could be laughing 65 percent more of the time I've travelled through 40 years of innovation in song for this programme, a journey that began in the '70s, with me listening to music through headphones.
And here I am again today, with a pair of headphones - but this time, I'm not alone.
MUSIC: Do It Again by Royksopp and Robyn This is a silent disco - a peculiar 21st century phenomenon, in which people gather together to listen and dance to music.
Built into their headphones is the option to choose what they want to dance to.
MUSIC: Shake It Off by Taylor Swift While you're listening to Taylor Swift .
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the people behind you might be moshing to Nirvana MUSIC: Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana .
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the person next to you dancing to Gloria Gaynor.
MUSIC: I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor Well, this is wacky! I can see why it works though - it's the perfect experience for the YouTube generation.
Any music you want or no music at all - you choose.
So who knows how we're going to be making and listening to music in the future? What is certain is that the popular song has proved itself a remarkably versatile artform, one that will easily survive whatever fascinating developments technology has in store.
And I, for one, can't wait to see where it goes next.
MUSIC: Fembot by Robyn